This series of Strictly Come Dancing contains potentially the most entertaining line-up the show has seen. Unfortunately, whilst it’s a feast for viewers, it’s currently a famine for punters who have not yet committed themselves.
This is because bookmakers look to have it right in making Jason Donovan the 7/4 market leader ahead of Harry Judd at 3/1. I see Holly Valance as an easily opposable third favourite and I’m still waiting after the first dance to find a lively outsider, although some are of greater interest than others. I’m inclined to hold off at those prices and see if any of the underdogs start to build in confidence and technique on their first dance. This was the journey to eventual victory taken by Chris Hollins in 2009.
Jason Donovan has plenty going for him. First of all, he has a big fan base among the housewife demographic, which is vital on this show. They remember him fondly from his teen-heartthrob Neighbours days and onwards. Secondly, he has an excellent dance partner in Kristina, now given her chance to shine with a celebrity who has rhythm. There was genuine chemistry between the two during their cha-cha-cha – both seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. Last but not least, he showed good technique.
If there’s one doubt, it’s that there’s an over-competitive air to his approach. Viewers like their celebrities to take the show seriously, but not too seriously. Jason is a likeable contestant but there’s no doubt his eyes are on the prize, and that can come across a little too much in interviews. However, this could well be offset by the smiles he displayed on the dancefloor. With all that’s going for him, he’s a worthy favourite, but that’s reflected in his price.
Jason ousted McFly drummer Harry Judd from pole position in the market after the first round of dances. Harry looked a little more nervous on the dancefloor though still technically sound. He had been positioned as the pre-show favourite on the basis of the form he showed in last year’s Children In Need Strictly Special show. There’s no doubt he’s got the looks to win over large parts of the audience and having improvement to come is certainly no barrier to a successful run.
Unfortunately, Harry’s dance partner, Aliona is not the most popular of professionals among viewers (this also concerned me when she partnered my selection and ultimate runner-up Matt Baker last year). This is the main thing that puts me off tipping Harry at this stage. Aliona’s been criticised in the past for poor choreography, though there was nothing wrong with her first effort this year. Also, she tends to lack the rapport with her partners that viewers like to watch (and that Kristina and Jason displayed). We’ll have to see if it can develop between her and Harry.
It was the chemistry between Kara Tointon and Artem last year that helped those two secure the prize, as it became clear in the final weeks that their professional relationship had also become personal. This year, producers have shrewdly played up Artem’s sex appeal and the potential for tabloid rumour by pairing him with Aussie siren Holly Valance. The latter looked rather wooden and very nervous in her first dance, however.
There’s something of a no-win situation for this pairing. Artem seemed keen to put an emotional distance between himself and his new dance partner in VT footage, which is not going to endear viewers to them. But, even if Artem did relax a little more with Holly, it may not help for tongues to wag, as it would only undermine his now off-screen relationship with Kara, thus alienating the show’s loyal followers. This is a shame, as Holly came across very sympathetically, and there would otherwise be plenty of potential in the pairing.
It’s 12-1 bar, which brings in Anita Dobson, who after an elegant waltz with partner Robin Windsor, has been likened to Pamela Stephenson. The latter overcame the perceived barrier of being a middle-aged woman in the show by reaching the final last year. Much as I enjoyed Anita’s first dance, and her pairing with Robin, Pamela was also able to work the uptempo dances in an amazing way, and we’ve yet to see if Anita can do the same. I’m holding off here as a result.
Next up on bookmakers’ lists is Chelsee Healey who needed more technical polish though showed promise with her partner Pasha in their first dance. I find her an endearing presence, but I’m not sure the dropped consonants will be enough of a long-term hit with the middle England audience. As a newcomer to the show, her professional dance partner won’t help her win anyone round quickly either. Rough diamond Robbie Savage also faces an uphill battle based on an awkward-looking first dance, and the same can be said for a very nervous Alex Jones.
Meanwhile Russell Grant will clearly be this year’s cult figure, a successor to John Sergeant and Anne Widdicombe. I can see him staying in for some time as a result, but just as I commented last year, there comes a point when the joke takes second place to justice. Viewers prefer to see talent rewarded at the business end of the programme, even if they have kept the novelty act in for entertainment value for a large chunk of the series. He does however put in the shade other potential cult figures, Lulu, Nancy and Edwina, who all had poor first weeks, and don’t look likely to last long on the basis of what we have seen.
This leaves us with three male outsiders who are worth keeping an eye on to see how they progress. Dan Lobb, Rory Bremner and even 150-1 rag Audley Harrison are all personable and potentially fit the profile for a Chris Hollins-style ‘journey’ throughout the series. Like Chris, all three are obvious novices who have the initial barrier of not looking totally comfortable on the dancefloor – unlike Harry and Jason, who have ‘form’ and plenty of moves to begin with. However, none of these underdogs were terrible for their first dance, just rather stiff. If things start to come together for any of them over the coming weeks, they would belie current long odds.
One reason why a watching brief is advised for at least another week is that all three performed a waltz first time around. This is never as revealing or as challenging for male contestants; the Latin dances are a different matter altogether. It was no coincidence that Harry and Jason, pretty accomplished already, were allowed to show they could handle a cha-cha-cha in the first week. Whilst there is potential for any of these three outsiders to grow, there is also a possibility that their Latin numbers could be a train wreck this coming weekend.
So my policy is to enjoy and monitor for now. What do you think? Are Harry and Jason deserving of their market domination, or did any longer-priced contestants catch your eye?