Strictly 2012 Final: King Louis

Another highly successful run of Strictly Come Dancing comes to a close with tonight’s final. The four couples remaining will perform a showdance and a judges’ choice dance in the first programme before one of them is eliminated at the start of the second show. The three pairings still standing will then reprise their favourite dance from the series.

The celebrity finalists are ante-post favourite and Olympic gymnast Louis Smith, TV and stage star Denise van Outen, Girls Aloud member Kimberley Walsh and children’s TV favourite Dani Harmer, our 16-1 interest at the start of the series. I think that odds-on favourite Louis Smith has enough support to see him pick up the glitterball trophy, especially as the unprecedented decision to have four couples in the final works in his favour.

As with X Factor, all we have to rely on as an indicator of the public vote is who has dropped into the bottom two each week and a credible leak in the Daily Star, which claimed Louis Smith has usually been winning the phone poll. There are strong reasons for thinking he won’t ‘do a Maloney’ despite a semi-final jive that was every bit as bad as the Liverpudlian’s rendition of ‘Haven’t Met You Yet’.

The article, printed during week 9 of the contest, was pretty specific about Louis Smith’s popularity. Apparently averaging almost 24% in the public vote, he had won all but two phone polls according to the source. It’s claimed he was beaten in week 1 by Denise and in week 7 by Kimberley Walsh who was bouncing from a shock bottom two appearance. Other finalist Dani Harmer was rumoured to be “doing well” with the public.

Whilst that may be some comfort for backers of Dani and Kimberley, the most accomplished celebrity dancer, Denise van Outen, was reported to be doing badly in the public vote, averaging just 7% and coming last in the phone poll the week before. This seemed to be confirmed when she hit the bottom two in weeks 10 and 11, unable to reach safety in the semi-final even allowing for a potential sympathy bounce.

Just a few days after that Star article, there was the first newspaper report that four rather than the normal three couples would dance in the final. Strictly conspiracy theorists reckoned this decision was taken as a way of getting Denise there without a traditional semi-final double elimination. This series the show has seemed keen to have the highest standard represented to the end. This was the reasoning behind the return of the dance-off, which eliminated the more popular but less accomplished Lisa Riley in the semi-finals.

That decision to have four couples in the final leaves Louis as the only male left with the vote against him split three ways, at least during the first main show tonight. Given his loyal following amongst the housewives demographic, that may be crucial. Louis is a highly attractive and technically accomplished dancer with a popular celebrity partner in Flavia Cacace. During the series, the judges have criticised him for not bringing a sense of performance and acting ability to his routines, but his mugging for the Charleston in week 9 saw him improve on that front.

The jive was a step back last week and he managed only fourth out of five on the judges’ leaderboard. But with the final decided on the public vote alone, those judges scores will be for show and won’t impact too greatly on the result. Tonight’s format may suit him anyway, given the chance the showdance gives him to include his gymnastic spins and tumbles. His judges’ choice dance is the salsa that includes the ‘Dirty Dancing’ lift which will delight his demo.

All this is factored into a best price of 4/6. However, it’s worth keeping an eye on prices in-running to see if he scores lower than a few of his rivals and drifts in the market as a result. That may be the only way of finding value in backing a Louis victory tonight. It didn’t happen last year when Harry Judd became an even more rock-solid favourite to win, but there was plenty of volatility in-running during the 2010 final eventually won by Kara Tointon over Matt Baker and Pamela Stephenson.

Since the Daily Star leak, Kimberley Walsh has been pimped James Arthur-style from the quarter-finals onwards. She received a perfect 40 from the judges in the week 10 pimp slot and for the penultimate dance of week 11. The question, as it was with James Arthur, is was this because she needed help to get her to the final, or did the show believe they could push her all the way to the trophy?

At the start of the series, I felt that the Kimberley / Pasha combination had the potential to be the most sympathetic among the three market leaders (Louis and Denise were first and second favourites). But for the first half of the run, they didn’t quite connect as much as I thought they would, resulting in that shock bottom two appearance in week 7. Having finished joint-second with the judges that week, it indicated their standing in the phone vote was low indeed. She was over 20/1 on Betfair as a result.

It can be difficult for highly attractive women with a successful career in the public eye based partly on their good looks to win over the housewife vote. Another girlband alumni Rachel Stevens had similar problems in the 2008 series. But the bottom two appearance and pimping since has seen Kimberley rise in popularity in internet forums and polls. She’s now just 2/1 to win tonight and seen as Louis’s main threat.

Dani Harmer is perceived to be the finalist who has been on the biggest journey of improvement. In truth, I think she’s been competent enough from early on – after all she was joint-third on the judges’ leaderboard for her second dance. The journey she has gone on is one of broader recognition with the voting public as someone not as well known as many of the other celebrities around her.

A growing bond with partner Vincent Simone and a string of good performances from week 7’s quickstep onwards saw her come down to single figures in the win market, but a rather nervous semi-final showing seemed to halt her momentum in bookmakers’ lists. It’s also a shame that her judges’s choice dance tonight is her week 6 tango. I find it hard to predict where she will come tonight, except to say that it will very likely be behind Louis Smith.

Denise van Outen is the most obvious candidate for fourth place based on her two dance-off appearances in the last two weeks and that Daily Star article. Her strength and weakness is just how good she is; she’s firmly set in the public’s mind as a ringer with extensive dance experience.

She and dance partner James Jordan may complain that this isn’t fair, but the show was rather disingenuous early on about how much hoofing she did on stage for ‘Chicago’. Quite whether a good showing tonight will see her rise off the bottom of the public standings is open to question, but her judges’ choice jive is a fantastic crowd-pleaser.

Still, her involvement in the final may help decide the winner, because it means any vote against Louis Smith is split three ways rather than two. I think that will be enough to see him lift the prize. Though I won’t be getting involved before the show, I will be watching the fluctuations in the Betfair market almost as keenly as the TV.

What are your opinions of tonight’s final and who is your money on? Do let us know in the comments section below.

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