Poland, Australia and Cyprus have qualified for the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest as it emerged Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky had been blocked from making an address.
Sixteen countries competed on Thursday night for the 10 remaining spots in Saturday’s showdown in Liverpool.
Those who won over the voting public also included Albania, Estonia, Belgium and Austria. Lithuania, Armenia and Slovenia were also voted through.
But Greece, Denmark, Georgia, Iceland, San Marino and Romania failed to qualify.
It came as the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which produces the contest, said it had declined Mr Zelensky’s request to address the event’s audience on Saturday.
The contest is this year being held in the UK with the BBC on behalf of war-torn Ukraine, which triumphed in Turin last year following a wave of support from the voting public.
A statement from the EBU said: “The Eurovision Song Contest is an international entertainment show and governed by strict rules and principles which have been established since its creation.
“As part of these, one of the cornerstones of the contest is the non-political nature of the event.
“This principle prohibits the possibility of making political or similar statements as part of the contest.
“The request by Mr Zelensky to address the audience at the Eurovision Song Contest, whilst made with laudable intentions, regrettably cannot be granted as it would be against the rules of the event.”
— Eurovision Song Contest (@Eurovision) May 11, 2023
The EBU noted that 11 Ukrainian artists, including last year’s winners Kalush Orchestra, are performing and 37 locations from around Ukraine are also being shown.
None of the bookies’ favourites performed during Thursday night’s knock-out round, but a number of eye-catching acts still featured.
Belgium with Gustaph performed Because Of You, a house music-flavoured dance track featuring euphoric piano stabs.
Wearing parachute pants and a wide-brimmed white hat, the vocalist was joined by backing singers with pink fans and a dancer performing a vogueing routine.
Polish pop singer Blanka made an impact with her track Solo, a summery tune with a catchy hook reminiscent of Ariana Grande’s music.
Viral TikTok duo Teya And Salena, the first female pairing to compete for Austria, performed their quirky dance-pop track Who The Hell Is Edgar?
The catchy song is about being possessed by the ghost of 19th century Gothic author Edgar Allan Poe, but is also a commentary on the struggle of female writers to be taken seriously in a male-dominated industry.
Australian veterans Voyager, a five-piece from Perth known for their space rock, delivered a bombastic performance of their synth-laden track Promise.
In a pre-recorded segment Welsh actor Luke Evans recalled the nearly seven-decade history of the contest, which he said had emerged out of a “continent in recovery” from the Second World War to become “Europe’s most raucous election”.
Eurovision paid tribute to the music of Ukraine with a performance by Maria Yaremchuk, Zlata Dziunka and Otoy featuring music from the country from throughout the years including the Christmas carol, Carol Of The Bells, which is based on the Ukrainian song Shchedryk.
Hosts Alesha Dixon, Hannah Waddingham and Ukrainian singer Julia Sanina were also back on stage after making their debut as a presenting trio on Tuesday night.
At one point, the trio transformed into drag queens by walking into a “Queen Machine”, before a troupe of performers took to the stage for a medley of hits including Free Your Mind by En Vogue and a remix of Free Yourself by Jessie Ware.
There was also a surprise appearance from pop group Scooch, who competed for the UK in 2007 with Flying The Flag (For You) but came 22nd with only 19 points.
The group, known for their camp style, were seen dressed in flight attendant outfits handing out voting cards to the audience.
Children’s animated character Peppa Pig also made a surprise appearance leading a conga line.
Unlike on Tuesday, UK viewers were able to vote during this semi-final.
For the second time this week, the auditorium was filled with Ukrainian flags flying alongside those from other countries competing for the prize.
Not visible during the TV broadcast was the rapid work of the stage production team who had around 60 seconds to change the sets between songs.