Like some otherworldly space ship, the cast and crew of the top-ranking German-language television show, "Wanna Bet?" has landed on the outskirts of Salzburg in Austria. The show, one of the most successful in Europe, offers an entertaining mixture of ordinary people making outlandish bets (hence the title) and celebrity interviews and performances. And today the show's hundreds of crew members and technicians are invading the city. Security staff patrol the area, would-be audience members queue at the front entrance to the venue. Backstage, some of the highest-profile members of the entertainment industry are all hands on deck.
Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, the singer behind some of the most popular operatic albums in Europe, has just finished her sound check. Oscar-winning British actress Emma Thompson is picking up her backstage pass. Pop singer Shakira, rock icon Beth Ditto of the band Gossip and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber are in hair and make-up. And Lena Meyer-Landrut is sitting on a sofa in her dressing room, awaiting her turn. In a black cocktail frock, grey knit cardigan and large, black glasses, with a somewhat wide-eyed look, Meyer-Landrut comes across more like an intern for the show than someone who is about to perform on it.
Only a few short weeks ago, the only place 18-year-old Meyer-Landrut was singing was in the shower. In April, after winning a national competition to determine who would represent Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest in Norway, Meyer-Landrut made it into the German singles charts. Her songs rocketed to No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 on the charts. Germany has had singles charts for the music industry since 1959. But neither the Beatles nor Michael Jackson achieved what Meyer-Landrut has. By early May she had already recorded her first album and in one week she will represent Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo. The performance for "Wanna Bet…?" is to be her last public outing before Oslo -- after this, she will have to study for upcoming end-of-secondary-school exams.
Meyer-Landrut is popular with her fellow Germans -- and not just because the Eurovision contest, which has seemed a little stupid for quite some time now, has become meaningful again. It is possible the whole country has fallen in love with the teenager from Hanover because she is the first great hope the country has had to win the annual song contest in years. The Eurovision sees singers, voted for by judges and viewers in each of 38 participating countries, compete at a grand, glitzy finale. The 55-year-old contest, which is produced by European public broadcasters, is seen by as many as 125 million viewers, making it one of the world's most widely-viewed television events. In the past, it helped launch the careers of artists including the Swedish band Abba and Canadian singer Celine Dion.