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Imelda to debut new single after the Roses' jigs and reels

SINGER Imelda May has been drafted in to inject some rock 'n' roll into this evening's Rose of Tralee contest.

The Dublin rockabilly star, fresh from performing at the V Festival, will thrill The Dome this evening.

In a surprise move by organisers, the quiff-haired Mayhem star will be debuting her new single Road Runner for viewers at the event.

"This is a new thing that they're trying out. It's a variety show this year and she's going to be singing live in The Dome tonight. This is the first time they're ever done this," said host Daithi O Se.

"I'm a big fan of Imelda, we had her on the Daily Show and she's just really cool. She's so quirky and then she starts singing, she's just brilliant."

As proof that no-one is immune to the curious charms of the contest, she has previously spoken about how she used to watch the festival at home with her parents.

The first bunch of demure Roses took to the stage last night in a bid to wow the judges with their various anecdotes and quirky party pieces.

And in a clear move to update the annual contest, the powers-that-be have overhauled the competition somewhat by allowing a more modern twist.

Viewers were treated to tales of diva-style tantrums from Sesame Street character Elmo as well as a discussion on the financial crisis and the London riots.

There were also stories about severed fingers, haunted Irish dancing dresses and metrosexuals.

Edmonton's Tara Keigher may have opted for the traditional dance -- but mixed it up by choosing Jay R's techno hit Air for her backing track.

Toronto's Rose Aileen Doyle had an impressive claim to fame as she indulged in a little name dropping -- she once worked as an extra with Colin Farrell on The Recruit.

There was also a noticeable absence of the sashes once again when it came to the competing Roses, with a source explaining it was down to advertising costs.

"It's all to do with the deal that RTE have with sponsors Newbridge Silverware. They'll wear them at the end of the contest tonight," he said.

The competing Roses pulled out all the stops to look good, with full-length designer gowns the order of the evening.

And the big prize may be on offer tonight but Peter Sands had an early victory last night after being named the Escort of the Year.

The teacher has been accompanying the New Zealand Rose Ailbhe Ryan for the entire festival -- and is a self-confessed mammy's boy.

"It's been a very humbling experience and I think the only one happier than me right now is my mother and I'm sure there will be tears as well," he said.

"I'm very surprised to be here and I really didn't expect it."

Also spotted enjoying the festival atmosphere was TV3's Alan Hughes, who will walk down the aisle with Karl Broderick next month.

Sile Seoige's long-term boyfriend Kim Burrowes was also seen hard at work at the festival, as he is one of the producers of the televised competition.