So, I'm sure you all remember the launch show a few weeks ago. And just in case you don't, there's a lightning-quick recap of it as we begin the first competitive show of the series, reminding us that people turned up covered in sequins, and that the nation as a whole was apparently greatly excited by this. Particularly if they were involved in The One Show or Daybreak. Unfortunately, this year Strictly seems to have fallen into the same trap as The X Factor in believing that we're somehow interested in a "slice of life" approach to the proceedings, and has intercut this with footage of People On The Street telling us why they love the show. I don't know about you guys, but I really couldn't give a tinker's toot. (And also I'm insulted that they didn't ask me to do it. I have committed myself to blogging the show in excruciating detail from now until Christmas, for crying out loud, surely my thoughts deserved some airtime? Although they were probably scared I'd try to hijack it by wearing a BRING BACK KATYA sandwich board or something - which, to be fair, I probably would have done. So that must be why I wasn't asked. Must.) Anyway, amid the shots of people "spontaneously" discussing who's going to brilliant/awful/brilliantly awful this year are some shots of the stars of 2012 in their dancing outfits casually eavesdropping, like Fern Britton as a lollipop lady, Kimberley Walsh trying to be inconspiscuous in a supermarket, Denise Van Outen embracing her destiny as a cantankerous cabbie, and Johnny Ball serving up slop in a canteen.
'Gangnam Style' plays over a fast-cut montage of the celebrities in training (and considering the amount of time I spend on the internet, I'm amazed that the whole Gangnam Style meme has passed me by entirely), which ends with Denise mugging at the camera. I think we're going to have to get used to that.
2012 titles! Points of interest: Colin Salmon WERKING it, Dani Harmer, Victoria Pendleton and Denise Van Outen getting the added bonus of aerial footage, the usual suspects doing no actual dancing (Sid Owen, Michael Vaughan, Johnny Ball), Karen Hauer licking her lips so lasciviously that you'd swear Nicky Byrne was dripping in BBQ sauce.
In Television Centre, our hosts arrive: Sir Bruce Forsyth, and Tess Daly PhD. That's right, she's wearing a Pretty horrible Dress. Remember how in the launch show I said that she was wearing something nice and flattering? That didn't last long: she's wearing this peculiar black dress that goes out way beyond her body at the hips, like she's got a hula hoop fastened to her thighs. It's very odd; it's like something you'd expect to see in a panto. Tess misses her musical cue so there is no kick-up this evening, which I'm sure everyone is very upset about. Bruce's opening gag is about him having recently been on holiday in France, where he was treated like royalty: "they kept taking photographs of me topless." Ba-dum-tish!
Bruce informs us that six couples will perform tonight, dancing either a waltz or a cha cha cha, and Tess explains for the hard-of-thinking that the other eight will be on tomorrow night. So, let's meet the stars of our show: from Girls Aloud, pop princess Kimberley Walsh (yes, that's much better, thank you) and her partner Pasha Kovalev; Westlife's Nicky Byrne (so now Kimberley is pop royalty and Nicky isn't? Intriguing) and his partner Karen Hauer; TV presenter Fern Britton and Artem Chigvintsev; cricket legend Michael Vaughan and Natalie Lowe; soap star Lisa Riley and Robin Windsor; Olympic gymnast Louis Smith and Flavia Cacace; Tracy Beaker star Dani Harmer and Vincent Simone; EastEnders star Sid Owen and Ola Jordan; presenter and performer Denise Van Outen and James Jordan; showbiz reporter Richard Arnold and Erin Boag; Olympic golden girl cyclist Victoria Pendleton and Brendan Cole; film and TV star Colin Salmon and Kristina Rihanoff; supermodel and actress Jerry Hall and Anton Du Beke; and finally TV brainbox and climate change controversy-courter Johnny Ball and
Bruce is sure the contestants are all thinking one thing: "am I this year's Russell Grant?" If they are, I'll fire them out of that damn cannon myself. Tess reminds us that no one's getting eliminated this weekend, but that the judges will still be scoring the performances. As always, the scores will be carried over to next week, added to the scores they get for the second dance, and then we'll all vote. Bruce makes rather a hash of explaining this. Also, he tells us the Dance-Off is back. The studio audience cheers, even though this is not good news for anyone at all. Tess tells us that Harry Judd is joining Karen Hardy in the commentary booth tonight (I love Harry dearly, but the idea that there's any point to having him around and not putting him on camera
Bruce cracks a joke about seeing "parts of Britton that we've never seen before", and then we go into her VT, where Fern talks about meeting her husband on Ready Steady Cook, back when she wore a lot of suits. She loves dancing, she tells us, but more in the sort of freestyle scheme of things. Steady on, Fern, the showdance is a long way off yet. Fern was thrilled to get Artem, but is worried for him. Artem tells us that he is a taskmaster, "because I do like to achieve things". That is indeed a rare quality. However, Fern has promised him that she'll be working hard, so that's all fine. In training, Fern finds the cha cha cha difficult, and is cross that it's taking so long to master it. Artem says that he can't be harsh, because she's too sweet and she wants to get it right. Fern just hopes that she can get it all right on the night.
They start halfway up the stairs, and Fern cues Dave Arch in for 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours'. They start with a fair bit of faffing around the stairs, the sort of which Len surely won't approve of, but the initial signs are promising: Fern is game and seems to have decent rhythm. Artem hasn't given her particularly tough choreography to start with, which seems sensible: there's a reticence there which I hope is just first night nerves, and the whole thing's a little on the sluggish side, but for a first-night Latin routine from an older contestant, I'd say it's a good start. And if that sounds like I'm damning with faint praise...well, I probably am. But given some of the car crashes that are yet to come this evening, I think Fern can be very proud of herself for what she managed there.
Bruce welcomes our fabulous singers, Dave Arch, and his wonderful orchestra (comma still in the right place, that's good). He also introduces the judges: Craig, Darcey, Len and Bruno. Darcey, of course, gets a special introduction as the newcomer, with Bruce saying that she trained at the Royal Ballet and has won "so many" dance awards. This is where it gets tricky: "It's going to be so nice having a judge who really knows what they're talking about," says Bruce. It's played as an insult to Craig, Bruno and Len, but given the sort of comments that have plagued the show over the past three years, it's hard not to see it as a cheap shot at Alesha, which I'm sure is how a lot of people will have taken it.
Anyway, Len says that the first dance sets the standard for the evening, and that there was more good about it than bad. He liked Fern's confidence and her foot placements, though she messed up on one Cuban break. He noticed that there was a lot of skirt-wafting, which he would've preferred a bit less of, but overall: well done. And in turn, well done to Len for getting the entire way through the critique without resorting to "MUCKIN ABAHHHT". Bruno didn't mind the flirtatious wafting, because the cha cha cha is a cheeky dance, but Fern needs much more impotence in the middle regions. I'm sure he meant "impetus", but he definitely said "impotence", and I can't imagine there are many more people in the world who need more impotence in the middle regions. Except perhaps the Duggars. (Sidebar: the FAQ section on the Duggars website does not include the question "why don't you stop having children?", which I'm fairly certain they must get asked an awful lot.) Anyway, he wants sharper hip movements and more energy, but thinks it wasn't bad for the first dance out. Craig thinks Fern needs to straighten her knees and legs to get the hip action, and while she has a naturally good rhythm, the first log of Cuban breaks were a disaster. He thinks it needs a lot more power, but that Fern has beautiful hands. Finally Darcey, who thinks it was very confident even though the nerves got her, but what was wonderful was the cheekiness and her smile, and that last extension where her leg went so high. Gosh, I'm so glad that we've got a proper judge in who knows stuff now. I mean, Alesha would never have been able to talk about legs and cheekiness with any sort of authority. (Last Alesha-related snipe of the recap, I promise.)
Fern and Artem scoot up to the Tess Circle, where Fern apologises for messing up and agrees with what the judges said. Tess asks Fern how she's getting along with Artem as a teacher, because she's never seen him so yielding. I'm sure it's not for the want of trying, eh Tess? Fern claims that the VT was "judiciously edited" and that one day Artem left the room and said "I am ze terminator". 1. I hope he said it in the same accent that Fern used. 2. I hope he did the almighty flounce that Fern just demonstrated as well. Artem: such a diva. The scores are in: Craig 4, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 19. The audience seem a little quiet in response to that, as if they don't quite know what to make of it. Certainly I was expecting a few more points, but at the same time it doesn't seem like an unjust score for that performance. Maybe they're just being harsher this year.
Bruce snarks the judges are "not very generous tonight" and introduces tonight's second couple: Nicky and Karen. Nicky's VT reminds us that he was in one of the most successful boybands in history until eventually they all got bored and rich enough to jack it in after one last farewell tour. I get the impression that Nicky is not an especially interesting man, since the rest of his VT is all about the fact that he has twin sons, which is nice and everything, but does not suggest the sort of personality that can sustain 12 weeks of Saturday night shiny-floor television. Also, he claims that upon first meeting Karen, he asked her what her favourite Westlife song was, which I'm sure was a joke, but it's still the sort of joke that makes him sound like a bit of a blowhard. Karen's excuse for never having heard of them is "I live in New York", which seems fair. She's heard of the Backstreet Boys, can't that be enough? In training, she tells Nicky that he has a great frame on his own, but when she's included in it, it goes "in the garbage". Nicky retorts that perhaps he should just dance on his own then, and she did pretty much walk right into that one. There's also the always-hilarious part where she discovers what "third" sounds like in an Irish accent, and then Karen chews him out for wearing ballroom shoes with shorts. I'm right with her on that one.
They're doing a waltz to 'I Wonder Why' by Curtis Stigers. I was in the middle of serving up dinner when this part went out last night, so this is the first time I'm seeing this routine. I'd assumed everyone was exaggerating when they told me how dreadful Nicky's rise-and-fall had been, but they really weren't: it's like he's doing lunges backwards. His footwork as a whole is fairly atrocious, Karen was absolutely right about him going to pieces the second he has to hold her, there's an illegal lift in there, and I really can't get on board with choreography that involves the man wandering around with his hands in his pockets. It's a shame, because there are some parts of the choreography that are quite impressive, but Nicky just isn't up to it at all, and I think Karen's trying too much too soon with him.
Interesting development: once they've over with Bruce, Nicky's hands go straight back into his pockets again, so now I'm not even sure that Karen ever asked him to do that as part of the routine in the first place. Bruce chastises Nicky for the shorts-and-ballroom-shoes thing, and Nicky protests in response that "it was a nice day", at which Bruce goes full old-man at him: "What, did you want to dance on the grass, did you? Have a picnic? Get off my lawn! Where are my pills? For shame!" Bruno tells Nicky that he never missed the light at any point, but that his posture was terrible and it looked like he was dancing with a cardboard cut out. He says that Nicky needs intimacy and connection, and demonstrates this on Len who suddenly realises why Alesha felt a desire to jump ship to ITV. Craig rebukes Karen for breaking the rules with the lift, and calls her "the female version of Brendan Cole". I don't know: considering the glazed expression Karen was wearing for most of the feedback prior to that, I'd say she was the female version of...er, Aliona Vilani. Craig warns her that she will be severely marked down for that, and that she'll have as many opportunities to do lifts in the American Smooth as she wants, as long as that number does not exceed three. Aside from that, the rise-and-fall was forced, Nicky kept dropping his right elbow, the standing spin was flat-footed and "paddlistic", and the rest of his critique is drowned out by booing. Darcey tells Nicky that his strength is his musicality, so "you can use that to your ability, yeah?" She advises him to breeeeeathe with the moves, and feeeeeel the music, make it help you, yeah? She borrows Len to help with the posture, but at least she does actually ask first, and advises Nicky to keep his shoulder blades down, because that'll make it easier, yeah? Christ, it's like having Siobhan Sharpe on the panel. She thinks Nicky has got lots of potential, though.
They head up to the Tess Circle with Karen pulling a variety of derp faces on the way, and Tess calls Nicky "you little rule-breaker, you", even though that was Karen's call, not his. Nicky says it's strange to stand there and be criticised, because nobody ever criticised Westlife. He claims it was more of a "swoosh" than a lift. Erin's face in the background suggests she disagrees. Tess asks Karen if she's going to be the female Brendan, and Karen says "whatever it takes to win", which is just about the worst possible thing she could've said as a new female pro; god knows there are still people insisting that Natalie puts her own desires ahead of what's good for her partners three series in, and that was of questionable truth at the best of times. I have a feeling that, in a concerted effort not to get Katyaed next year for being too anonymous, Karen flailed around a bit to find herself a personality and landed on completely the wrong one. I don't think this show is ready for a "bad girl of the ballroom", and I'm not entirely sure it ever will be. Scores: Craig 2, Darcy 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 17.
Michael and Natalie are our third couple tonight. His VT declares that Michael Vaughan is "the most victorious Test Match captain that England has ever seen", and already I'm missing Carrie because she actually knows things about cricket, whereas I do not, aside from that Year 9 CDT project where I had to design a sports instruction manual, and even then I never finished it. Michael talks about winning the Ashes, and how it was great that it got kids and grannies talking about cricket. Maybe there's something here I'm missing, but I don't see what's so special about winning a tournament where you only have to beat one other team. Natalie is thrilled to have Michael, and once we move on from the obligatory "ooh, he'll have to get used to being on the same team as an Australian!" jokes, we move on to training where Natalie is working very hard on Michael's posture. "I am moulding constantly," she says. Perhaps she needs to buy a new fridge. Michael wonders what the worst that could possibly happen on the first night is, and comes up with either getting a nought, or falling into the band. He then concedes that the latter is distinctly possible, as he's got to do a spin on the steps.
Their waltz is to 'If You Don't Know Me By Now', and Natalie has choreographed them a nicely dramatic opening at the top of the steps. I note that whenever he's alone she's made him put his hands behind his back, which is choreography shorthand for "he can't get the hang of what to do with his arms yet and this is the cleanest compromise", but here's the good news: he's not the disaster I expected him to be. He's a little bit stumbly in his footwork, but his rise-and-fall is far, far better than Nicky's and he looks good in hold. His posture does still need some work, but it's not bad for a first timer. Natalie's clearly pleased with him, as she hurls herself at him afterwards and yells "where did that come from?" Bless her.
Craig says there were some timing issues, but not many, and posture is his biggest problem and a bit more grace is needed to make it resemble a waltz. "That's very good for the mood he's in tonight," says Bruce. Darcey says that he started well, but as soon as he took hold, the strain started to show in his face, okay? One thing that might help, okay, is to think what he does best: "when you throw a ball, you use your whole body to throw that ball, don't you, to create the speed." Oh, Darcey. In cricket they call it "bowling", dear, not throwing. She continues: It's like that in dance, you have to use your whole body when you move, yes? Don't get stiff on us, yeah? Breathe all the way through the moves, and then you'll be fine, yeah? I get that it's her first night and she's probably nervous, but I hope Darcey gets the courage up to stop phrasing every sentence as a question, and I hope she does it soon. Len criticises him for "mincing along" at the top of the stairs, but once he got into hold it was pretty good - he was a bit "stiff and starchy", but Len's putting that down to nerves. Bruce asks Michael if he did feel like he was mincing; Michael thinks he probably was. Speaking of mincing, here's Bruno! He thinks Michael's "butt stuck out like a hanging basket", and he had so much tension in his face, "you look like Shane Warne after the makeover!" Heh.
Up they go to the Tess Circle, and Natalie tries to start off by saying that it was incredible and thanking Michael for his hard work, but he cuts her off and starts talking about a bet he'd had with his mates down the pub (because he is MANLY and therefore does things like that), which he's just won by not falling over. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 5, Len 6 (because Michael is a SPORTSMAN) and Bruno 4 for a total of 20. Natalie's face when Bruno awards the 4 is an absolute picture. "The way things have been going, it's a great score," says Tess. It's an interesting point: the judges are definitely being a bit more frugal this year, and I can only assume that's a conscious move on their part, but initiated by whom, eh?
Next are Victoria and Brendan. "What a wonderful thing she did for us all!" says Bruce, as if Olympic sports are the most altruistic of all sports. I mean, I like Victoria Pendleton and everything, but it's not like she sorted the economy out, or single-handedly blocked the NHS reform, or punched Jeremy Hunt in the face, or something that really would benefit the entire country. Bruce warns Victoria not to call the BBC security man (OMGSEXIST) "a pleb" if he asks her to get off her bike (SCATHING POLITICAL SATIRE!), and we segue into her VT, which is soundtracked by 'All These Things That I've Done' by The Killers. I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier! I've got docks, but I'm not a doctor! I've got a leash, but I'm not Alesha! And so on. Victoria reminds us how amazing it was to compete at London 2012, and that she's been racing since she was nine years old, and she turned professional after leaving university. She's retired from cycling to move on to new challenges, and here's one of them now: Brendan Cole! Brendan is very excited to have Victoria as his partner, and thinks he's "the luckiest guy in Great Britain right now". Except then they start training, and Victoria is having trouble remembering the routine. "When you've been the best in the world at something, and then you're starting from scratch from the very beginning, it can get very frustrating at times," humblebrags Victoria. I love her so much. Brendan takes time out to criticise everyone for expecting big things of sportspeople on this show when it's nothing like their day jobs, and Victoria ends up foetal on the floor.
They're dancing a cha cha cha to 'Spinning Around', and it starts well for about the first 30 seconds, but then Victoria misses the first step of one section and while she briefly manages to get back on track, she then completely loses her way and never recovers. It's pretty heartbreaking to watch: she's so lost, and there's still about 40 seconds of the routine left to go, which must be the longest 40 seconds of Victoria's life: she's clearly just gone blank and can barely remember any of it. Brendan's desperately trying to get her into position without having it look like that's what he's doing, but I don't think she has the experience or the confidence to follow him without knowing the routine inside out. It's really a shame, because the bits that she did manage looked pretty promising, but all anyone's going to remember is just how much of it she got wrong and spent wandering limply around in Brendan's shadow looking tearful.
Immediately after finishing she apologises to Brendan, and the judging opens with Darcey, who tries to be supportive but says "there was so much dance content in there", which I should imagine is not one of the most encouraging things to say to someone who just forgot around 50% of said dance content. Darcey singsongs that she felt for Victoria, she really did, and it was very impressive. She thinks it would be helpful for Victoria to try a lower heel, "because I can see you're really finding it trouble balancing with such high heels, yeah? And then you'll be able to feel the ground more, yes? Yeah?" Len tells Victoria it was probably a bit like her first time riding a bike without stabilisers: a bit wobbly, but she got through it. He thinks she had a little incident, and then her nerves took over, but he thinks she has got great potential, and she just needs to forget this and move on. Bruno tells her that she knows "she messed it up so much", but she has fallen off the bike before and needs to get back on it, applying that sporting discipline to blow everyone away. I think Bruno's "rip the plaster off" approach was probably the most helpful of the three, to be honest. Brendan asks if they can go upstairs before Craig, and Bruce informs them that Craig is not scheduled to talk now anyway, because they're overrunning. How serendipitous!
They head up to the Tess Circle and Victoria is in tears, saying that she really didn't want to cry, "but I just blew it so much!" Brendan's all "no! It was just a little bit at the end!" Bless him. My favourite part of all of this, incidentally, is Karen Hauer in the background doing pouty sympathy face for a couple of seconds and then sitting down, because that is all the fucks she has to give. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 4, Len 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 16.
Our penultimate couple is Colin and Kristina. After a lengthy James Bond-related joke which is quite funny but far too long to transcribe, we head into his VT, where he talks about Prime Suspect and the James Bond movies, where he got to work with Dame Judi Dench, Halle Berry and Pierce Brosnan. Kristina is excited, because she always wanted to be a Bond girl. Colin is looking forward to getting fit, and Kristina is determined to do well this year. That sounds like an explosive combination. They joke about their size difference, and he messes around a lot in rehearsals, but it looks like they're having fun together without being too obnoxious about it. Mentioning no names, Denise and James.
Their cha cha cha is to 'I Got You (I Feel Good)', and a costume designer in their infinite wisdom has seen fit to dress Colin in a leopard-print shirt that looks like something Bet Lynch would've thought twice about buying. Fortunately, that's the only thing that's really wrong with the performance: Colin is by far the most committed and energetic dancer of the night, to the point where he actually looks quite camp, but he's got some good lines and his footwork seems precise, and best of all he seems to be enjoying himself immensely, which is very refreshing after a night of tentative, nervous performances.
After the dance, they have a little bit of business where Bruce is interrupted by a woman bringing a tray of drinks, and Colin's all "well, it's after nine o'clock, so I thought I'd have a dry martini." It's cheesy as hell, but his deadpan delivery just about sells it. The best part is that it means he and Kristina are stood there with plastic cocktail glasses in their hands throughout the judging, and therefore I'm itching for them to go all Dynasty and throw them in a judge's face if they get negative feedback. Sadly for those of us who love drama, it's never necessary: Len thinks it was the best cha cha of the night (against such formidable opposition as Fern and Victoria!), while Craig thinks there were some moments in there he could've done without. Bruce retorts that there are some judges we could do without as well, at which Kristina full-on guffaws, and Craig declines to give any further comment.
They depart for the Tess Circle, with Colin handing the glasses to Darcey and Bruno on the way past, and upon their arrival, Tess looks at Colin's shirt and dumbfucks "easy tiger!" in response to his leopard-print shirt. Tigers have stripes, Tess. STRIPES. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 7, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 23. (Darcey tries to do a "sev-UN!" but emphasises the wrong syllable. Tee hee.)
Finally for tonight, we have Denise and James. "They should be a good couple!" says Bruce, which I'm fairly certain is Forsythese for "fucking ringer". Denise's VT once again tries to combat these claims, but doesn't do a very good job of it. It's not really helped by Denise going from "I've never had any professional training" to "well, I went to stage school, but that was AGES AGO" in about three seconds. Seriously: ringiest ringer since the US version was won by Nicole Scherzinger then Jennifer Grey in back-to-back seasons. James opens by saying that he finds Denise hilarious, although not nearly as hilarious as he finds himself. (I may have added that last bit.) Denise says they've both got "a naughty streak" and as a result they both spend what seems like the entirety of their training gurning at the cameras. I think they might be entirely unbearable by week four.
Their waltz is danced to 'With You I'm Born Again', and - surprise! - it's very good. Denise has possibly the best outfit of any celeb this evening, if you can overlook the chevrons pointing to her vagina, and this is a very smooth, lyrical and enjoyable routine. There's not a lot I can see in it to fault, to be honest. Certainly not for a first dance.
Bruno tells Denise that she's so expressive that he could feel every nuance, and she extended her lines beautifully, but he feels her frame needs some work. Craig thinks they saved the best till last. Len thinks Denise has style with a smile, and his expectations were high, and while she did a double-reverse spin which was very good, her footwork overall is poor. Denise is aghast at this, but Len is adamant: there were no heel leads, but that's just one part of the whole package, which is pretty good in total.
Up in the Tess Circle, Tess asks Denise if she's transitioned from ladette to lady, and Denise says she hopes so, but she's got to work on her heels. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 7 for a total of 25. Well, that settles it: if they're only giving Denise mid-20s scores, they're definitely being a bit pickier with their marking this year. Although this probably helps Denise's cause anyway - it gives her a bit more of a journey and might quell some of the "RINGIEST RINGER THAT EVER RANG" talk. Except from me, obviously.
Leaderboard: Denise and James in first place, Colin and Kristina in second, Michael and Natalie in third, Fern and Artem fourth, Nicky and Karen fifth and Victoria and Brendan last. Whatever you made of the actual scoring in this episode, it's hard to argue with the overall rankings.
That's it from tonight's contestants, but we do get a weird preview of the remaining contestants, delivered over a video montage with sound made all echoey as though they're in the middle of drowning. Sid is worried about dancing live in front of millions. Richard has a fair bit of live TV experience but knows this is a very different challenge. Dani thinks Saturday night will be terrifying; Johnny thinks the last few minutes before dancing will be the worst. Kimberley is most scared of the unknown. Louis wants to go out there and just smash it. Jerry thinks "not all fillies give a smooth ride the first time out." Richard thinks you're either going to blossom, or wither. Lisa is soooo nervous and might need the loo.
And there we have it: six down, eight to go. Join me tomorrow to see how the rest of the stars cope with their first dances!