For most part, the favorites in the first semifinal got through.  I got seven out of ten correct, but if you include my “bubbling under” choice, Ireland, my tally would go up eight out of ten.

It is interesting to note that it seems bloc voting seems to be in place–six of the ten finalists were former constituents of the Soviet Union.  Though most of the ex-Soviet countries (like the Baltic nations and Moldova) would refuse to be associated with Russia these days, this is probably the only exception to the rule and it generally works to their benefit.  The ex-Soviet bloc had effectively deflected the Balkan bloc as this year, none of the ex-Yugoslav republics made the cut.

But then again, all of the ex-Soviet bloc finalists were worthy of qualifying, with the exception of one–I still maintain Lithuania remains the weakest link in the first semifinal, and nothing about Andrius’ performance could convince me it’s worthy of belonging in the finals.  I would rather have Croatia or Montenegro qualify in his place.

The big highlight in the first semifinal for me was Ukraine–oh, Zlata Ognevich is so dreamily gorgeous and she has such a beautifully nuanced and powerful voice.  The “carried by a giant” gimmick worked to put us in a fantasy forest world as evoked in the music, but again what most people would marvel would be her transcendent beauty and her terrific singing. I could forgive her accent that makes “butterfly” sound like “batterfly”.

The next highlight for me was Moldova.  Aliona Moon’s performance was flawless, and I love the special effect where her gown grows bigger as the ramp underneath her elevated to make her about 15-20 feet tall.  It was also nice to see Pasha Parfeny (the performer from this country last year–also qualified to the finals then) at the piano playing the song he composed.  I mentioned previously that Aliona performed back-up to Pasha last year.

Among the other qualifiers, I’m pleased with Ireland‘s performance–Ryan Dolan delivered on the vocals, as expected, but what I love much better were the hunkily gyrating tattooed and shirtless male drummers/dancers–what energy they delivered to make such a memorable impact.

I have to say in a similar vein, Belgium benefited from dancers–this time the slick and tight choreography by the two female back-up dancers in little black dresses (a pancake makeup away from looking like those Robert Palmer “Addicted to Love” girls).  I have no objections seeing this qualify.

Favorite front-runner Denmark also delivered, though if you ask me this is overshadowed by Ukraine for me.  But still, it is on track to be among the front-runners in the finals.

I have to note that I love the new innovation the production team made with the postcards this year–this year they show slice-of-life videos of the artists in their own land, which refreshingly humanizes them.  I wish they continue with this in subsequent editions.  I have to note this because it’s fascinating to see Netherlands‘ Anouk attending boxing classes in her video postcard.  I’m very glad that after nine long years Netherlands finally would see action in the finals.  And good the staging makes her song not seem like a retro throwback but more of a timeless number.  And her distinctive voice does make the performance even more special.

Most of the non-finalists failed to qualify justifiably as I hear pitch problems in their performances.  Which is sad but that was why the likes of Austria, Slovenia, and Serbia failed to advance.  Croatia is a bit of a different story–it’s more because of the ex-Soviet bloc overshadowing their bloc.  A performance I would wish should’ve seen in the finals was Montenegro–not because of the rappers in astronaut costumes, but the fiercely powerful vocals of Nina Žižić.  It’s such a shame we would miss that awesomeness in the finals.

Every year there is this dubious honor called the Barbara Dex award, which goes to the worst-dressed performers in the contest.  I think we have a front-runner for that award with Serbia‘s entry.  Those outfits are disastrous as it turned out.

Now let’s see how the second semi-final unfolds this Thursday (Europe time–early morning Friday Manila time).  I hope no dreadful entries advance.