Strictly Come Dancing (Series 16)

Strictly Come Dancing has managed to stay popular compared to many reality TV shows. I suppose it’s combination of camp, classy (by weekend reality TV show standards!) and “small c”conservative benefits it. But I don’t usually watch it that closely. Obviously it’s such a big show that I have some awareness of what’s happened while it’s on. But the
only ones I watched regularly were The One Alesha Dixon Won and The One Harry Judd Won. I usually watch The X Factor more. I guess I prefer karaoke to ballroom dancing!  But The X Factor has very, very much had its day, and frankly I just couldn’t be bothered with it this year.

So, while some Strictly contestants have never danced before, I feel in a similar position, as I have never blogged about it before and I my knowledge of dance is pretty much non-existent, but nonetheless, I got really into it this year, so here’s what I thought.

A lot of elements remained the same as recent years. The hosts were Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman, and the judges were Bruno Tonioli, Dame Darcey Bussell, Craig Revel Horward and head judge Shirley Ballas.

There was a lot of whingeing about the celebrity cast being full of unknowns, because as we all know normally it’s only the biggest A Listers that go on reality TV shows, but to be honest it was the cast that attracted me!

Danny John-Jules in particular, as he was the Cat in Red Dwarf. As someone who grew up in the ’90s I also remember him as Barrington in Maid Marian And Her Merry Men,
and a Tomorrow People miniseries which I think might have been about evil alien plants, (and I think Connie Booth was in it as well, I always remember that because I saw her in that before I’d ever seen Fawlty Towers!).

TV presenter Katie Piper was also an intriguing casting choice for me, as like many I find her very inspiring, that she has had such terrible things happen to her, and has not only managed to overcome it, but to be successful and to set up charities to help others.

I also quite liked that they were getting a YouTube vlogger, as even if they’re only really well known on the internet, they are quite big on that format, and they are relevant to today. I had seen a few of Joe Sugg‘s vlogs now and again, and I found him very likeable.

Also in this series were ex-pop group members (Faye Tozer from Steps, Lee Ryan from Blue and Ashley Roberts from the Pussycat Dolls) and sports stars (former England cricketer Graeme Swann and Paralympic swimmer Lauren Steadman). There was also BBC newsreader Kate Silverton, actor Charles Venn, most famous for being in
Casualty, documentary maker Stacey Dooley, celebrity doctor Dr. Ranj Singh, Capital FM DJ Vick Hope, comedian Seann Walsh, and Susannah Constantine, best known for the noughties TV show What Not To Wear.

While I always hated the theme weeks on The X Factor, I loved them on Strictly!

I really enjoyed Movie Week. Lots of props, such as clapperboards, popcorn and 3D glasses.

I adored Kate Silverton as Jessica Rabbit, with her dance partner Aljaž as Roger Rabbit, doing a Foxtrot to ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’! Kate tripped on the stairs at the start, but she laughed it off and got on with the rest of the dance.

Ashley & Pasha did a Dirty Dancing themed Salsa, including “The Lift”.

Movie Week boasted both Jennifer Warnes hits, with the Dirty Dancing routine obviously being to ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’ by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, and Charles & Karen’s American Smooth being themed to An Officer And A Gentlemen, so soundtracked to ‘Up Where We Belong’ by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. I think
‘Up Where We Belong’ is a much, much better song than ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’. This is probably a controversial opinion, but I don’t like ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’ at all! The only thing worse than that song is whatever the hell the Black Eyed Peas did to it to make ‘The Time (Dirty Bit)’.

Faye made a good Sandy for her and Giovanni’s Quickstep to ‘You Are The One I Want’ from Grease.

Vick & Graziano did a Salsa to ABBA’s ‘Take A Chance On Me’, the movie being Mamma Mia! obviously. Though I guess they could also have gone with Muriel’s Wedding or ABBA: The Movie.

Dr. Ranj & Janette did a Quickstep to ‘Prince Ali’ from Disney’s Aladdin, including riding on a plastic elephant. It was very Bollywood meets Christmas pantomime. I learned from the introduction VT to this that Jade Ewen is playing Princess Jasmine in the West End musical version of Aladdin! She was one of the UK’s better performing recent Eurovision entrants, joined the Sugababes in their the dying days, and now is the West End Princess Jasmine! Quite a C.V.!

Joe & Dianne also did a Quickstep, to ‘Breaking Free’ from High School Musical, and I have to admit I have a soft spot for that cheesetastic song!

Lauren & AJ did a Cha-Cha-Cha to ‘Fame’ from, well, Fame.

Danny dressed up as a circus ringmaster for his and Amy’s Paso Doble inspired by The Greatest Showman.

Katie & Gorka did a nice enough Foxtrot to ‘The City Of Stars’ from La La Land.

Graeme & Oti did a Charleston to the Spiderman theme. I loved the detailed facepaint for Graeme’s Spiderman mask! Oti had a purple, spiderweb style dress. She did most of the dancing work, but Graeme wasn’t bad really!

Stacey & Kevin were both painted bright yellow to play the Minions from Despicable Me for a Jive to ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Willams. As annoying as them saying “BANANA!” over and over again in the VT and after the routine, it was quite good, though Kevin looked more like Homer Simpson. Actually, I’d love a Simpsons routine! Though it would be a challenge for someone to dance under the weight of Marge’s tall blue beehive hairdo.

Lee & Nadiya had a ’50s routine the previous week, and they went to the ’80s in Movie Week with a Back To The Future themed Cha-Cha-Cha. Ironic in a way, as Back To
The Future is a film about time travelling from the ’80s to the ’50s. Lee was Marty McFly, and Nadiya was… I’m not sure, actually. I think she was meant to be Doc Brown? Doc Brown played as a hot babe with big ’80s hair? Which I kind of get the appeal of, but it was still a bit peculiar.

But my favourite routine in Movie Week was actually Seann & Katya’s!. It was a Paso Doble to ‘Clubbed To Death’ by Rob Dougan, a soundtrack to many TV trailers and to
many a dance performances by students when I was in sixth form college. It was themed on The Matrix, green laser lights, leather outfits. I especially liked the routine included slow motion bits like in the film! But soon after this, Seann & Katya… you know what, let’s just put a pin in that one, we’ll talk about that whole mess later.

For Halloween Week we had decoration of lots of cobwebs, pumpkins and bats, and everyone, even the judges, dressing up. For the judges, I most liked their jewellery. Shirely with a silver necklace of skulls, Bruno with a regal gold crown pendant, Darcey with moon-and-star earings and Craig with a glittery scorpion badge.

My favourite routine was Lauren & AJ’s Paso Doble. Thematically it seemed based on the film Snow White and The Huntsman, with AJ as the Huntsman. Lauren wasn’t Snow
White, though she could easily have been, she has the beauty, the hair black as ebony, skin white as snow etc. Here she was the Wicked Queen, and it was for the best as she was excellent at the part, and she looked like she loved playing it.

Joe & Dianne did a Foxtrot to ‘Youngblood’ by 5 Seconds of Summer. They could have done more with the whole “spooky fairground” idea, it was just a bumper car. It was similar to Vick & Graziano’s Tunnel Of Love Quickstep from weeks ago, only this one was for a loved up goth couple. But Joe was really good at playing the vampire! Bruno commented on that he acted the part well.

Stacey dressed as the Doctor and Kevin as a Cyberman, for a Tango to the theme from Doctor Who! Being a Doctor Who fan, I loved it! It was notable that Stacey took the
traditionally male role in the Tango halfway through, similar to Jodie Whittaker being the first woman to play the Doctor.

Ashley & Pasha did a Charleston to ‘Witch Doctor’, which was quite fun, and brightly coloured. It was themed to Trolls, a movie I haven’t seen. But the costumes inspired by it saw Pasha as a pot-bellied goblin and Ashley with a candy pink-and-blue coloured hair and outfit, the main prop was a spellbook and the scenery included large red toadstools and a treehouse (as in a house built into a tree, not a house on top of a tree).

Faye & Giovanni did a Theatre Jazz routine. I’m not sure what they were going for costume wise though. It looked sort of Men In Black meets The Phantom of The Opera. ‘Fever’ by Peggy Lee is probably the biggest stretch as a Halloween song too. The whole routine was a bit pretentious really, but it was performed well.

Dr. Ranj & Janette did a Jive to ‘Monster Mash’. This was themed on Monster’s Inc, with Janette as Boo and Dr. Ranj as Sully. There were some Muppet like monster toys as well. The big blue suit and shoes Dr. Ranj had to wear probably made it difficult to dance in though.

Charles & Karen went for a Jive to ‘Time Warp’ from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Danny & Amy did an American Smooth to ‘Spirit In The Sky’.

Kate & Aljaž did a Rumba while dressed as silver ice sculptures. But I don’t think Kate suits “ice queen” really. She’s more fire than ice.

Graeme and Oti were on first with a Cha-Cha-Cha to ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson. That song is a very overdone for Halloween, so it came off as a bit ‘eh’, plus they were on first, which is probably why they ended up in the dance off after the public vote was added despite three other couples having a lower judges score. They survived the dance-off though.

Seann & Katya went, after a Viennese Waltz to ‘I Put A Spell On You’ by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Their dusty cobwebbed old toyshop themed routine wasn’t very good. Seann
didn’t do much,which normally was an advantage, but it didn’t work when Katya was playing a creepy doll, so therefore she was meant to be the inanimate one! She was
great as the doll though, I liked the dress, the huge bow and the cracked porcelain make-up.

I’m going to leave that pin in a little longer, as I’d rather get on to Blackpool Week.

Blackpool Week seems to be The Big One in terms of Strictly. The dancers get to perform in the Blackpool Tower ballroom, giving the show a more grand and elaborate feel than usual.

Stacey & Kevin opened the show with a Salsa to ‘Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit’ by Gina G. Stacey came down from the ceiling on a giant stick of rock, there was a holiday postcard, an enormous bucket and spade and a rather grumpy looking toy donkey.

Joe had wanted to get to Blackpool week from the start, as his nan Phyllis also danced in the Tower Ballroom in her younger days, and now she was in the audience to see her grandson in top hat and tails dancing a Quickstep with Dianne. The routine got a good score too, three 10s!

Faye & Giovanni did a compelling and dramatic Paso Doble. The music was excellent too, it was so powerful. I wasn’t familiar with it before, but apparently it’s ‘Unstoppable’ by E.S. Posthumus. Lots of fire, including flaming drumsticks. There were also huge red diamonds. I thought it looked slightly James Bond opening titles in some ways, due to all the fire and silhouettes.

Ashley & Pasha got a perfect score – four 10s! – for their Jive set in a fish and chip shop to ‘Shake A Tailfeather’ from The Blues Brothers. The set design was quite a plush and luxurious chipshop, and the dance based on them simply serving fish and chips, sprinkiling salt and vinegar on them, and then helping themselves to a few was brilliant! They must have had to time it even more precisely than usual, as they had to jump and land on the table at the same time as the tablecloths were pulled off!

Lauren & AJ had a very difficult, complex Argentine Tango, and the fact that they were concentrating so much on technique ironically made the overall effect of the performance suffer.

Charles & Karen’s Samba to ‘La Bamba’ – all pineapples, palm trees and flamingos – ended with Karen getting caught up in all the ticker tape afterwards!

I wasn’t keen on Graeme & Oti’s Couple’s Choice, which was Theatre Jazz, and full of cable cars and umbrellas, but there wasn’t really much in the routine itself. To be fair, my distaste for it might be partly due to it being to that annoying ‘The Trolley Song’ from Meet Me In St. Louis.

They ended up in the dance off, but survived against Kate & Aljaž. I usually liked Kate & Aljaž, but I wasn’t a fan of this routine, an American Smooth to Love Affair’s ‘Everlasting Love’. It was a bit sickly, not least with the heart-shaped hot air balloon and everything looking like someone had shaken up a two litre bottle of cherry cola and sprayed it everywhere.

One highlight from this week though came at the start, with Gloria Estefan performing a medley of her hits. My earliest ever pop music memory is being at the seaside and my parents playing ‘Rhythm Is Gonna Get You’ in the car, so I liked seeing Gloria Estefan on TV performing it in the Blackpool Tower.

In Musicals Week:

Joe & Dianne did a Salsa based on Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I can’t help but think they mainly picked that because of Joe having the same name! Anyway, it was the megamix version, and featured a multicoloured coat – several in fact, along with huge rainbow flags.

Stacey & Kevin did an American Smooth to ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Miserables. It was fine, but I’m not sure the fact that it made the judges, audience and several viewers cry is that amazing to be honest. I mean, come on, it’d be harder to NOT  make ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ a tearjerker.

Faye & Giovanni got a perfect score of 40 with their Charleston to ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ from The Sound Of Music. Though it was more like ‘Wind It Up’ by Gwen Stefani which sampled ‘The Lonely Goatherd’, and which I’d thought people had decided to retcon out of existence. Anyway, Faye & Giovanni were dressed as puppets, there were even puppet goats, and they were freed from their strings Pinocchio style.

Lauren & AJ did an American Smooth based on South Pacific, so set in a tropical location. It had lots of twirls and was quite sweet. Now I want a chocolate bar now I’ve typed that last sentence…

I agreed with the two that ended up in the dance-off. Ashley & Pasha did a Quickstep to ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ from Funny Girl, and maybe it’s because I find that song a little cloying, maybe it’s because the dance was so fast, or maybe it’s as Shirley said, the choreography was far too busy, but it was my least favourite dance of this week.

Charles & Karen were the couple who were eliminated though. They did a Rumba to ‘Maria’ from West Side Story, and to be honest I just found it a bit dull.

The Lindy Hop-a-thon, while not really a “special” week deserves highlighting for what an absolute car crash it was! The dancers would have a group dance and would be ranked from 1-7, with the highest getting 7 points, the 2nd highest getting 6 and so on, and that would be added to the judges score for their dances. They kept telling the couples they would have points deducted for any collisions, but the couples didn’t make any real mistakes. It was the judges! The iPad that revealed the scores broke, so they had to scramble around from all the bits of paper they’d jotted them down. They announced Ashley had the top score first, which ruined any real suspense as they then began announcing the rest in reverse order, in which Shirley mixed two couples up and mentioned a “Charles & Dianne”. There was some confusion as to whether Lauren or Graeme had received the lowest marks. And after all that, the new scores made no significant difference whatsoever to how the leaderboard looked anyway!

To take a close look at how the contestants did:

Susannah Constantine was an unsurprising first out. She was the bottom of the bookies odds for the winner when the full cast was announced, and the two weeks she was there she was the bottom of the judges vote both times. When it was announced she was in the dance off, everyone was talking as if she’d already been eliminated! In her first routine she had a huge pineapple on her head and huge orange toilet roll cover of a dress with her professional dance partner Anton du Beke obviously hiding underneath it. It was bad, but her week two routine was just .. boring. A dull, middle-aged middle class snobby fashion journo from over a decade ago was never going to be a likely public favourite, but more than anything she simply can’t dance and she can’t really do comedy either, so if we’re being perfectly honest first out was probably the only place Strictly had for her.

Lee Ryan in contrast had been expected to last a little longer than he did! He was partnered with Nadiya Bychkova. I quite liked the whole ’50s diner thing in their
Jive to ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, but they ended up in the bottom 2 despite a decent judges score. I guess Lee Ryan isn’t popular with the public, because… well, let’s face it, he’s a bit of a bellend. The whole Celebrity Big Brother 13 love triangle he was involved him has likely put a lot of people off him too. He possibly saw his exit coming when he fell into the dance off the second week in a row. He didn’t even bother to keep his Marty McFly costume on in the dance off!

Katie Piper was a favourite of mine in the early weeks. I think some of the documentaries she has done have been excellent. She was partnered with Gorka Márquez, who was the dancer I saw most of from last series as his partner then was Alexandra Burke, who I was rooting for. He is also the dancer I fancied the most, so that was a bonus.

However, with the dancing it seemed Katie Piper’s nerves got to her. I actually really liked her first routine in theory, which was a romcom like Waltz to ‘When We Were Young’ by Adele, but you could tell Katie was worrying about it.

I also liked their final routine in week 4, a Jive to ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’. It was the second Diana Ross song of that week, after Vick & Graziano did a routine to ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ by The Supremes. Well, OK, officially the show listed ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ as by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, but the version performed was a more like Diana Ross’ cover. It was quite funny, with Katie and Gorka dressed in geek/hipster clothes, with a lot of comical elements including them passing around a flower.

On one level, I suppose Katie never got high judges scores so was probably never going to last long, but I was sad to see her and Gorka go. Nerves I guess, and at the end of the day you can’t be good at everything. Katie was very gracious and positive about it all, as you’d expect. Gorka complimented her on the fact she always wanted to improve, Graeme said that she was liked by everyone, and Faye said at the end she’d be missed.

Capital FM DJ Vick Hope was partnered with newcomer professional dancer Graziano Di Prima. They did a very uninspiring Jive in week one, followed by a graceful Waltz
in week 2. My favourite of theirs overall was the Quickstep to ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. I agreed with Bruno’s comments that it was very “candyfloss”. Everything pink, Vick’s dress, Graziano’s suit, lots of hearts and a Tunnel Of Love. It was quite sweet, maybe too sugary really, but still pretty good. They would be gone the following week after a forgettable Cha-Cha-Cha. I liked that the song for her goodbye dance was ‘Miss You Like Crazy’ by Natalie Cole though, my parents used to play that quite a lot.

Vick seemed genuinely upset to be going. I guess having someone who was the least well known celebrity paired up with the newcomer professional dancer meant they wouldn’t really have a fanbase which others had, so would have to get by on the fact they were both conventionally attractive. Or just the quality of their dances, which were hit and miss. “Disappointment” seems to be the word that comes up most when talking about Vick’s time on Strictly, unfortunately. Still, she has amazing hair, and she’s got an entry on Wikipedia now, which she didn’t have before this series!

Well, I’ve put this off for a while. Here goes:

Stand-up comedian Sean(n) Walsh (the rather silly spelling of his first name with a superfluous ‘n’ is his attempt to make his name look a bit less generic and average) was partnered with Katya Jones. Their first routine was a Tango themed on Bodyguard. That is the huge hit BBC drama from this year starring Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden, not the 1992 film with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner which ‘I Will Always Love You’ is from.

To think that the first overblown “controversy” of this year’s series was on that routine when Shirley commented she’d find Seann better looking if he got a haircut! In the second week they did a Jive which started with a pointless groan of a joke “Why can’t dogs dance? Because they have two left feet”. But what did make me laugh was that after the whole thing went messy, Shirley’s only comment was “I like your hair!”

But my, would all that be overshadowed! Seann & Katya were filmed having a “drunken snog”. It seemed that the notorious “Strictly curse”, of contestants ending up falling for their dance partners, even though they already have romantic partners, had struck again.

Katya’s husband Neil is also a dancer on Strictly, and it transpired that the snog happened on Seann’s girlfriend’s BIRTHDAY! She dumped him, and the whole scandal was all over social media and the press for a week.

I didn’t approve of what Seann and Katya did cheating on their partners, but I didn’t think they should have been forced to leave because of it like some people were demanding. For a start, they were hardly the first. It’s not called “The Strictly Curse” for nothing, people were speculating about which couple would succumb to it before this series even started. For another, if people were as “outraged” by it as they were making out, then they’d be in bottom of the public vote and out quickly.

Their dance for that week was changed to a Charleston, as it would limit their contact, and was a goofy comedy one set in a pizzeria involving burnt pizza in the oven and having to hold up boxes stacked on top of each other.

As was predicted, the controversy increased the show’s already high viewing figures. In the short term, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, which seemed to be true of Seann & Katya, they got through the public vote the week the scandal broke, but the following week they were in the dance-off after a street busker at a train station themed Quickstep to ‘Lightning Bolt’ by Jake Bugg (Notable that they had a big guitar between them at all times).

I was up and down with Seann. At first I wasn’t keen. I hadn’t heard of him before, and his brand of comedy isn’t really my cup of tea. But I warmed to him during the first couple of weeks, and I LOVED the Matrix routine in Movie Week. But then came The Incident. It made me dislike him more than I ever had. Again, I don’t think they should have been forced to leave the competition, but the fact that it created such a stinking cloud over the whole show made me feel a bit irritated about their continued presence, even more so with the judges keeping them in, either via high scores or dance-off saves.

I know this is a bit of an outdated term in the 21st century, as a lot of people get news digitally now, and fish and chip shops haven’t used newspaper for years, but the meaning behind it still rings true – today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, and by the time Seann was eliminated, the scandal was yesterday’s fish and chip paper, so frankly it needed throwing out.

Dr. Ranj Singh was partnered with Janette Manrara. They started with a Cha-Cha-Cha to ‘How Will I Know’ by Whitney Houston, and as you might expect it was very camptastic! He was dressed in a white coat style up doctor outfit, and a VERY phallic looking giant thermometer. But I think my favourite of his was the Aladdin Quickstep in Movie Week.

The final Dr Ranj & Janette performance was a Samba to ‘Freedom ’90’ by George Michael. Their costumes I think were meant to invoke fireworks, as it was the weekend
before Bonfire Night on the Monday. They were meant to be fiery, colourful and eye-catching, but the costumes plus the lighting perhaps wasn’t very easy on the eyes. Still, a pity to lose such a fun contestant.

That week was also a bad one for songs called ‘Freedom’, as the bottom of the leaderboard was Danny John-Jules with a Quickstep to ‘Freedom’ by Pharrell Williams. He avoided the dance-off that week, but he would be the next contestant to be eliminated.

Danny John-Jules was partnered with Amy Dowden. He said in the first episode that his character in Red Dwarf, the Cat, would love Strictly, and would be saying of the Glitterball Trophy “That’s MY shiny thing!”.

Strictly has kind of been referenced on Red Dwarf. Well, the series predates Strictly, so it was reference to Strictly‘s ’70s predecessor Come Dancing. Lister once remarked that one of Cat’s outfits made him “look like a contestant from Come Jiving“, i.e a futuristic version of Come Dancing.

Strictly referenced Danny’s Red Dwarf character in week one with him dancing a Foxtrot to a TV theme tune, not the Red Dwarf one, but the theme from the cartoons series
Top Cat. His costume, pink suit and leopard print shirt was also like something the Cat in Red Dwarf might wear. The dance was quite smooth.

He got to perform a Vienesse Waltz to ‘I Gotta Be Me’ by his idol, Sammy Davies Jnr.

There was a VT of him stood on top of a real biplane as it’s flying through the air, to introduce a brilliant Jive. He and Amy were dressed as Biggles-like pilots, with goggles and scarf, and the dance got the first 10 score of the series!

It all seemed to go wrong after this peak though. Danny started off on the wrong foot in the Quickstep to ‘Freedom’ and never recovered, getting the lowest score from the judges that week. Danny & Amy became the first couple this series to avoid the dance off altogether thanks to public votes, but they were gone the following week after a Caribbean carnival themed samba. He’d again been bottom of the leaderboard that week and had made a few mistakes in the routine, but it felt like the week of him being a tabloid target had something to do with it too, with gossip and rumours about he and Amy falling out, which they both said had been greatly exaggerated. In any case, he chose not to appear on the spin-off show It Takes Two.

Newsreader Kate Silverton, was partnered with Aljaž Skorjanec, and they turned out to be one of my favourite couples. I’m just going to list the many highlights!

Kate playing a saucy newsreader!
Kate as the Wicked Queen in Snow White to a magic mirror commanding lightning storms!
Then there was the time she played JESSICA RABBIT!!!!!!!!!
The week when she danced to ‘AFRICA’ BY TOTO!!!!!!!!!
When Kate & Aljaz played a bride and groom on top of a wedding cake!!!!!!

My last favourite routine of theirs was the slightly soppy American Smooth in Blackpool Week, which was also when they left. As much as I liked Kate, it was probably better that she left at this point. She had injured her ribs, so she was probably better off leaving soon without risking doing more damage or having to withdraw from the competition voluntarily. But overall, they were one of my favourite couples.

Former England cricket player Graeme Swann was partnered with Oti Mabuse. In the first week Graeme came down from the ceiling on a giant cricket bat to the tune of ‘Soul Limbo’ by Booker T. & the M.G.s, better known as “The Test Match Special song”.

Graeme mentioned that his kids would like him getting to be Spiderman in Movie Week. He and Oti performed a Jive set on the moon, starting with them wearing silver foil astronaut suits. It was to ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen, very much cementing Graeme’s status as “the Dad” of the competition. They went more “grandparent” with a quite sweet starlight backed Waltz to ‘Last Waltz’ by Engelbert Humperdinck – Graeme in top hat and tails, Oti in a white and gold dress.

A different sort of style for them was their Tango in week 5. Oti’s scarlet and black dress, and big fan. Graeme’s black waistcoat, red shirt with black roses. Them carrying a red rose between their teeth, to ‘Roxanne’ by the Police. Agreed with Darcey that “fierce” summed it up.

My least favourite routine of theirs was an irritating Salsa with Graeme & Oti wearing ’80s style exercise outfits, a colour vomit eyesore of neon, pink, orange, and lime green. They were on a treadmill for some of it, and it was a bit of a mess. Bizarrely, the judges gave it a score of 31 points in total (!), but viewers didn’t like it, as after the public votes were added they ended up in the dance-off, though they survived.

As likeable as Graeme is, I was kind of ready for him to go when he did, which was in Musicals Week. I think realistically he’d gone as far in the competition as he was going to, and landing in the dance-off with Ashley, not only the technically strongest dancer, but it was her first time there and Graeme’s fourth time… well, he had no chance of surviving that really.

Charles Venn was partnered with Karen Clifton.

In the first week they did a Cha-Cha-Cha in a slightly red devil setting, with red suits and flames, but no Halloween Week style horns and pointy tails, to Ain’t No Love, Ain’t No Use by Sub Sub feat. Melanie Williams.

Also memorable was a Street Commercial dance with Charles & Karen as gangsters playing cards, with Charles in a bright yellow suit.

When he did a Charleston, the show got as many puns out of that as they could! It was a window cleaner themed routine to a weird jazzy version of ‘No Diggitty’ by BLACKStreet.

There was a pattern of them scoring exactly 25 points from the judges, which happened 5 times in their 11 weeks in the competition! They also ended up being regulars in the dance-off, finding themselves there four times in total, surviving three. With Charles again I wasn’t that bothered to see him go, as he’d been in the dance-off so often at that point it seemed like it was only a matter of time anyway.

Lauren Steadman has competed as both a swimmer and a paratriathalete in the Paralympics. She actually won a gold medal in the World Triathlon Championships in
Australia, and flew back to be on the first Strictly live show!

She was partnered with AJ Pritchard. AJ’s quite fun, and I admit he’s kind of cute. They were probably my favourite couple this year, they had a fantastic chemistry together and they became a popular pair.

Their first routine was themed to Romeo And Juliet (the Baz Luhrman film version from 1996, complete with being soundtracked to ‘Kissin’ You’ by Desree). I’m not sure the dynamic was Romeo and Juliet though. If we’re going to use a literary/mythology reference, I thought it was more Greek gods Appollo and Artemis, an arty boy and a
sporty girl.

I liked the Contemporary dance to Naughty Boy and Beyonce – ‘Runnin’, which was themed on swimming in the Paralympics.

They had the best routine in Halloween Week, with Lauren as the Wicked Queen and AJ as the Huntsman.

There was the Jive in a skatepark to ‘Girlfriend’ by Avril Lavigne. ‘Sk8ter Boi’ might have made more sense, but it was fun. AJ leapfroging over Lauren, and Lauren suited the emo cheerleader look, while AJ suited the chequered shirt prettyboy look!

I was really happy when Lauren & AJ avoided the dance-off two weeks in a row despite being bottom of the leaderboard on those weeks, which meant they must have had a
lot of public votes!

However, they went in the semi-final, after a moderate Tango to ‘Nutbush City Limits’ by Tina Turner, and a Samba on a ship which went pear shaped quite quickly. They were also in a dance-off against Ashley, who had the opposite problem (high judges scores, low public votes), and as the judges decided who went, well I think everyone guessed the result of that outcome. I liked the use of ‘Didn’t We Almost Have It All’ by Whitney Houston in their farewell dance.

Lauren & AJ were a couple I enjoyed watching each week and I was rooting for them, though it was more for them to get far than expecting they would win. Lauren said that being on Strictly normalised her disability, and she wanted to be on to inspire people, especially younger generations, and she felt she achieved that. Both she and AJ said that it was about ability not disability.

Ashley Roberts ended up being the obligatory Strictly contestant who was one of the strongest dancers, but had previous dance experience and training so it was seen by the public as an unfair advantage. There’s at least one every series, though in Ashley’s case she was even more like that than usual. Her claim to fame is being a member of girlgroup The Pussycat Dolls, and the thing about them was Nicole Scherzinger sang pretty much everything (even the backing vocals sometimes), the only purpose of the other girls was to dance and look sexy. So in other words, her claim to fame was being a dancer. She’d also been a judge on Dancing On Ice on ITV!

Ashley consistently had high scores, but found herself in the dance-off in week 10. It was a bit of a shock, but not a massive one. At the end of the day, the light entertainment viewing public prefer someone who, as vexing as this phrase is in the context of reality TV, “goes on a journey”, someone who starts off a newcomer or an underdog, but improves. Alexandra Burke was in a similar position to Ashley last year, though unlike Ashley she managed to avoid the dance off in the semi-final. I guess she had more personality than Ashley, so there was something to hook onto and get some kind of fan momentum going.

Both Alexandra and Ashley faced a lot of completely unnecessary hate though. Fair enough if people like other contestants more, but the show needs some dancers that are exceptionally good, and those shouldn’t be made to feel bad for the crime of being good at something.

That said, I get why people might not have voted for Ashley. She is perhaps a bit too polished, technically very good, but not intriguing. There was also the inevitability that the judges would save her against most other contestants. Why bother voting for her if the judges are going to put her through anyway?

Still, she and her partner Pasha Kovalev did give us some good dances!

I liked their Cha-Cha-Cha to ‘Boogie Wonderland’ by Earth Wind and Fire in week 2.

The Movie Week Salsa was reprised in the Final, but I think that was mainly because it has “The Lift” from Dirty Dancing. I actually liked their dance after Movie Week better, the Tango in week 4. It had a giant chessboard, Ashley like a vampire sat on an elegant black throne, and blood red chess pieces. And it wasn’t even Halloween week! I suppose she was trying to show her range after playing Baby last week.

The 40 points earning Fish And Chip Shop Jive in Blackpool Week was great.

There was a Contemporary dance in week 8 was dedicated to Ashley’s late father.

I think she was the best in the semi-final, getting a perfect score for the Movie Drive-in themed American Smooth. But I preferred the Paso Doble, all fire, lightning, and capes to ‘Spectrum (Say My Name)’ by Florence + The Machine.

Ashley was also very, very good in the final itself, especially the Showdance, a sort of “anything goes” dance made up especially for the final night. Pasha was on a rotating stage and Ashley came down from the ceiling wrapped in sheets. The dance was very eyecatching, fitted well with the backing track, ‘Keeping Your Head Up’ by Birdy, and Ashley moved very elegantly in it, as she had done all series.

Looking back, I think I liked her as a contestant more than I thought while the series was going on. You know what, perhaps we all took her for granted a bit.

Faye Tozer is perhaps better known as “Faye from Steps”, as she pointed out herself. One VT featured a guest appearance from Claire from Steps, who Faye even referred to as “Claire from Steps!”.

Faye was partnered with Giovanni Pernice. While I wouldn’t say Faye was a “coaster” – she clearly worked hard to get to the final – but she kind of floated by fairly unnoticed. She didn’t get the attention – good or bad – that others got. She was in an awkward position of not being someone who had never danced before, but not having as much of a professional dancing background as Ashley.

I liked Faye as Sandy in Movie Week and as a puppet in Musicals Week. And one of the highlights of the semi-final was Faye simply sat with a wine glass for the Argentine Tango.

Faye & Giovanni’s Showdance was inspired by old fashioned dance icons such as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and Broadway. It had lots of gold and a giant top hat.

Faye seems to be a Strictly Superfan, and she got to experience the full run, so hopefully she liked her time on the show.

Joe Sugg was partnered with Dianne Buswell. He turned out to be an unexpected challenger! He was a beginner dancer, but he had a lot of energy, and he learned and
progressed throughout the series.

In spite of the staging going a bit full on with the YouTube setting and emojis everywhere (it was a bit like what a grandparent might imagine when they hear their grandchildren talk about YouTube stars. “You young people with your emojiis and your YouTubes”), Joe & Dianne’s Jive in week one was good.

I can partially relate to Joe hating ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by Rednex, as when I was growing up I had to hear that terrible song constantly on school discos and holiday camps. But I’ve gained new appreciation of it from Joe & Dianne’s Charleston, I liked the country bumpkin theme and the roof thatching, which was a reference to Joe’s pre-You Tube job as a roof thatcher.

There were lots of moments I loved with Joe & Dianne throughout the series.

I liked a lot of the roles Joe got to play, such as a drummer, a vampire and as the Technicolour Dreamcoat Joseph.

The Waltz in week 5 to ‘Rainbow Connection’. It’s sung by Kermit The Frog in The Muppet Movie, so they had a frog-ish theme here, it was at a pond with both Joe and Dianne in green, sat on a log. There was green lighting, then yellow when they’re both looking out at the sunset. It was quite lovely.

Their Street Commercial dance was to ‘Jump Around’ by House Of Pain and saw them playing basketball, (though the basketballs were more like beach balls, in that they were huge, inflated and probably soft).

Joe said he would dye his hair the same bright red colour as Dianne’s if he got to the final – and to give him his due, he did! They reprised their Paso Doble to ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille and their Charleston to ‘Cotton Eye Joe’. But their Showdance was my favourite, in fact it was my favourite part of the Final! It was to ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ by the Arctic Monkeys, with Joe and Dianne on giant speakers, Joe jumping on a trampoline that was already high on the stage, Joe bursting through scenery then going back to the top and holding a guitar up.

I really liked Joe, he’s adorable, and he seems really nice. He and Dianne were the couple in the final I most wanted to win.

But in the end it was as predicted from very early on, with the bookies favourite taking the Glitterball Trophy. Documentary presenter Stacey Dooley, who was partnered with Kevin Clifton.

At times, I found Stacey slightly irritating to be honest, mainly as she tended to talk in inane overused hashtag statements like “all the feels” and “living my best life”, which can be a bit annoying on social media, but it’s much more annoying when it’s done verbally! Still, I guess that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

One memorable dance was a Foxtrot to ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ by Jeff Beck. The dance staging had a 1960s theme on a motorcycle heading to Grimsby (Kevin’s hometown!).
Their dance the highest judges score that week, on Kevin’s birthday, Kevin shoved his whole face into the birthday cake the show had got for him!

There was also the Tango with Stacey as the Doctor and Kevin as a Cyberman, to the theme from Doctor Who, and the Street Commercial dance in a New York cafe to ‘Empire State Of Mind Part II (Broken Down)’ by Alicia Keys.

Stacey as Fantine in Musicals Week stands out as well even if it wasn’t a personal favourite during that week, it was put over well and it had a narrative and an emotional core to it.

The Showdance had Stacey and Kevin in neighbouring dressing rooms, Kevin in a blue dressing room and Stacey in a yellow one, and featured them getting ready then going
out dancing, but from then on it was a bit of a random mess. The best thing was Bruno’s slip-up afterwards, saying it was “Stacey’s Greatest Tits!”. He obviously meant to say “Hits”.

Kevin lapped up most of the attention from the victory, as he has come close before but this is the first time he’s won. Stacey was incredibly generous really, she let Kevin have that moment without expecting to get it just because she was the celebrity partner (and most likely she would have been the one of the pair that most viewers were voting for). But I think her career is going to benefit from this, I’m certain she’ll get more mainstream presenting work due to her Strictly victory! You know, today BBC Three, tomorrow BBC One and/or Two.

For my first time watching Strictly properly, I really enjoyed it, and I feel I might have missed out from not paying as much attention to it as before. It’s certainly a lot easier to watch than The X Factor! Strictly was a good addition to the last quarter of 2018 for me!

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