“Europe, start your voting!”

The 18 songs of the first semifinal of Eurovision Song Contest 2012 in Baku have been performed, and the fate rests in the hands of the televoters who have 15 minutes of live voting across the Continent. The show went off without a hitch so far, though I wonder how many more postcards about the wonders of Azerbaijan the organizers can come up with. None of the entries was more of a car crash than we had expected, and most of the performers achieved what they were setting out to do. UPDATED 2:00 pm PDT with the finalists marked

1. MONTENEGRO – Rambo was so laidback as to seem a bit apathetic, and the staging was a bit messy. But it sounded fine for what it was.

2. ICELAND – Jonsi and Greta looked and sounded great with their mini-melodrama. The backdrops and staging were effective, and this number seemed like the actual start of the show. FINALIST!

3. GREECE – Eleftheria was decent on the song’s undemanding vocals. A summery dancepop that was just good enough to make the finals. FINALIST!

4. LATVIA – Anmary looked and sounded quite good, but the song was far weaker than the performance. Non-English-speakers may vote for this without knowing how lame it is.

5. ALBANIA – Rona was note-perfect on this very INTENSE number that seems a bit out of place for Eurovision, but she should be a bit more in contact with the viewing audience. FINALIST!

6. ROMANIA – Mandinga give a good performance of their party song made for summer cafes. Elena seemed to have some trouble with her earpiece, though it didn’t affect her vocals. FINALIST!

7. SWITZERLAND – Sinplus brought the feeling and swagger of a real rock concert to the Baku stage, looking great and confident onstage.

8. BELGIUM – A bit young and shaky on the first verse, she relaxed and gave a good vocal performance of her radio-friendly song.

9. FINLAND – Pernilla was lovely and sensitive in her song tribute to her mother. Too bad the song doesn’t really go anywhere.

10. ISRAEL – Catchy, nice performance and use of the backgrounds. If the band were more photogenic, this would have a better chance. Recalls Eurovision entries of the 1970s.

11. SAN MARINO – Valentina sings well, but is out of place on this dreadful song that is better suited to a 16-year old singer.

12. CYPRUS – Ivi sang and danced better than Greece’s Eleftheria, and was wise to come across as more girlish and less sex-bomb than her Greek competitor. FINALIST!

13. DENMARK – Youthful and casual performance, Soluna looks good on camera. FINALIST!

14. RUSSIA – The grannies can’t really sing or dance, but when you are busy being this cute what difference does it make? FINALIST!

15. HUNGARY – Compact Disco sounded really good on a rather static song that could get lost between Russia and Austria’s more energetic presentations. FINALIST!

16. AUSTRIA – Raunchy pole dance tribute to the virtues of shaking your booty. Was showy and well-performed.

17. MOLDOVA – Pure goofy fun, sung and danced well, with energy and confidence. The final parade down the catwalk looked great. FINALIST!

18. IRELAND – Jedward turned “Waterline’ into a literal Technicolor water revue that left them soaking wet in the middle of a 10 foot fountain. Their preteen girl fans will rush to the voting lines. FINALIST!

(Now the press conference and drawing of places for Saturday’s final, should take place in about a half hour…)

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