The contestants eliminated from the running are Ireland, Armenia, Moldova, Latvia, Romania, Austria, Lithuania and Croatia. To maximize onscreen tension, performers are picked by a mix of votes from viewers phoning in and professional juries from the 41 participating countries. Voters cannot vote for their own country, but like-minded countries tend to fall into blocs that back their regional favorites.
The Netherlands is considered one of the front-runners for Duncan Laurence's doleful piano ballad, "Arcade," which contrasted starkly with another fan favorite, the athletic Luca Hänni, whose clubby strobe-lit performance earned Switzerland its first grand final slot in years.
"Too Late for Love," sung by John Lundvik, started slow and soulful then exploded into a hallmark Eurovision electro-pop act, complete with glitzy background dancers and rhythmically flashing lights, carrying forward Sweden's successful Eurovision track record.
Thursday's qualifiers will join winners from the first semifinal to vie for the top prize and the fleeting fame it provides. Five European countries sweep straight through to the final because they contribute the most money to the competition. Israel automatically qualified because it won last year.
An estimated 200 million viewers worldwide, more than the Super Bowl, are expected to tune in on Saturday to watch the 26 finalists belt out their tunes in contest's 64th year. Thousands of screaming fans watched in the Tel Aviv hall and on giant screens streaming the show outside the venue.
The ostensibly non-political pop extravaganza has tried to avoid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has so far succeeded despite swirling threats of controversy. Calls for performers to boycott the show over Israel's treatment of Palestinians have failed to yield tangible results.
But the contest waded into murky waters when one of its Israel-themed promotional clips streamed at Thursday's show introduced Norway's performers prancing in what the video labelled the Judean Desert, and what most of the international community calls the occupied West Bank.
During Israel's media blitz ahead of the contest, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry issued a statement demanding that all promotional material filmed in contested Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories be removed.
Another clip, featuring Romania's representative, was filmed at the snow-capped Mount Hermon in the occupied Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast War and later annexed in a move not internationally recognized.
On Tuesday, the semifinal show's webcast was hacked and briefly disrupted with images of bombings in Tel Aviv, according to Israel's national broadcaster, Kan. Kan's spokeswoman, Sharon Ben-David, said the hack lasted only a few minutes and that "the erroneous messages have not been seen by many people," given that the more popular television broadcast was not affected. But the cyber-attack, in light of a recent outbreak of deadly violence on the Israel-Gaza border and veiled threats by Palestinian militant groups to target the Grand Final, fueled fears of further disruption.