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Strictly speaking

Posted on December 19, 2011

Week 12

Finally, we have a “Strictly” champion! Deservedly, if somewhat predictably, amiable drummer and professional man candy Harry Judd made it a Mcdouble, following in the dance steps of other likeable British chaps (Tom Chambers, Chris Hollins, Mark Ramprakash etc.). What’s next for McFlies 3 and 4? “Countdown” and “Mastermind”?

Of course, the real winner here is “Strictly”, triumphing over its ITV rival and rubbing salt into the wound by championing their Christmas No.1 challengers, the tear-jerking Military Wives. (Hold on a minute…does this mean we’ll have to root for a Brucie Christmas single featuring Jason Donovan and Alesha next year? Ye gods.)

The 10-packed final was a reminder of some of the best and worst elements of this series, so if there are any producers reading this (ha! No, really), here are a few things to work on:

  • Less is more Let’s go back to three dances in the final, culminating in the showdance – gives the couples a chance to perfect, rather than making it about sheer endurance. Also, as fun as the odd prop/theme can be, some of the best “Strictly” routines have been the most stripped back. Stick with the themes that work, lose the rest and let the judges enforce the rules – if the public like the craziness, they can still have their say by voting. (Except for those inclined to vote for Robbie Savage. I have confiscated your phones)
  • Beware inflation The judges came dangerously close to appearing superfluous in the final, dishing out perfect scores and bland comments, a problem throughout this series. We want to see dancers earn those 10s, so we need more judging restraint, consistency and proper explanations (Craig gave positive comments but matched them with a variety of scores, leading to confused audience booing on Saturday)
  • Keep it real “Strictly” works best when it deviates from the “X Factor” model, valuing authentic, warts-and-all training footage and genuinely risky live performances over editorialised sob stories and rigged judging. Ditch the “comedy” skits and scripted field trips, please. They’re not big and they’re not clever. Also, no one involved can even remotely act (even, worryingly, the actors)
  • Are we live? There we were at Blackpool, home of ballroom, and yet half of the airtime was taken up by endless recap VTs. What a shame not to see our pros covering that huge floor in the results show. Let our eliminated couples dance individually and give the winner and runner-up sufficient time to speak at the end. Yes, this has now become the best show on TV for those with short-term memory problems, but it risks becoming one that the rest of us iPlayer so we can fast-forward through most of it

Show One

Gladiators again, but sadly no giant Q-tips involved. This was instead a whole new level of camp insanity: our pros surrendering the last vestige of professional dignity through slo-mo Rome: The Musical! posing and – the ultimate humiliation – pulling the finalists’ chariots into the ballroom. Chelsee went for authentic Dianus Rossus hair.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

What do you do when you can’t decide which dress to wear? Put on two! I’m not sure which was worse – the tinfoil wrap or fluffy Disney petticoat. Alesha was a close rival in the “What Were They Thinking?” stakes in her giant sci fi shoulder pads and obvious lack of bra. Classy.

Now, I’m not sure what we can attribute to the reportedly troubled feed from Blackpool, but Bruce’s jokes seemed even sloooooower than usual. Did it take that long for the echo to reverberate round the batcave or is the Brucebot winding down? 


Harry and Aliona – Per-fec-tion

1132144-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-live-showstrictly_sensationalThe judges’ choice performances were preceded by one of the many tedious recap VTs (“Strictly…this is your life!”). Their “J word” was meant to be shy Harry blossoming into a dynamic performer, which unfortunately hasn’t really happened – he’s a nice guy, but has neither natural charisma nor the ability to fake it. Nevertheless, he’s become an indisputably skilled dancer and has a convincing lead for a male celeb, both of which were showcased in their gorgeous quickstep, featuring the return of Aliona’s weird Superman-coloured dress. Bonus points for driving the routine round a good portion of the much-larger Blackpool floor.

Song: “Don’t Get Me Wrong”, The Pretenders

Judges’ comments: Len thought he came out “all guns blazing” and it was even better than the first time. Bruno: “Harry in the temple of ballroom! You came, you danced and you conquered Blackpool. Timeless elegance delivered with flash and dash.” Craig thought he improved on the “lazy left foot”.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 9, 10, 10, 10)

Overall: Laying down the gauntlet.


Jason and Kristina – I’m a survivor

1130665-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-dress-runstrictly_sensational“Life’s more special when you have those downs – it makes the ups so much better.” What will I do without Donovan to guide me? I’ll have lemons and make cherryade, I’ll worry it’s all about the destination and I’ll completely forget to put my cute kids on TV when I need votes the most. Jason’s performance was just as feather-tastic the second time round, although the pairing of Priscilla and serious tango remained one of the series’ enduring mysteries. Also – was anyone else hoping Russell and Flavia would pop up from under the judges desk for the shimmy and boogie section? This had all the personality that Harry lacked, but perhaps wasn’t the best argument for Jason as a true contender.

Song: “I Will Survive” from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Judges’ comments: Bruno said he pushed himself to the limit with the schizophrenic Wolverine-meets-disco diva number – “barking mad but I loved it!” Craig observed Jason’s bottom was sticking out and the chasses were too skippy, but praised him for his determination and “old-fashioned hard work”. Len similarly pointed out his commitment and energy, particularly when competing with contestants 20 years younger.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 – 38 (up from 9, 9, 9, 9)

Overall: Definitely entertaining


Chelsee and Pasha – Happily ever after

1130717-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-dress-runstrictly_sensationalChelsee remains adorably clueless, but her mum and reality TV veteran Pasha did some nice campaigning on her behalf (Pasha: “She’s learned to dance, but she’s also learned a lot about herself.” Mum: “Have I mentioned Chelsee’s late father? He’d have been proud. It’s a dream come true”). Jive in the Blackpool final was a risky proposition, putting them in the shadow of perfect-score Halfpenny, but their Shrek number was, once more, a high-energy crowd-pleaser and Pasha was mercifully less green. Chelsee’s solo work has been consistently impressive, but she’s never quite managed the precision of the other finalists – though that’s not necessarily something the public votes on (see Darren Gough, Tom Chambers etc.).

Song: “I’m A Believer”, The Monkees, from Shrek

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “A premium-grade jive of high-popping vibrancy!” Craig called her “a complete bundle of joy”, dancing “about a thousand steps a minute”. Len reminded us he’s judged world champions here (follow that, Alesha), but watching someone who’s started out with no dance experience performing a jive like that gives him as much pleasure. He came dangerously close to a “You’re what this show’s all about”.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (same as before)

Overall: Pure joy.


Tess is no David Frost, is she? Her rigorous interviewing revealed that Russell adores Blackpool, Lulu is still loopy and Anita loves everyone. Phew. Hope you paying 3D cinema viewers (show yourselves!) coped with all that sitting around and stating the obvious.

 


Harry and Aliona – Rock solid

1132556-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-live-showsimply_so_soOoh, is that actual training footage? No, false alarm. The showdances were preceded by creaky visual puns – in Harry’s case, making a LINE with tape on the floor so he could literally CROSS the LINE. (Tip your waitresses!) Anyhow, he picked “rebellious” rock n roll for his showdance – bless, he’s about as rebellious as tapioca – and reminded us of his world-class musical roots by miming with a mic and crashing around on the drums. In between, Aliona partially stripped him and choreographed on a paid-per-lift basis but forgot to add much actual dancing. Harry executed it well. It was perfectly nice. But somehow, during all the visual pun shenanigans, the pair forgot to inject any emotion or meaning. It just…was.

Song: “Great Balls of Fire”, Jerry Lee Lewis

Judges’ comments: Len: “If you were a stick of Blackpool rock, you’d have talent written all over you.” He noted one lift was “a bit sticky”, but otherwise it was great. Bruno, naturally, loved Harry’s “great guns” and “impressive strength and physicality” as well as the mix of jive and rock n roll. Craig wanted smoother transitions but thought it was amazing.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 9 – 37

Overall: Strong but not mind-blowing.

 


Jason and Kristina – This business we call show

1132915-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-live-showstrictly_sensationalCreaky visual pun: Jason demonstrating that there are no rules by bursting through a door marked “rules”. Kristina won the showdance choreography award by harnessing his natural hammy pizzazzity in a fabulous old-fashioned Hollywood number, during which she became less and less clothed with each exuberant dance style change. (Aliona missed a trick there.) The pair weren’t in sync during the cane section, but no one can accuse them of not trying hard enough and this was, as Donovan might have said, the time to leave it all on the floor, dance like nobody’s watching, throw caution to the wind and neither a borrower nor a lender be.

Song: “Dancin’ Fool”, Frank Zappa

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “A showbiz extravaganza spectacular – you could open on Broadway tomorrow! You’d set a box office record!” Craig: “ Ferocious and full-on, darling. I would get that woman a restraining order. A-maze-ing!” Len: “You’re a showman, this is a showdance – perfect combination.”

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Overall: A real showstopper.


Chelsee and Pasha – Saturday night fever

1132941-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-live-showstrictly_sensationalChelsee, whose acting career so far consists of playing a schoolgirl, decided no rules meant she could be on her mobile in class. Bad Chelsee! Their choice of disco was slightly mystifying, given the continued emphasis on her “down with da kidz”-ness, but perhaps they thought it would be fun without alienating the “Strictly” demographic? Styling Pasha as Travolta and Chelsee as a shimmery Christmas tree decoration certainly covered all bases. This was the most daring showdance but also the messiest, with Chelsee nailing some incredible tricks and shaking her thang, but also missing some transitions entirely (possibly because she lost Pasha in the fog of dry ice).

Song: “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls

Judges’ comments: Bruno called her “a vision of seductive beauty” and “Sasha Fierce”, but noted a couple of moments where she nearly lost it. Craig loved all the dangerous lifts. Len liked the hustle and called it “bright and shiny like the Blackpool illuminations” (really, are we in Blackpool? I wish someone had mentioned it), before sadly noting that someone would soon be eliminated. WHY, GOD, WHY? Alesha (quoting from The Book of Donovan) praised Chelsee for dancing with her heart.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Overall: Divalicious, if hit and miss.


Leaderboard

Jason and Kristina – 38 + 40 = 78

Harry and Aliona – 40 + 37 = 77

Chelsee and Pasha – 39 + 36 = 75

Surprising final order, but then the judges’ scores don’t actually count and the McHarry supporters are unlikely to jump aboard The Good Ship Jason at this stage. Personally, I was still rooting for Russell Grant – I believe in Christmas miracles.

Yet another heartstring-tugging VT to end the show. (“Please vote. If you don’t, I will hurt this puppy.”)


 

Show Two

1133789-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-results-showThe spotlights of tension. Tess’s voice echoing ominously (either for dramatic effect or because they still hadn’t worked out the levels). And now for the result. Oh. No. Another recap. Of what happened an hour ago. Do you know, people talked in corridors and Harry went to make-up? TV GOLD, PEOPLE!

Ah, finally. And the couple in third place is…Jason and Kristina, despite getting the highest score. He’s this year’s Lisa Snowdon. Sad given how much they DESPERATELY wanted it, but good in that we didn’t have to see him dad-dancing his way through a salsa. Kristina went for silently, elegantly heartbroken (no mean feat given that she was wearing a bra and three tassels) while Jason, future motivational speaker, gave an Oscar-length exit lecture that demonstrated why he failed to get votes. Tragically, Dave Arch and his orchestra did not play him off.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Well, at least it’s one dress now, but that one dress is a lacy hankie with a chunk chopped out of the front. Craft project gone awry?

 


Harry and Aliona – Love, love me do

1133355-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-results-showstrictly_sensationalYet another recap, mainly of the truly heinous VTs, followed by the ceremonial turning off of the training-room light. (Always hilarious – of course it’ll be turned on again so the crew can find the door.) Their new dance was a lyrical, beautifully controlled Viennese waltz-style American smooth, perhaps on the sombre side for a final but otherwise lovely. As usual, not much genuine emotional content, but they do look pretty together. Even when Aliona’s forced into a body-stocking dress with a flock of flamingos strapped to the hem.

Song: “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, Elvis Presley

Judges’ comments: Len loved their Viennese before and the addition of open choreography made “what was a great dance into an unbelievable one”. Bruno sighed that it was “a perfect fit for your princely charms, irresistibly romantic – I salute you, your highness”. Craig: “If it wasn’t the final there’s a plethora of things I could say about your hands, but it was contemporary, quiet, gorgeous.” (Does this mean the judges aren’t meant to actually judge during the final…?)

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Overall: Exquisite.

 


Chelsee and Pasha – Heart and soul

1133420-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-results-showstrictly_sensationalDisappointing “Strictly”’s matchmaking producers, Pasha confirmed what we’ve all suspected – he and Chelsee have a brother/sister relationship. There’s no singles mingling here. But before the ceremonial light switch moment, we had another chance to admire Chelsee’s poncho of many flaps. (And when I say “admire”…) Their rumba was a superb final dance for an accomplished partnership, showcasing her improved grace and maturity, Pasha’s musicality and their natural connection, with the addition of some challenging figures and compelling storytelling. The best rumba of the series, but not a dance style that lends itself to vote-winning.

Song: “Because Of You”, Kelly Clarkson

Judges’ comments: Alesha: “You put your heart and soul into everything you do. Dramatically romantic.” Bruno: “You nailed that rumba! Expressive, fluid, musical, you acted it like a movie star.” Craig: “You pulled that out the bag, darling. Absolutely magnificent.” Len likened the rumba to Len’s lens – “because it’s so slow, everything is magnified. Nothing I could see I didn’t like”.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Overall: A quiet triumph.


Another series recap. Wow, I forgot about Dan Lobb.

More of Tess’s probing interviewing, requiring all the celebs to squash together in their horrendous outfits, clashing spectacularly. Poor 3D viewers. If they weren’t colour blind before, they will be now.

Now then, which titan of the music world do we have for the final? Oh. Well, in Jessie J’s defence, she thought she’d been booked for the Halloween show, hence the spooky trees, dry ice lake, evil shoulder pads, bandage leotard, demented ballerina/soldier dancers and unearthly yowling. In short, this was a musical low.

 


Harry and Aliona – I’ve been tangoed

1133568-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-results-showstrictly_sensationalThe pair reprised their favourite routine of the series – Argentine tango – in a bid to win over Len the Grouch. Harry was sharper, more dynamic and more committed in this performance and had a jolly good go at faking passion – you can’t fault him for trying. Really, the surprising thing isn’t that a genial boy band member can’t turn on that level of performance, but that Aliona can’t either. Perhaps that’s why so many “Strictly” pros go method when it comes to showmance…

Song: “Asi Se Baila El Tango”, Bailonga feat. Vero Verdier

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “So cool, so sharp, cutting like a steel blade, all that repressed lust and sensuality. I think I’ve been tangoed.” (This is, of course, the response “Strictly”’s make-up department was hoping for.) Craig, like the nation, and indeed Bruno, has fallen in love with Harry. Len was pleased they’d listened to him and thought it was much more intense.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 9, 8, 10, 10)

Overall: A strong end routine.


Chelsee and Pasha – First class

1133594-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-results-showstrictly_sensationalAnd then there was one. The final performance of the series was the charming quickstep airline tale, featuring Pasha as a posh passenger and Chelsee as an improbably vertically challenged stewardess. (Honestly, could she even reach an overhead locker?) Fab use of the big floor and even gave us one final wardrobe malfunction: Chelsee struggling to undo Pasha’s jacket. Back in Chelsee’s comfort zone – fast and fun rather than serious – so easy to see why it’s her fave, but perhaps sold her short (ha! Pun definitely intended. Seriously, I spend hours thinking of these) given how much she’s matured in her ballroom.

Song: “Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing”, Louis Prima

Judges’ comments: Craig: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: first class.” Len: “It could well be my favourite dance as well. Fabulous.” Alesha thought it was the perfect combination of a great dress, great song and great dance “of what has been the greatest series”. Bruno: “Strictly stunning! A great finale for the greatest season!” (Series, Bruno. You’re not in America now.)

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 9, 9, 9, 9)

Overall: Uplifting note to end on.

 


Leaderboard

Harry and Aliona – 40 + 37 + 39 + 40 = 156

Chelsee and Pasha – 39 + 36 + 39 + 39 = 153

In other words, it’s up to Mcyou and thus the bookies will probably have a merry Christmas.

 


ANOTHER recap filler, this time echoing Zoe’s god-awful “Points of You” with a “here’s what the British public thinks”. And by British public, I mean butcher, baker, candlestick maker and Lorraine Kelly. I don’t care what the British public thinks. I am the British public and I think we need fewer VTs.

Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…no, not the result, the gleefully chaotic group dance! After a shocking lack of past couples (no individual dances, brief interviews with a few celebs and no pro dance), we at least had a greatest hits package – Dan’s gymnastics! Nancy and the coffin! Russell with wind-tunnel hair being lifted like a girl! – delivered in manic, two-glasses-in, camp-tastic style. Yes, it’s wonderful to have three accomplished finalists, but given that the competition was really decided across the series rather than this week, I felt the final was missing that exuberant wow factor, at least until this lovably demented band of entertainers pitched up dressed like radioactive Haribo. Series 9’s Island of Misfit Toys, I salute you.

Yes, you guessed it – the night’s 423rd recap VT, this time for the two finalists. Is this an emergency measure in case the Blackpool feed goes down? If you missed it the first, second, third or fourth times, you’ll catch it now!

BUT finally, we’ve really made it – it’s THE MOMENT OF TRUTH! The meaning of life is… No wait. The 2011 champions are…Harry and Aliona! And the McFlies, who invaded the stage and were shooed off by a panicky Bruce. (“This is the BBC!”) Rather shockingly, just a brief word from Harry and nothing from Aliona, Chelsee or Pasha, possibly because Jason used up everyone’s airtime until at least Christmas Eve.

What do you think? Did the right couple win? What was your favourite dance of the night? Did the showdances swing your vote? Was this indeed “the greatest series ever”? Leave your thoughts below or contact me on Twitter – @mkmswain

So, that’s it from me for this year. Thank you to everyone for reading, for believing in me, for supporting me throughout the competition, my family, my friends, my neighbours, my passing acquaintances, my photogenic children who really appreciated my talent and… Oh wait. Get out of my head, Donovan! See you next year for more ballroom triumphs and disaaaaasters (unless Tess gets a new stylist), and in the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas and keep dancing!

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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