(photo credit: ANDRES PUTTING/EBU)
"Shalom, erev tov, good evening Europe and good morning Australia!" proclaimed Bar Refaeli at the outset of the first Eurovision semi-final in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night. "Bruchim Habaim [welcome] to Tel Aviv!"
Alongside her three co-hosts, Assi Azar, Lucy Ayoub and Erez Tal, Refaeli officially opened the live broadcast of the 64th annual Eurovsion Song Contest - for the third time in Israel and the first time ever in Tel Aviv.
"We really missed having you here - did you guys miss us?" Azar asked at the beginning of the broadcast, which marked the culmination of months of round-the-clock work to pull off arguably the largest cultural event in Israel's history. And the two-hour broadcast on Tuesday night went off without a hitch.
Although before the four hosts took the stage, the show was really opened with an unforgettable performance by none other than Netta Barzilai.
Barzilai, who won the 2018 Eurovision, securing Israel's right to host this year, emerged out of an enormous animatronic cat to perform a scaled-up rendition of her winning song, "Toy," for millions tuning in from around the world.
"Good evening Europe!" Barzilai proclaimed. "I can't believe that Eurovision is in Tel Aviv! I had an amazing year, you've been amazing to me, welcome to Israel!"
Seventeen countries took the stage one by one with musical numbers across all genres and styles. Some offered up tunes songs, while others performed upbeat dance hits. And Barzilai's animatronic cat was tame compared to some of the outlandish stunts on stage. From pyrotechnics to dramatic lighting, special effects, rotating stage parts and enormous props, the hallmark Eurovision pageantry was out in full force Tuesday night. Acts from Cyprus, Montenegro, Finland, Poland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Belarus, Serbia, Belgium, Georgia, Australia, Iceland, Estonia, Portugal, Greece and San Marino all took to the stage.
And in between each song viewers around the globe got a peek at Israel through the lens of each "postcard" video. Poland's Tulia danced in Jerusalem's Mishkenot Sha'ananim neighborhood, while Finland's Darude and Sebastian Rejman busted out moves atop a helipad in Ramat Gan and Hungary's Joci Papai explored a cave in Beit Guvrin.
One of the most memorable acts Tuesday came from Australia's Kate Miller-Heidke and her song "Zero Gravity." Miller-Heidke and her two backup dancers were seamlessly perched atop gravity-defying poles that allowed them to sway back and forth far above the stage all while Heidke belted out the song's lyrics. To television audiences at home, it appeared as if the trio were actually floating.
Iceland's outspoken and controversial Hatari pranced around a giant metal spherical cage dressed in leather BDSM gear, while flames danced around them. Georgia's Oto Nemsadze belted out his song while navigating a stage ringed with fire, simulated barbed wire and projected mountaintops.
Viewers were also treated to an interval act by Dana International, Israel's 1998 Eurovision winner, who - while viewers were voting - performed a rendition of the Bruno Mars song "Just The Way You Are."
And with all the votes counted - and added to the jury votes from Monday night's dress rehearsal - ten acts qualified for the grand finale. Greece, Belarus, Serbia, Cyprus, Estonia, Czech Republic, Australia, Iceland, San Marino and Slovenia made it through to the next round.
That means Montenegro, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Finland, Belgium and Georgia ended their Eurovision dreams on Tuesday night.
On Thursday night, 18 more countries will take the stage, and another 10 competitors will qualify for the grand finale, joining the big five - Germany, Spain, Italy, the UK, France - and Israel.
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