2010 : Artem is 8th with me, 11th in the reader poll.
2011 : Aliona is 12th with me, 12th in the reader poll
We’ve got a lot to live up to guys.
That’s right, it’s the middle of August. Fish are jumping, the cotton is high, and the ramp-up to Series 10 of Strictly Come Dancing has more or less begun. To be honest, it’s been even more of a slow burn than usual this year. The requisite pre-series speculation over which celebrities are going to spend October through December at the business end of Bruce’s chin has been swamped by people shutting their eyes and pointing at the Olympics. But the relative puacity of information isn’t going to stop me playing my favourite game of the Strictly Pre-Season.
Which pro is having Glitterball for Christmas Dinner, and who will be stuck with stale old stuffing like the rest of us?
Aliona Vilani: One of the few non-Olympian names constant in the pre-series speculation has been Nicky Westlife. Devotees of the various cults of the female Strictly pros have spent the last few weeks swearing blind that Nicky should be with FLAVIA because she’s the right height, or Natalie because they’re both BLONDE, or Erin because…well, it’s Erin isn’t it? Some of us are still clinging to that particular Titanic long after the captain grabbed a case of champagne from steerage and hopped it overboard. No one can deny though that the most hilarious outcome would be if he went to Aliona, and the Internet BURNT TO THE GROUND. Just to summarise, Aliona almost won, then dominated the tour, then won, then dominated the tour. On paper, it will be a miracle of “Jo Wood Not Being A Week One Boot” proportions if she gets anything other than the most doddery of duds. But as far as I can tell she’s still the only single female pro and the producers are always going to love a half-arsed showmance so… 25-1
Anton du Beke: Last series, with Nancy Dell’Olio, felt a bit like the show finally giving up and admitting that Anton was good for nothing other than outlandish pratfalling comedy routines with…women of different abilities. Which arguably is a bit of a shame, as I’ve got a feeling that if Anton DID get a good partner they might be an oasis of classically correct calm semi-sanity in these days of Ultimate Props Explosions. You know, if she didn’t provoke a random bout of mild racism or hate his guts or be Lesley Garrett or whatever usually happens whenever Anton gets a non-duffer. On the other hand it’s still Anton, and there’s still the specter of “Anton’s Latin” hanging over everything he does. Deep down though, I feel I can’t be alone in wondering, just a little bit more every day, what exactly Anton would do in a showdance. Come on. You kind of want to find out don’t you? 100-1
Artem Chigvintsev: I love how all the people I’m ruling out off the bat are at the beginning, alphabetically speaking. Not that I’m starting this series off in a negative mood for any reason (*cough*DarceyKatyaRIPEvilMoiraRoss*cough*). Anyway, is there anyone out there who doesn’t think Artem’s getting an old dear this series? He’s had the strongest female contender on paper twice in a row, and not even the Strictly producers, whose approach to sharing out the sweets is akin to that of a 7 year would do it again right? If that wasn’t enough evidence, there’s the fact that the Powers That Cha-Cha gave him an extended two-month rehearsal partnering the glory that is Nancy Dell’Olio on tour, rolling his eyes at every monologue, rolling his eyes at every technical screw-up, rolling his eyes as she all but licked his nipples and…well, a lot of rolling his eyes really. Never let it be said that Comedy Artem lacked a distinct flavour. I can’t wait to see him rolled out on the nation’s tv screens for everyone to enjoy. Rest assured, even as he carts June Brown around, the tabloids will still claim Kara is WEW JEWW. 40-1
Brendan Cole: Last year was somewhat of a banner year for Brenda after a while of wandering in the Strictly wilderness. Not so much for teaching/nurturing/enduring/not stabbing Bloody Lulu, but for his role as Rent-A-Pro, stepping into the breaches of both Artem and Robin as they got injured. This, here, was a niche, only enhanced now by his emerging role as have-a-go hero and protector of ladies handbags. After years of being Strictly’s Bad Boy, now Brenda has donned his white hat and is…a goodie? It feels odd to say it, but Brenda Cole is now officially on the side of the Strictly Angels along with Darren, Lilia and Matthew Cutler. Blech. But, for those of us who are Brenda fans, this has an upside. Brenda finds himself in the most prime position he’s ever had for a repeat win. Especially as the series is a nice round number, and nice round numbers feel people feeling a little nostalgic. We’re in for a series of “A DECADE OF DANCE!” and “STRICTLY IS 10!” and the accompanying tut-tutting of pedants, so why not a Brenda win? 6-1
Erin Boag: Erin. Oh Erin. I feel like most viewers are at the same place with Erin now that they were three years ago with Anton, and are now just waiting for the show to catch up with them and start making her a Joke Pro, a fate which she has up to now avoided. Even with her most transparently ludicrous partners (Julian, Willie) she kept a sense of dignity that Anton abandoned the second he gave Widdy an atomic wedgie in that harness, but surely her days are numbered in Cartoon Strictly 2012? HOWEVER! Then I remember that three years ago was when the show gifted Laila to Anton, for no reason, just because it could. Could this forthcoming series be Erin’s last hurrah? Or has she permanently set up residence on Erin Island to the extent that only it sinking beneath the sea a la Atlantis could dislodge her? Let’s give her Nicky Westlife and find out. GO ON! 15-1
Flavia Cacace: The gathered ranks of Flavia fans will await this series with breath more baited than that of any other fanbase. Because this is when they find out whether her little stint with Russell Grant was either :
a) a chance for Flavia to show a whole other side to her hitherto reserved and demure personality. The cheeky, fun, creative, playful facets she showed will propel her to victory when she gets to utilise them with an actual contender, as she takes down the glitterball in the biggest walkover in Strictly history, probably with Nicky Westlife.
b) fizz plink plob GIRL ANTON
I’ve got my money on the former, but let’s face it, this show being what it is, it could go either way. Or indeed, the show veering off in another direction entirely, and capitalising on the success of Fifty Shades Of Grey. We all know Flavia loves a bit of bondage…5-1
James Jordan: I feel like James Jordan should have more or less the same odds every year, because every year he’s given the same sort of “very good but flawed” partner that is doomed to fall before the end. Some have the talent but not the personality (Cherie, Gabby) and some have the personality and not the talent (Alex). Some have the talent but go to bits psychologically (Zoe) and some have the talent and sort of the personality but had the misfortune to be cast in the wrong series (Dr Hamela). And…erm…some were Georgina, but that’s all by the by now. James is now one of the most famous pros, with the biggest personalities, a big fanbase, and a sense that he’s narrowly missed out on greatness so many times that you’d think he have to hit the target soon. As it is, I’m off on a jaunt to see what odds I gave him of lifting the glitterball last year, and then just write the same thing all over again, minus a little bit because he didn’t make the final last time. 10-1
Karen Hauer: SEXY SEXY Karen Hauer then. I didn’t mention this in my Farewell to Katya, because why eulogise the Second (/33rd) wife at the First (/32nd)’s funeral? But, just as was the case with Pasha and to a lesser extent Artem (my experience of Aliona’s time on the show was only discovered long after she’d joined Strictly) I know Karen Hauer already, in a sense, because she was a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance USA. She finished 12th. The judges mostly spent their time yelling how SEXY she was, which of course then overshadowed her male partner, which of course then led to the usual backlash against her amongst the public. Her dancing? I was fine with it, although not overwhelmed. I did definitely agree that she was very SEXY though, and I imagine that’s what she’s here for, meaning no John Sergeant or Jimmy Tarbucks for our Karen. She’s getting fast-tracked right to the A List of Strictly Studs, I’d put money on it. Whether her own personality is enough to win over the British public sufficiently for her to win, we shall see. 6-1
Kristina Rihanoff: So last year Kristina got her first contender. Well, her first real contender, not the soggy chewed up paper tiger of Joe Calzaghe. And nobody could say she didn’t try her best. She flung out every trick she’d been saving up her sleeve for the past 3 years and pushed herself so hard to win that she almost ruptured her boobs on about five separate occasions. When they lost, it was more due to Jason (and the fact that Harry’s so DREAMY *sigh*) than her, and you wouldn’t bet against her receiving another contender again. Unfortunately, you also wouldn’t bet against it being exactly the same sort of contender two year in a row ie “one over 40”. And that is one boundary that the Great British Public might not be ready to push against just yet. On the other hand, my one fun fact that I’ll be pushing this series is that no winning pro (not including newbie wins OBVIOUSLY) finished in the bottom half of the series before. Which leaves a whole lot of odds, sods and Kristina. 9-1
Natalie Lowe She did it! She did it! After everyone spent most of Series 8 and the aftermath complaining that Natalie had been unfairly favoured by the producers, and she needed to have a duffer in order to prove herself and pay her dues and show she could really teach someone how to dance etc etc etc, she only went and bloody DID IT. She got her duffer, she guided him through Bottom Two after Bottom Two, she polished him into a…well not a dancer but…not NOT a dancer, and almost outlasted massive contenders like Russell Grant and that footballer one. Of course, all those people who whined on about her having to pay her dues never said what would happen NEXT. I can’t imagine they wanted her to go right back to having contenders to win straight away but…I do, so there. I’m ready for a new side of Natalie Lowe to be shown and for her to drive her partner into the ground in her ruthless pursuit of the glitterball. Whether it will happen or not…I don’t know. 12-1
Ola Jordan: So she’s still here. After all the rumours that she was about to be SENSATIONALLY DITCHED along with James, after Craig axed them both from the live tour in favour of Katya, Ola rides on. Let’s face it, they were never going to ditch the HYPNOBOOBS that easily. I still don’t know whether Robbie was Ola’s best partner on paper, or always doomed to be just another under-performing footballer on a reality show (seriously, have they ever not sucked?) but the fact remains that she spent the series doing not an awful lot with him until all that was left was one joke about his hair, told over and over again. Whether this damages her chances coming into this upcoming series it’s hard to say, because sophisticated choreography has never really been high on the list of Ola’s selling points. If nothing else she’s the show’s hardiest survivor, and I refuse to bet against her yet again getting her partner much further than they “should” go, by force of sheer graft alone. 20-1
Pasha Kovalev: Going on established paterns with the darling of any crop of new pros (Natalie, Artem), Pasha is due to get yet another strong contenders this year, and do slightly less well with them than he did the first time around. Pasha’s first series was an interesting one, in that he got an almost universally positive response, and yet I still don’t think he’s done enough for the general public (by which I mean the public who watch Strictly Come Dancing not, you know, normals) to really be able to pick him out of a line-up yet. Hopefully this time he really cements himself in people’s minds with his gentlemanly ways and sympathetic choreography. Additionally, based on his stint as a guest choreographer on this series of So You Think You Can Dance USA, he’ll be sporting a truly tragic backcomb, so…well, it’ll help him stand out anyway. 8-1
Robin Windsor: I fully expected Robin Windsor to be given at least a semi-serious contender last series and then not only was he not, he did the greatest job of treading water I’ve ever seen in the history of Strictly. His run with Anita Dobson was absolutely indistinguishable from his run with Patsy Kensit in every respect. Both times they were in the bottom two once before they left. Both partners had the same gushy, graspy, lovely personalities backed up by their Gay Best Friend. Both performed routines more accurately characterised as feather-light camp confections than actual dances. Both were overmarked to a mild degree, and both suffered their nadir in a dreadful Argentine Tango – Anita repeatedly rubbing her shoes in a sexual manner, and Patsy being powerbombed through a chair. So here we are again. Will Robin get a winner, or will we plunged even further into Strictly Groundhog Day? 6-1
Vincent Simone: Every year I get my hopes up that Vincent will get a contender, and every year I wind up disappointed. I think it might be time to recognise that Vincent has had his two coins (so to speak) in the Strictly Slot Machine, and now he’s only there for them to play up some sort of vaguely racially tired “Italian gigolo” angle. To be fair, it was always there with Stephanie Beacham but…that was STEPHANIE BEACHAM, so who was judging that partnership. Some people think he might have soured his pitch by pushing Natalie “Just Doing This Now” Cassidy beyond her physical limits in Series 7 but…let’s face it, she deserved it. I live in hope of good things for Vincent but I can’t, in all honesty, predict it. 15-1