As a show, the second semfinal actually paled from the first.  For instance, in lieu of an opening act, they simply recapped the first semifinal.  There is also only one interval act after the semifinalists have performened, the Shalva Band, a band composed of young persons with disability, singing a song from The Greatest Showman, “A Million Dreams“.  It might be too sentimental for my taste, but there are people who would be touched or moved by this performance.

I’ve noticed in this semifinal, Bar Refaeli joined in on Green Room duties, also interviewing the semifinalists during breaks between performances.  There were also jokes that didn’t land, like Assi Azar guessing that the superstar interval act would be Mariah Carey or Meryl Streep, and Lucie Ayoub when announcing the upcoming Eurovision Choir competition joked that she couldn’t demonstrate how to sing a capella since she doesn’thave her “a capella shoes on”.  There was also a guest appearance by mentalist Lior Suchard, who had Jurij Kevlenko, Sergey Lazarev, Pænda, and Sarah McTernan come forward, pick any number, and the trick was the number they guessed, Lior predicted and it turned out to form the world Eurovision in reverse–there is something about this doesn’t really impress me, but Lior is supposed to be a renowned mentalist. Anyway, I would like to take the time to also pay tribute to the mashups created by Kutiman depicting Eurovision history–it’s a very fresh approach that I love.

I actually did better in this semifinal, as I got 8 out of 10 correct.  Again, the two that I missed were in my “Bubbling Under” list anyway.

Finally, NORTH MACEDONIA (“Proud” by Tamara Todevska) got good staging to compliment the song.  It’s very simple, with a backdrop of mirrors, and photos of women (ending with a photo of Tamara with her baby daughter) to drive home this song’s female empowerment message.  It was also flawlessly sung, so it’s a great vindication for Tamara that she finally helped her country make the finals after a seven year absence, alongside making up for her near-miss 11 years ago.

Okay, there is nothing to really fault DENMARK (“Love is Forever” by Leonora)’s performance and its inclusion to the finals, though for me the number is just too saccharine and twee for my taste.  Still, I’m not that upset as I understand there are people who like this upbeat ditty and there is the Scandinavian bloc (plus German support) in place that helped this make the cut.

I’m a bit saddened about ARMENIA (“Walking Out” by Srbuk)’s shut-out, especially if you see Srbuk’s tense expression below, but I know the reason why from a near shoo-in, it suffered this fate.  They made the same wrong strategy from last year by having Srbuk all alone without any visible backup–the thrill of the music video was the multitude of backup dancers she was battling against; couldn’t they have at least two onstage with her?  There is also this negative buzz about the empty stage effect at the song’s climax which featured an empty venue–many viewers were reportedly confused and wondered why it seemed they segued to “rehearsal footage”. Considering Srbuk gave her all, this loss is heartbreaking.  Armenians should pay attention to staging next time to avoid this two-year streak of shut-outs.

Srbuk bracing for the announcement of the final slot

Meanwhile, there is nothing to fault about ROMANIA (“On a Sunday” by Ester Peony)’s staging or performance.  It is just in a night of near-flawless vocals and strong staging the juries and the public were not as into this as they were the others.  In my opinion, I would’ve had this entry swap places with DENMARK.  Considering Jon Ola Sand tweeted that the difference between 10th and 11th place was 1 point, I have a feeling this is the one who suffered that heartbreaking loss.  Wonder if anyone in the Romanian delegation will be throwing shade at DENMARK the way Conan Osiris did Serhat at the Wiwijam?

One of Ester Peony’s dancers nervously awaiting the results (in vain)

Now, who would be the country that placed last?  If I had my say, it would be LITHUANIA (“Run with the Lions” by Jurij Veklenko) because its staging is the most lackluster, but I have a feeling it would be spared from that fate by the Lituanian diaspora living in Ireland and the United Kingdom, giving it at least 20 points from the televote, so LATVIA (“That Night” by Carousel) as the production team wanted to showcase its vast stage and this performance needed intimate camera work, not wide shots, and well, that number was a snoozer.

I have to commend the staging of three non-finalists.  First, CROATIA (“The Dream” by ROKO) elevated its staging with those hunky shirtless winged angels complimenting ROKO’s superb vocals.  Second, I love the eye-popping pop-art backdrop and 1950s soda fountain staging for IRELAND (“22” by Sara McTernan) but being saddled with the second peforming slot hurt it severely.  Now, unlike LATVIA, appropriate intimate staging and tasteful lighting effects made AUSTRIA (“Limits” by Pænda) well regarded and a possible jury darling.

Roko goofily resigning to his fate…

I have to talk about all of the remaining eight qualifiers as even if none of them had the eye-popping and jaw-dropping impact of AUSTRALIA in the first semifinal, their performance was topnotch.

First, seeing ALBANIA (“Ktheju Tokës” by Jonida Maliqi) qualify should be deemed a major achievement enough.  The staging has good impact, Jonida’s vocals are very dependable, and the song is simply brilliant.  She’s saddled with the deadly second spot in the final, so all I can hope for her is a respectable finish.

NORWAY (“Spirit in the Sky” by KEiiNO) could be considered stripped down from its Melodi Grand Prix Presentation but what they lack in onstage personnel, they made it up with the backdrop, especially with the visions of stars, snow-capped mountains, and traditional Sami symbols when Fred-Rene Buljo performs his joik sequence.  I’m rooting for this to go Top 10.

SWEDEN (“Too Late for Love” by Jonn Lundvik) is also consistently strong and near faultless.  And I’m glad the glittered embroidery on the Mammas’ wardrobe made them pop out onstage.  Can we beg for the Mammas to be one of the acts in next year’s Melodifestivalen?

SWITZERLAND (“She Got Me” by Luca Hänni) delivered on its potential as the male Eleni Foureira as Luca brought the energy and his vocals kept up with the energy.  It’s highly welcome that SWITZERLAND finally get to perform in the grand final after a five-year absence.  Can it make a play for the Top Five?  Yes.

RUSSIA (“Scream” by Sergey Lazarev) did feature strong staging (yes, with the mirror and multiple Sergey effects) but prospects for this equaling his third place finish three years ago is slipping.  I’m not crazy about how towards the end of the song he sang at a key or two above the original recording–it didn’t sound pleasant and it’s just needless showboating, if you ask me.  We already know he’s a superb vocalist so he didn’t need to do that–hope for the finals he just stay on-key and focus on delivering the power instead of showing off his vocal range.

MALTA (“Chameleon” by Michela Pace) delivered on the eye-popping visuals–I’m glad they were allowed to use the wall as it did provde a boxed-in effect as if she’s performing inside a house or building (or cube) and it’s a visual treat.  Many are touting Michela’s vocals as flawless though I beg to differ on that a bit, but even with imperfect vocals, the staging is just high-impact.  It can make a play for the overall Top Ten or even beyond.

Now, many are raving about AZERBAIJAN (“Truth” by Chingiz Mustafayev)’s staging, and deservingly so.  The robot props and laser visuals are just a treat to behold, and yes, there’s Chingiz’s undeniable hunkiness and chirsma, and he does deliver strong vocals live and for most part asserted his voice in the chorus.  A welcome comeback for this country, and could bring this country back to Top Ten glory.

Okay, NETHERLANDS (“Arcade” by Duncan Laurence)‘s staging doesn’t pop out like MALTA or AZERBAIJAN, but the simple, but tasteful staging with good camera angles and lighting effects helped secure this entry’s tatus as the one to beat.  I don’t feel like I’m watching a competing entry, but a veteran superstar performing at a major awards show.  An upset may still be possible but I’m still betting this will be the overall champion in the end.  The quality of the song (and of the staging) is just that superb.

With all 26 finalists now known, I will maintain my Top 10 prediction from my main Eurovision article, though I’ll remove ALBANIA and of course ARMENIA from my “Bubbling Under” list and replace them with SERBIA and NORTH MACEDONIA.  Is victory inevitable for the NETHERLANDS?  Or can AUSTRALIA, SWITZERLAND, or ITALY pull off an upset victory?  Can’t wait for tonight’s grand final.