Filled with bombast and ballads, the second semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest, ESC 2016, narrowed down the field of contenders by a further eight entries. It's full speed ahead to the final on Saturday.
Negating the trend of countries voting mainly for their neighbors, remote Australia was warmly welcomed into the Eurovision fold in its second year of contention and qualified for the final on Saturday . When Dami Im, a singer of Asian heritage, sang "Sound of Silence," the audience in Stockholm's Globe Arena cheered and sang along.
Apart from Australia, the countries of Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Israel, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Serbia and Ukraine were affirmed by national judges and television voting audiences. In accordance with ESC rules, individual viewers could vote for as many favorites as they wanted, but not for their own country's entry.
The countries dropping out of the competition after Thursday's semifinal were Ireland, Belarus, Macedonia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and Albania. Disappointing was the failure of Ivan from Belarus, a standout in a year of many same-sounding songs, his "Help You Fly" backed up by stunning video effects. Denmark's three-member boy band Lighthouse X, singing "Soldiers of Love," wanted to change the world with their message, but will have to try another time.
Moving smartly in her glittery dress, 19-year-old Laura Tesoro of Belgium was a refreshing face, smart dancer and natural stage creature. Her song "What's the Pleasure" excited the audience as infectious good-mood music, and many look forward to another encounter with her on Saturday. Another refreshing moment was hard-core rock from Georgia: Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz and their song "Midnight Gold," backed up by eruptive blood-red lighting effects.
In a year of excessive bubble-gum pop, Ukraine's entry proves a true exception: the song "1944," was inspired by the forced expulsion of Jamala's grandparents from their homeland in Crimea. But the song decrying war and oppression was couched in lyrics general enough not to violate Eurovision's prohibition of explicitly political messages. Jamala's voice has a slightly peculiar touch, but her gripping song gives reason to pause.
Soaring vocals by Sanja Vucic ZAA from Serbia and an acrobatic male dancer carried her and her song "Goodbye (Shelter)" through the semifinal. With long tresses and beard, Poland's Michal Szpak resembles a cross between 60s paintings of Jesus Christ and Conchita Wurst, the Eurovision winner two years ago. His look of pained suffering and obligatory soaring refrains carried him through, even though the song "Color of Your Life" ends too suddenly.
Two young Baltic heartthrobs, Lithuania's Donny Montell and Latvia's Justs, will be back to excite legions of teenies on Saturday. Israel's Hovi Star and Bulgaria's Poli Genova also passed the qualifying round, both on the strength of their voices.
Altogether, 26 countries will be represented at the final: the 20 chosen in the two semifinal rounds, the "Big Five" (Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Great Britain) and host country Sweden.