Top 14, Part 1: 1st October 2010
A scary glitterball UFO hovers over BBC Television Centre as the Voice of Tess informs us that fourteen celebrities are taking on ballroom's biggest challenge. We see a montage from the "live" launch show as the celebs met their pro partners for the first time, while Tess wonders whether they are partnerships made in heaven or hell. "Hell", rather unfortunately, is punctuated by Michelle Williams screaming "BRING 'EM TO MAMA!" so I hope this isn't an early sign that they're planning to stitch her up. Tess promises us more magic, more drama, more romance and masses of ballroom dancing. That would be a nice start, yes. This! Is! Strictly Come Dancing 2010!
Titles! And new titles, at that. They're fine, but I rather miss the magic of the old ones, and if they had to change them, I really wanted them to go for the "giants with billboards" approach that they use on Dancing With The Stars, but I suppose you can't have everything. Anyway, I refuse to get too cut up about the new titles, lest I become one of those irritating people who spent the entirety of this show tweeting "ALESHA SUX BRING BACK ARLENE". It didn't help that Arlene herself kept retweeting all of those comments, which seemed rather sad, so I unfollowed her rather than get sucked into a pity spiral. Anyway, if you want actual details about the titles: Gavin Henson still looks terrified, and Ann Widdecombe does no actual dancing, so there's two for you to be getting on with.
We're in the studio, and Bruce and Tess make their entrances - from behind the stairs this year, rather than coming down them. Perhaps they couldn't get the insurance for Bruce to walk that much. Daly Dresswatch: a short black number with lace over her cleavage and odd batwings hanging down behind her. Unexpectedly, it works. I hope this is not setting a sartorial precedent for the series: if Tess's outfits aren't an affront to the eyeballs at least every other week, we're going to have nothing to talk about. [I thought she looked DREADFUL, so I was happy. - Carrie]
Bruce welcomes us all to the show, and Tess reminds us that they're in a fabulous new studio. Bruce expands a bit upon the luxuriousness of the set, and cracks a joke about how they stole all the new bits from Jonathan Ross's dressing room when he left. Tess informs us that seven of the celebrities will dance a waltz or a cha cha cha tonight, and the other seven will dance for the first time tomorrow. With that, it's time to meet the stars of our show: EastEnders' Scott Maslen and his partner Natalie Lowe, actress Tina O'Brien and her partner Jared Murillo, football legend Peter Shilton and his partner Erin Boag, movie actor Jimi Mistry and his partner Flavia Cacace, magician Paul Daniels and his partner Ola Jordan, screen siren Patsy Kensit and her partner Robin Windsor, DJ and music producer Goldie and his partner Kristina Rihanoff, Countryfile's Matt Baker and his partner Aliona Vilani, model and soap star Kara Tointon and her partner Artem Chigvintsev, funny girl and psychologist (and that still sounds like "bunny girl" to my ears every time they say it) Pamela Stephenson and her partner James Jordan, star of stage and screen Felicity Kendal and her partner Vincent Simone, Grammy award winning Michelle Williams and her partner Brendan Cole, the Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe and her partner Anton Du Beke, and finally, Welsh rugby international Gavin Henson and his partner Katya Virshilas. As usual, the celebs do their little bit of rhythmic shimmying in time to the final few bars of music. Ann is clapping out of time, God love her.
Bruce cracks a joke about it being described as a "five-star line-up" in the press when really it's more like seven or eight. I can't help feeling that joke would have served us better last year. [That joke would have hit rather closer to the bone last year. - Carrie] Tess reminds us that none of the celebrities are leaving this weekend, but that doesn't mean they're getting an easy ride of it, as the judges' scores will be carried over to next week, when the voting lines will indeed be open, and the couple who have the lowest combined score from the judges and the public will be first ones sent packing.
We're wasting no time because it's only an hour-long show tonight, so it's time to introduce the very first couple of the series: Felicity and Vincent. Felicity waves coyly at Bruce. I have a new policy of only transcribing Bruce's jokes this year when the punchline isn't visible from fifty feet away, so I shall be skipping over his spoken intro and getting straight to the VT. Felicity tells us that she's got more energy now than she had when she was 20, "so I've obviously still got it!" She reminds us that although she's best known for The Good Life where she was bubbly and sweet, she's not necessarily like that in real life: "I can get hysterical, I can lose my temper. I don't think it's come out yet, but given time, it probably will." I can feel my illusions being shattered already. Next thing she'll be telling us she wore a prosthetic bottom for all those years. She's very happy to have Vincent as a pro partner, because he's so charming and sweet, "and I get him for five hours minimum a day - what more can you want?" Heh. Vincent introduces himself as "the best dancer on the planet". But he probably still can't do a roly poly. He teaches Felicity the cha cha cha, and she thinks he's a born teacher, but worries she's been thrown in the deep end. Vincent thinks Felicity has been struggling, but everything is difficult at the beginning. Felicity says she can't get away with not being able to dance - just doing her best will not be good enough yet.
Their dance is to 'Sunny' by Bobby Hebb, a song with which I am only vaguely familiar. They begin on the raised part of the stage in front of the band with Felicity stepping around Vincent before being caught up in his arms and draped around. She has lovely posture, but her footwork is a bit hesitant. Then they take to the floor proper, and I begin to get nervous as Felicity is seemingly walking more than dancing - there's no hip action in there yet and very little to indicate that this is actually a cha cha cha. Then things improve fractionally, as the routine becomes more recognisably cha-cha-ish, but there's still very little hip action from Felicity. I've watched this routine a few times now, and I still can't wholly decide whether the choreography is to blame, or if it's Felicity herself. Arguably it's not an amazing routine, but if Felicity had danced it better, she might have sold it. Similarly, had there been less standing-and-walking-around choreography and more actual activity, Felicity might not have looked so stilted. I suppose that suggests to me that the blame lies somewhere in the middle. Whatever the cause, Felicity's torso is rather rigid, so her steps look disappointingly heavy. Her New Yorker steps are better, so all is not lost, but her body as a whole is not moving enough, and the routine doesn't cover the floor - it doesn't help that Vincent and Felicity are both quite small, I suspect.
Bruce helps Felicity to find her mark, and welcomes our fabulous singers, Dave Arch and his wonderful orchestra. Bruce then rejoices in being post-watershed, and introduces the judges with a load of beeps - a much longer torrent for Craig, of course. I hope whoever's operating that beeper has got their finger well-trained for when Bruno starts getting drunk later in the run. Len opens for the judges by saying that Felicity came out with a surety and confidence, but she didn't have enough hip action. "It was just a little bit careful," he complains. Alesha tells Felicity she looks beautiful (drink!), and says that she was nervous for Felicity because the first dance is "like an out-of-body experience". "Yes, she knows," Bruce interjects, in the first of many attempts this evening to lend Alesha's comments some additional gravitas, though sadly I think it'll take more than a few allusions to Alesha's own history of competing from Bruce to silence the haters. (That means you, Arlene's retweet key.) Alesha thought Felicity had just the right amount of sex kitten and good basic steps - "for a first dance, babe, that was really good." Oh, Alesha. I defend you a lot on this blog, because I really do believe you're a better judge than you're given credit for, but even I am stepping out of the way when you call Felicity Kendal "babe". Bruno doesn't wait for his cue and tells Felicity that she played it just right - "a good balance of sexiness and cheekiness". She did all the steps on time, but she could push her hips a bit more. "I feel you're just getting warmed up," he speculates. Craig is less impressed: "for me, very flat-footed - every time you went into hold with Vincent your left shoulder was cripplingly raised, you landed very hard and very flat on the New York section, the hip action was unforthcoming, but however I did like the storytelling, and the cleanliness of the routine, I thought was spot on." Bruce wishes he had a few more bleeps left.
Felicity and Vincent head up the stairs to the...what are we calling the new balcony area? As much as I liked House of Tesstosterone, it was rather clunky to type out repeatedly. Monkseal has already bagsied "Tessanine", which is of course perfect, so I'm wondering if I should even bother. Anyway, they head up to Whatever It's Called, and Tess consoles them that the first dance is a tough gig. Felicity says that she loved it, but that it was a bit "whoops". Tess asks Felicity if flirting with Vincent at the top of the routine came naturally. "Yes," is the reply. Hee. Scores: Craig 4, Len 5, Alesha 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 23. I liked the dance more when I rewatched it, but I still think Bruno and Alesha overscored that a tad. Sixes would've sufficed, I think. Tess opines that "Craig was harsh", but Felicity counters "he's usually right". I do hope Felicity isn't going to get stuck with The Curse Of The Older Ladies Who Can't Do Latin. Tess reminds us that no one is going home tonight, and then we're back to Bruce to introduce our next couple: Scott and Natalie.
Scott proves himself rather quickly in his intro to be much more fun than his Albert Square alter-ego is, discussing the ridiculousness of his on-screen plots. He admits that doing Strictly as himself without having a character to hide behind is "scary". Brilliantly, his VT also addresses his less than spectacular history where live television is concerned, bless him, and Scott admits that being known as the guy who messed up on the live show has left him with a point to prove. Natalie introduces herself as "last year's Strictly finalist" (heh) and vows to be in the final again and win this time. Scott says that he's like Jekyll and Hyde at the moment, with one of his personalities loving the experience and the other one struggling. He's determined not to mess up on live TV again.
They're dancing a waltz to 'I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You)' and I have to say, I'm impressed. Scott's concentration is written all over his face, but he's dancing very well. Natalie Lowe's choreography is really excellent here too, so it's nice to see that she was the driving force behind Ricky Whittle last year. I really think she's an asset to this show, so I hope they think that too. The dance is sultry and romantic and passionate and really well-executed. Len says that the posture, hold and movement were all good, though Scott's footwork was a little hit and miss. He thinks it was a tad on the raunchy side: "if that's a waltz, I'm dreading the rumba." Snerk. Alesha agrees with Len: she liked the sexed-up waltz. "You moved around the floor effortlessly. I think you've set a really high standard for yourself." Bruno says that Scott has the assurance of a true leading man. He also can't wait to see what Scott's rumba is like, but sounds more eager about the prospect than Len did. Craig liked the raunchy waltz, but warns Scott about his cupped hands and laboured arms, and a need to drive off on the heel a little bit more, though overall he thought it was "dangerously romantic".
Scott and Natalie zip up to the balcony in record time, and Tess congratulates him on making Strictly history in record time by sexifying the waltz. Of course, we haven't seen Widdy do it yet, so I think all bets are off until that happens. Scott tells Tess that he thinks he's "put something to bed now" after the EastEnders Live debacle, which is perhaps not the wisest choice of works directly after all that talk of Sexy Waltzin', but I'll let it slide. Tess asks how he's going to explain the fake tan in Albert Square. Can't he just wash it off? Scores: Craig 6, Len 7, Alesha 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 29.
Next up are Goldie and Kristina. Goldie describes himself as a "jack of all trades, and master of none". He was DJing when he got a call to be in The World Is Not Enough. You know who else got a call to be in that movie? Denise Richards. So it's not something I'd crow about too loudly. Goldie's having fun on the show, and says he made a point of introducing Joe Calzaghe to his wife Mika, just so Joe would know there was no chance of any funny business going on with Kristina. Because, y'know, otherwise Kristina would've been jumping his bones, just like she did with John Sergeant. Kristina says that the most important thing is to create a solid friendship with each other. Goldie messes around a lot in rehearsal, and says that because there's no public vote this week, it's a chance to go and "wreak havoc". As opposed to a chance to do some actual dancing and not have to worry about the threat of elimination. Your call.
Goldie and Kristina are doing their cha cha to - oh my God, I'm so excited, I can barely even type these words - 'TiK ToK' by Ke$ha. Funnily enough, I was trying to recall the other day if anyone had ever danced to this song on Dancing With The Stars (and yes, Erin Andrews used it), so it's almost like the music producers on this show are reading my mind. As for the dancing - it's okay. Clearly this is a fun routine rather than a serious one, which explains why Goldie has this terrifying grin right across his face throughout, but even so, it's nice to finally see Kristina with a partner who's putting as much effort into dancing as she does. There's a rather ill-advised freestyle session where Goldie claps to the audience and then shimmies awkwardly back towards Kristina, but on the whole, it's decent enough.
Alesha tells Goldie it was very entertaining, "but it was a bit more disco than it was cha cha". However, she thinks he's got the building blocks of being a good dancer, if he can put the effort in. "Show us what you can do next week," she concludes. Bruno thinks it was "too loose" and asks for more precision and technicality. He's sure Goldie will return and do better. Craig thinks there's "more movement to be had in that body" and the arm placement was off and the landing was heavy, but he liked the syncopated time step. Len thinks Goldie sold it, and the pair have good chemistry, but there were too many of the rippley move and not enough content. But he came out (drink!) and had fun (and again!) and that's what the cha cha is about.
Tess asks Goldie how it went. He says that it was good, because he needs to learn and he'll take it to the next level next time. "Next time he's going to take it to the next level," says Tess, as though translating for any racists in the audience who need to hear a white person say something for it to fully register. Tess asks Kristina how she's coping with Goldie's short attention span, and Kristina informs her that she is the boss. Scores: Craig 3, Len 6, Alesha 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 20. Goldie thinks this is a good start.
Up next are Patsy and Robin. Patsy's VT opens with her chewing her teeth on the red carpet, putting paid to all those people who say she only has one facial expression. Patsy says that on Holby City she's in scrubs all day (over several shots of the drama, none of which show her wearing scrubs) [she don't want no scrubs - Carrie] but coming here it's all glamour and hair and make-up. She cracks a few jokes about her terrible history of marriages and admits that it's been a "crummy" year for her, but coming on this show has cheered her up. Hooray! [Getting myself a new gay to faghag for ALWAYS cheers me up. - Carrie] Robin vows that he's going to give all the old boys on the show a run for their money, and if he means in terms of displaying prominently pert nipples during training, then mission already accomplished. Patsy says that she's stepping outside of her comfort zone and is worried about nerves overtaking her, but every day she's getting more comfortable in her own skin.
Their waltz is to 'When I Need You' and to start things off with a positive, I'm impressed at how smoothly she glides across the dancefloor. Unfortunately, about halfway through she stumbles duirng one of the turns, at which point her posture collapses, as does her composure, and her face just registers this look of unbridled discomfort, as though she'd really rather go home than take another step on that dancefloor. And I know we get rather a lot of "I've got no confidence! Really!" stories on this show, but in this case, I'm not finding it terribly difficult to believe.
Patsy walks over to the judges and cops to messing up. Bruno tells her to relax and enjoy it: "trust your partner, he's not going to hurt you." Yes, but I imagine that's what she was thinking every time she stood at the altar, and look where it got her. Bruno warns her against tightening up and losing her frame, but "when you did it right, it looked good - you can do it." Craig tells Patsy that her bottom was sticking out, which created a lot of gapping, and she needs to learn to spot on her turns, or else face becoming a "dahnce disahhhhster". Len warns her that she has lots of potential but risks being broken by her nerves. Alesha tells Patsy not to beat herself up too much, that the waltz is one of the hardest dances to face on the first night under such immense pressure, and that she should work on her breathing and get her nerves under control. "Spoken like an ex-champion!" Bruce crows. Dear Bruce, WE GET IT. Signed the entire population of the United Kingdom.
Patsy gives Bruce a kiss and trots up the stairs to the Tess Circle (ooh, maybe that'll work). Tess asks Patsy if she feels like she's conquered the nerves, which is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard her say, because weren't you watching? Patsy gives a slightly more diplomatic version of that response and apologises to Robin for fucking up, but says that she had a good time. Robin says that Patsy's been working so hard and "giving it 110%" (drink!) and that's all he can ask. Scores: Craig 4, 6 from everyone else for a score of 22.
Matt and Aliona are on next. Matt says that younger viewers will know him from Blue Peter, and older ones will know him from Countryfile. Since I don't watch the latter, that officially makes me a "younger viewer". Does this mean I can watch Wizards Of Waverly Place without feeling guilty about it? (What? My niece likes it! I swear that's the only reason I know anything about it.) Matt says that his plan of action, should he forget a move, is to imitate a sport, and illustrates the way in which snooker (Goldie-like rippling) and darts (lots of pointing) could help him with this. Well, at least we know that "if all else fails, act like a sportsman" is a strategy that should see him right as far as Len's concerned. Aliona has been all over the country on location following Matt around as he films Countryfile, apparently, with high-heeled wellies. There is training room footage of Matt swaying his hips, and already I feel slightly mentally scarred. I know he's going to end up as this year's sex symbol, but I honestly cannot take him seriously in that context at all. Aliona thinks Matt has come a long way since week one. Hang on, isn't this week one? I'm so confused.
We are suddenly in Gimmick Central, so much so that casual viewers could be mistaken for thinking this was actually Dancing With The Stars. Or that Ola Jordan had choreographed this one. It opens with Matt on the steps of the Tess Circle looking through his binoculars. We see what he sees: Aliona standing in a patch of astroturf by the band, in her sparkly wellies, with a backpack on and looking at a map. Matt puts down his binoculars and backflips across the floor to Aliona as 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' kicks in. Aliona then discards her backpack and steps out of her wellies as they begin their cha cha cha, which is surprisingly slick- it's very high-impact and quite a complicated routine for week one, and Matt executes it all very well, though perhaps I'd have appreciated slightly less gurning.
Craig calls Matt "one to watch". Len thinks it was the "best cha cha of the night". Alesha is very impressed and considering giving them an extra point for the wellingtons. "Lovely hose," agrees Bruce. "There's nothing like having a lovely hose." Hey, I had to hear it; you have to read it. Them's the rules. Bruno thinks this year is going to be a classic, and what he's seen is brilliant for a first round.
Matt and Aliona head up to the Tess Circle, where Tess declares their routine to have had "the most unusual opening we've ever had" on the show, and asks if there's more to come from on that front. I sincerely hope not - I don't mind a one-off Countryfile gag but if it gets to the point where he's dragging a cow behind him for his Argentine tango I'm not going to be amused. "We'll see how we go," Matt admits cautiously. Scores: Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Matt says he just wanted to get through the routine.
Who's next? Why, it's Pamela and James. Bruce reminds us that we've never had a psychologist on the show before. Judi James and Dr Linda Papadopoulos for Strictly 2011! Pamela tells us in her VT that she's been "way too serious for way too long", and she's very excited that the show gives her a licence to flirt outrageously with a man half her age. James says that he needs to "pull something out of the bag" this year to take home the trophy, so perhaps "bad boy James" will return. Yes, because that worked so well in the past. James heads to New York to train with Pamela, who walks backwards into a supporting pillar. Ouch. Billy is there watching them train, and this is perhaps a little early to play the Big Yin card, but I'll allow it. Billy admits that it's difficult for him when "a man in pants that tight comes sidling up to my wife". Heh. Billy is very moved watching Pamela dance and pronounces her "statuesque".
They're dancing to Alicia Keys' 'If I Ain't Got You' and I have to say - she's really good. I thought she looked promising during the group dance a few weeks back, but even so, I wasn't expecting this. She has lovely smooth lines and is very graceful across the floor. Pamela could be a contender, folks. Assuming she can triumph where Gabby Logan/Cherie Lunghi/Zöe Lucker failed and overcome the James Jordan factor. They finish, and the audience are on their feet, and dare I say, it's deservedly so.
Alesha pronounces it "breathtaking" and says that Pamela danced beautifully. Bruno calls her "graceful, fluid - your arm placement for week one, I don't think I've ever seen anybody do it so well." Craig thinks it was dreamy and romantic and absolutely delicious. Pamela's totally welling up. Heh. Craig clarifies that it wasn't perfect. Len tells Pamela that she can't win Strictly in week one, but she can make a fantastic impression on everyone, which she has. Pamela kisses Bruce on both cheeks and leads James up to the Tess Circle. Pamela says she was lost in the dance and thanks James - "I just have to look in his eyes and I'm jelly." Snerk. Scores: Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31, putting them joint first with Matt and Aliona. Pamela is literally speechless. "Makes a change," snarks James, and Pamela full-on whacks him with her bottom. Hee. She explains that if she makes any mistakes, James makes her do 10 pushups.
To close things for tonight, it's Paul and Ola. Paul says that he doesn't expect much of a transformation: "I've always been able to sweep women off their feet." He says that the good news for Ola is that he's a totally blank canvas. Ola believes that she can make a good dancer out of anyone, though I'd say that Kenny Logan is living proof of the dubiousness of that claim. In training, Ola complains that she has "a 72 year old who acts like seven." Paul admits that he's never taken anything seriously in his life. And by the looks of it, he doesn't intend to start now.
Because Ola loves a gimmick, the first 30 seconds of the song ('Could It Be Magic', naturally) involve Paul doing a magic trick to make her appear inside a box. Paul sings along to the lyrics and dances rather tentatively, but at least displays a sense of rhythm, so I don't think he's quite the lost cause we'd all written him off as. Of course, this is one of those classic Ola Jordan routines that involves a lot of her male pro standing still while she dances around him and causes a distraction, and he's fairly abysmal out of hold, so it's safe to say that Ola's work is still very much "in progress".
Paul pre-emptively states that "whatever Craig says, I agree with him". Bruno thinks it's more like "could it be tragic", and was amused by Paul essentially doing his own thing. Craig thinks that the highlight of the routine was the empty box. He then makes a rather ill-advised RuPaul's Drag Race comparison that goes over the heads of 99% of the studio audience and about 95% of the viewers at home, I'd wager, saying that Paul was "lip-synching for [his] life, darling". Ola counters "he was enjoying himself!" Paul says that he'll probably sing along to every song, because he's like that. "I'd move along before I get technical, darling," warns Craig. Hee! Paul tells Craig not to give up his daytime job tasting sausages. Homophobe! [Or, you know, not. - Carrie] Len says it was as though he'd been sprinkled with fairy dust: "it was light, it was dainty, your arms were as though you were pulling out chiffon scarves - I enjoyed it, it's entertainment, well done!" You guys? I think we've found a massive caveat in Len's "no MUCKIN ABAHHHHHT" policy. Alesha finishes off by congratulating Paul for "coming out and giving it a go" (oh Alesha, don't pick up Len's bad habits) and says "bring on next week!" Well, if it gets this week over more quickly...
Paul and Ola rush up to the Tess Circle, where Tess informs them that the judges yammered on so much that we have to go straight to the scores. Paul doesn't mind. Craig 2, Len 5, Alesha 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 16. Paul is happy enough with that score.
Leaderboard: Matt and Aliona are joint first with Pamela and James, Scott and Natalie are behind them, Felicity and Vincent are in the middle, Patsy and Robin below them, Goldie and Kristina are second from bottom, and Paul and Ola are in last place. I agree with the order, I think, if not necessarily the actual scores. Tess tells us that it could all change tomorrow when the other seven couples take to the floor, and then we get treated to a recap of tonight's performances, which includes the actual worst part of Felicity's routine, and is similarly unflattering to Goldie and Patsy. Paul's contains almost as little dancing as Ann's spot in the opening titles.
That's it for tonight! I'll be back tomorrow with a recap of the second set of couples - join me then!