I think it's worth a word or two about how I choose the Finalists for each character design contest.
At the end of the process, I want a good cross-section of submissions showing a variety of approaches and techniques. I go into it with the mindset that I want someone who hasn't seen any of the entries to come away impressed with how different success can look, with a good idea of what the whole contest was about.
With that in mind, sometimes I'll select a given submission because one element is intriguing enough that I think a wider audience would really benefit from seeing it. For example, I didn't think gendonesia's "Kung Fu Wrath" fit the concept of the contest all that well, thematically speaking -- I didn't get "wrath" from just looking at it -- but besides being just a really nice illustration, I wanted to point out what a great background technique with the silhouettes used in it. I hadn't seen that done so well before.
Sometimes wanting a good cross-section means picking out one or two that make me laugh, like Atomic Punk's. I thought it was a funny and clever twist on the concept of "Wrath" and that people would enjoy seeing it.
Mostly, though, I pick entries that, when I first see them, make me go "Wow, what a good illustration!" I then ask myself how well it fits the overall contest theme. If it doesn't fit, I look to see if it has a feature that stands out as something I think more people should be exposed to (as in the gendonesia example above).
Quite often there are great illustrations that don't really fit the theme in my subjective opinion and which don't really have a particular feature I want to call out. Those are the ones that are quality products that just don't make it in to the final list.
Sometimes I'll notice a new user who hasn't entered very often (or at all) before, but who's done something really nice. It might not have qualified if it were done by dblade or Imp or one of the more frequent and "veteran" users whose entire body of work has set a certain high standard, but for someone I haven't seen much before it's of good enough quality to merit a mention.
With all of that, I try very hard to keep the total number of finalists to a reasonable number. These files are usually pretty big, and with 15-25 on the page they already load pretty slowly for those on weaker connections. Plus, if you have TOO many of them on a page, people get bored and leave without going through them all. So sometimes you might have an entry that on another week with fewer entries might have made the cut, but this particular week doesn't due to there happening to be an unusually high number of other, great ones.
When taken together, the end result is that I have to get a limited number of Finalists, which taken as a whole show good variety, including some that might not be as strong in terms of concept or execution generally but which have at least one callout-worthy feature. That means some very (very) good entries might get left out in a particular week.
And ultimately, as I've said time and again, this is just my personal subjective judgment on what fulfills the Finalist post's goals.
The key takeaway with any kind of artistic endeavor is that you must do it because the doing of it gives you fulfillment. If you only get that feeling if recognized by someone else (even me!), then you are in it for the wrong reasons. The point of these contests is not to become a Finalist or to win. The point is to have fun, to stretch your creative side, and to engage in sharing your creativity with a wider community. My personal judgments must not and should not be the final arbiter over whether or not you are happy with the work you have done. That must purely and solely come from you and you alone.