Girl Power

Sep 8, 2017 by

Girl Power

The official launch show of Strictly 2017 will take place tomorrow night on BBC1 at 7pm, but, courtesy of Digital Spy, we already know this year’s pairings:

Mollie King & AJ Pritchard
Susan Calman & Kevin Clifton
Alexandra Burke & Gorka Marquez
Charlotte Hawkins & Brendan Cole
Ruth Langsford & Anton du Beke
Simon Rimmer & Karen Clifton
Chizzy Akudolu & Pasha Kovalev
Debbie McGee & Giovanni Pernice
Gemma Atkinson & Aljaz Skorjanec
Aston Merrygold & Janette Manrara
Rev Richard Coles & Dianne Buswell
Davood Ghadami & Nadiya Bychkova
Joe McFadden & Katya Jones
Jonnie Peacock & Oti Mabuse
Brian Conley & Amy Dowden

Throughout the entire history of 14 series of Strictly we have never had 3 consecutive male winners (nor 3 female). It currently stands at 8 male winners, 6 female ones overall, and the last 2 winners were both male.

The lack of a three-peat on either the male or female side points to cleverly stage managed results. Last year, the Beeb blatantly guided Ore Oduba to victory. A black male winner was a key box ticked in terms of its ethnically diverse modus operandi.

In series 11, after 2 successive male winners, TPTB were so determined to ensure a female winner they contrived an all-female final. Whereas last year it felt like the composition of the field favoured a male winner, this year the power looks to lie more on the female side. And given the successful dark arts used by TPTB to achieve its ideal outcome, you would have to favour a female winner in this 2017 series.

Throughout the entire history of 14 series of Strictly we have never had 3 consecutive male winners (nor 3 female)… and the last 2 winners were both male

The competition will get underway on Saturday September 23 and it won’t be until after the couples dance again the following week that we will have the first elimination after the traditional dance-off between the bottom 2 couples. Unless we have a Will Young situation and a contestant pulling out, we should also be back to a 4-couple final on December 16. Blackpool Week is slated for November 18.

There are potentially a few things against the pre-lives fav, Aston: there is a question mark over the Beeb wanting 3 male winners in a row; Janette Manrara, despite choreographing that superb salsa with Jake Wood a few seasons ago, is prone to create some pretty lacklustre routines; and perhaps most significantly, ringer accusations, with Aston being a dancer by trade and likely to be so good from the outset he has no journey on the show for viewers to invest in.

The backlash against Aston began in earnest as soon as he was announced as a contestant, with many UK media outlets building a negative spin on his inclusion. A judge on reality show Got To Dance, known for his dance moves and backflips in boyband JLS, his dance expertise will be expected and it could prove very hard for him to win voters over.

We saw last year how Danny Mac failed to grab the popular vote partly due to how highly competent he was from the get-go. He was probably the best male dancer ever seen on the show yet he didn’t win, and he was very much in the clean cut, middle England-friendly mould the show’s vote base favours.

There is no Len Goodman to moan if Aston starts incorporating backflips a la Claudia Fragapane last year, and he may well shorten in price if he starts the series, as expected, impressively.

Potentially the most Strictly voter-friendly on the female side this year looks to be Mollie King from The Saturdays, and based on the assumption a female winner will be the Beeb’s plan A this year, she looks a strong contender.

We saw last year how Danny Mac failed to grab the popular vote partly due to how highly competent he was from the get-go

There is a slight doubt, however, regarding her chemistry with AJ. He is boyish looking, and only 22, whereas she is 30. Some of his routines with Claudia left a lot to be desired last year though it didn’t help that aesthetically they looked like a couple of cake decorations and on a few occasions the failure may have been more due to inappropriate song choices.

Mollie comes across well in interview – bright and breezy, well spoken and refreshingly self-deprecating – and she at least has some dance experience from her time in the music industry. It is easy to envisage her following a similar path to previous pop band members Louise Redknapp, Frankie Bridge, Kimberley Walsh and Rachel Stevens who all made the final.

Former Emmerdale actress Gemma Atkinson has a glamour model past and is northern, which are not ideal qualities for Strictly voters. On the potential plus side, she was previously in BBC1’s Casualty, supports animal welfare, and seems quite down-to-earth. She is also paired with 2013 Strictly winner Aljaz.

Compared to Mollie (5ft 4 inches), Gemma (5ft 9 inches) is taller which might be considered a slight hindrance when it comes to the fast Latin numbers, but there was a short video clip that appeared recently online of her twerking on holiday and she looks like she has the hips to be very good.

Recalling her stint as a judge on X Factor, Alexandra Burke didn’t seem particularly likeable – you sense she is a bit of a diva. She is quite brash and confident, almost in an Americanised way, and there are much bigger question marks over her being embraced by the Strictly voting audience.

She will likely prove to be an excellent dancer, and Gorka appears to have been rewarded with a perceived contender in Alexandra after being eliminated 2nd last year paired with Tameka Empson. But her overall profile leaves significant room for doubt regarding her voter appeal. Her mum recently passed away which will help gain her some short-term sympathy but that will likely fade over the course of the series.

A video of Good Morning Britain presenter Charlotte Hawkins (42) ballroom dancing suggests she is not a natural mover, and seeing her paired with Brendan looks a potential double negative. He can get mouthy with the panel of judges and no amount of knee slides by him in routines will conceal her weak core if that video footage is anything to go by.

Ruth Langsford (57) will be aided in the vote being paired by lovable Strictly stalwart Anton but that will only take her so far. Possibly of more interest among the older females is Debbie McGee (58), paired with Giovanni.

The pint-sized McGee has said she is doing the show for deceased husband Paul Daniels, the much loved BBC magician back in the day, and also to inject some fun back into her life after a year of grieving. This does give her a potentially powerful narrative.

Back in the day Debbie could contort herself into some very small spaces, and she was ballet-trained in her younger days so she is likely to prove nimble and light on her feet. Aged 58, however, she would defy the age stats if she goes on to win the show.

The Beeb loved ticking the black male winner box last year – might its overtly PC stance see it aim to tick the ‘less able-bodied’ one this year?

Paralympic sprinter Jonnie Peacock (paired with Oti) will no doubt throw himself into the training and the BBC being the BBC, his less able-bodied status will likely be seized upon as a way to pimp him throughout. Oti is clever and creative with her choreo so she could prove a good match with Jonnie.

The Beeb loved ticking the black male winner box last year – might its overtly PC stance see it aim to tick the ‘less able-bodied’ one this year? The slight doubt over Jonnie is that in interview he sometimes comes across as a slightly peculiar character. Added to which there could be a ceiling to his ability.

Davood Ghadami, paired with Ukrainian newcomer Nadiya Bychkova, is possibly of greater interest. He has good looks on his side and will carry some of his Eastenders vote base into the show. A fit 35-year-old guy, he looks the sort who will be able to cut a rug, and these two could have plenty of spark together.

The dancing rev, Richard Coles, who was occasionally seen shaking his booty as part of The Communards pop group in the 80s, will likely prove to be comedy gold and it is easy to see him becoming the water cooler act this year. Aussie newcomer Dianne Buswell will be tasked with coming up with ingenious routines, the same way Katya Jones managed to charm the audience showcasing Ed Balls skills last year.

Brian Conley, paired with Welsh newcomer Amy Dowden, didn’t come across as very likeable on his brief stint in ‘I’m A Celebrity…’ and may find himself being trumped in the comedy stakes in this series by the likes of Coles and possibly Susan Calman.

The dancing rev, Richard Coles,will likely prove to be comedy gold and it is easy to see him becoming the water cooler act this year

There is room for Simon Rimmer to surprise paired with Karen Clifton, but it looks like the show may have brought to an end the perceived Clifton family favouritism – Kevin paired with 4ft 10 inch, little known Scottish lesbian stand-up comic, Calman. For her to have any chance of lasting on the show she will have to follow the comedic route with her dances. This may well be the plan but this will be a new challenge for Kevin having previously been paired with contenders and making the last 4 finals.

Joe McFadden did not impress in a video unearthed of him dancing in a Children In Need skit but at least he has Katya Jones to teach him and come up with good routines. Chizzy Akudolu is paired with the likeable Pasha and looks a bubbly personality but neither of these Holby City stars scream potential winner pre-lives.

In a weak looking field, and in a market with a decidedly non-voter friendly look at the head of the market, it is easy to envisage a surprise finalist or two this year. Among the outsiders Rev Coles and Debbie McGee look worthy of consideration, with both having room to trade shorter.


  1. Stoney

    Hi Rob. Although I agree with the view they will probably be against a 3peat, let’s not forget they threw the kitchen sink at trying to achieve this with Kellie Bright.

    • Rob

      Hi Stoney. I was thinking about the Kellie B ramp when penning this article. I didn’t go into detail but my view on reflection is Jay McGuinness was probably so far clear in the pv TPTB knew he was untouchable in that final regardless of the Kellie ramp. I still think that was more a slap on the wrist to him & Aliona for refusing to reprise their jive in the final.

  2. Stoney

    Pre live show runners
    1. Joe
    2. Gemma
    3. Debbie

    I’m opposing Aston. He is going to be of the same mould as Peter Andre and has the same partner.
    If I was going to pick an outright winner from 1st impressions on tonight’s show it would be Gemma. She has come across really well. Mollie is far too posh for my liking.
    The group dance will be interesting but won’t read too much into it. Jay Mcguiness had a nightmare in that 2 years ago.

  3. M8

    When the cast was announced straight away Alexandra Burke screamed out winner. She can certainly dance, the ever diverse BBC would love an attractive black female to win and it would also stick two fingers up at Simon Cowell aka Caroline Flack. However as Rob says I think it comes down as to how likeable she is and their is a question mark there. The female Peter Andre perhaps? But if she comes off as likeable as she was as an XFactor contestant then she’s tough to beat. Wouldn’t the BBC love a JLS Alexandra final mark two. I’ll also be opposing Aston, I firmly expect him to be beaten down with the ringer stick and while he’ll probably make the final, I don’t see him getting the votes needed to win right now. To be honest with the awful Janette as his pro the final may not even be guaranteed. I do however have my eye on Jonny. The BBC flew in DWTS pro Sharna Burgess a month ago to assess Jonny to make sure he would have no problems dancing and he got the green light that he was perfectly capable of competing with his prosthetic. Sharna of course took war veteran Noah Galloway who had one leg and one arm to third place on the American version of her show. Johnny is an Olympian, in treat shape, has a great pro and a guaranteed sympathy/inspiring vote. Expect him to top the public vote numerously. No gender has every won SCD three times in a row of course. The only cast member I see who could potentially stop that right now is Jonny. In terms of other females besides Alexandra I agree that Gemma stands out. She’s down to earth and should appeal to voters in a similar way to Abbey Clancy. I also do not like Mollies choice of pro.

    • Stoney

      Totally agree with what you say about Alexandra. However she has instantly rolled out the line about only being a singer and having no dancing experience, when yesterday it was obvious she was the most polished danver in there. Could be a Danny Mac from the outset.

  4. James

    Hi Rob. It’s great, as always, to read your thoughts on the Strictly contestants. Let’s hope for another profitable year :o)

    I expect the final four to consist of two male and two female celebrities (as has happened in 10 of the 14 series) and the final three to consist of two celebrities aged under 35, and one aged 35 or over (as has happened in 12 of the 14 series).

    I can see Alexandra being at, or around, the top of the leaderboard from week one. After an early exit last year, Gorka will want to show off his full potential to the Strictly audience, in a similar fashion to Oti last year. As you have mentioned, this may not be the best strategy to secure the overall victory, but in a weak field it’s tough to see her losing a dance off, and I see her as a likely finalist.

    Incidentally, I think the price of 11/2 for Alexandra to receive the first ‘10’ of the series is good value. It took AJ eleven weeks to secure Claudia her first ‘10’, so I see Aston as the only real competition in this market.

    I think that Aston is another likely finalist. I have some concerns over Janette’s choreography, but to be fair, her previous partners have either had limited ability or limited enthusiasm for the show. I feel that this will be Janette’s last realistic opportunity to claim the Glitterball trophy, and she will ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at it this year. Odds of 3/1 do not particularly appeal, however I managed to get a price of 10/1 on a Janette victory, shortly after she won the Xmas special.

    Molly ticks a number of boxes for Strictly success. However I would have felt more confident about her chances if she had been paired with Kevin, Gorka or Pasha. Another concern is that she is currently trying to kick-start her solo career, and so may not be as focused on a victory as some of the other contestants.

    I am not yet sold on Gemma as a potential winner. Most of the successful females on this show are slender and/or petite. Aljaz is an excellent teacher, however he was unable to get to the semi-final with either Helen or Daisy.

    Only two female professionals out of 25, have reached the final in their first attempt (Hanna K in series 1 and Natalie L in series 7). As a comparison, 8 of the 23 male professionals made the final in their first series. This statistic makes me wary of the chances of Davood, Richard & Brian.

    Jonnie is the wildcard in this series. As he himself suggested, he may only last until weeks 4-6, or he may sweep his way to a landslide victory.

    The dark horse this year could be Joe. I had written him off before hearing he had been partnered with Katya. Jonnie & Joe are of similar height, as are Oti & Katya, so it would have been easy to switch these partnerships. After last year, I felt that TPTB would provide Katya with a better chance of progression in 2017 than Oti. This leads me to be believe that Joe is better than we are expecting, Jonnie is worse, or a combination of the two. Remember that 11 out of 12 female professionals reached the final five in their second year, when partnered with a celebrity aged under 45.

    So in summary my final four is currently Alexandra, Aston, Mollie & Joe.

    • Rob

      Hi James. Thanks very much for posting your predictions and statistical breakdown.

      Great spot on that ‘first 10 of series’ market. Alex and Aston do look the main suspects here but there is always room for a surprise fast Latin triumph in the early weeks that comes out of nowhere & persuades Bruno/Darcey to pull out their 10 paddle.

      Interviews with Shirley suggest she is going to be much tougher with her scoring compared to Len and there will be less ‘SEVEN’ for bang average routines, and she will likely be more punitive.

      Winning the audience over on the female side is a tricky balancing act. Helen George seemed to be very middle England friendly at show start but turned out to be too wishy washy. It is often a combination of likability, chemistry with the pro partner, improvement over the course of the series, and really embracing the challenge.

      They also have to master both ballroom and fast Latin. Someone like Daisy Lowe didn’t cut the mustard in fast Latin. If the woman is too ballsy/confident (Nat Gumede/Denise V.O.) this, too, can be a big vote loser.

      My early impression of Joe Mc is, while he may an acceptable dancer, he cuts a rather odd shape on the dance floor – big head, narrow torso. I think the aesthetics are a key element and something that almost subconsciously can have an impact on viewers.

  5. M8

    Having known Shirley’s persona for a long time being a DWTS viewer, expect her to be an Arlene like judge rather than Len. She won’t give Craig like scores but she won’t be pulling out tens on a whim. She will also appreciate creativity as long as the correct ballroom/Latin steps are implemented. Unlike Len who would pooh pooh anything outside the box regardless of whether it had the right steps in or not. Her son is hugely creative and storytelling with his choreography and she will no doubt appreciate any pro that can do that in the U.K. One more point, she seemed very well versed in the dark arts of DWTS. As we know SCD also dabs in the dark arts numerously. Shirley holds a huge amount of power as head judge, will she play ball with TPTB when required?

    • Rob

      Thanks for the Shirley intel, M8. Having never watched a full series of DWTS, in your experience of that show, have there been moments of blatant manipulation? Over-scoring for some celebs, under-scoring for others, ordering of the leaderboard in the latter stages of the series, settting up a celeb for elimination, guiding a ‘chosen one’ to victory, and so on?

      I would think a pre-requisite of taking the job is that you have to bow to the demands of the prods, but it will be interesting to see Shirley’s approach.

      • M8

        It is just as manipulated if not more so than Strictly. Without a dance off they rely on judges comments/scores, running order and the VT that airs before each dance to manipulate votes. The VT edit doesn’t come into effect on SCD as they got rid of dramatic VTs and replaced them with the cheesy rubbish we get now since Louise Rainbow took charge but in the US they are extremely powerful in portraying celebs in a positive/negative light.. They also have a week where immunity is dished out to the highest scoring couple and the rest dance off for extra points, which has been used to save a producer’s favourite who was set to be eliminated that night. Shirley will be well aware of such dark arts, she has spoken about it when guesting on DWTS podcasts and on social media. Which is why I was really surprised they gave her the job. She’s not a stupid woman and the TPTB will have to tread carefully around her. It would ironically hypocritical if she does bow down to the producers and does their bidding as head judge.

  6. James

    Hi Rob. I have analysed the week 1 performance of the 21 celebrities who ended up as either the winners or runners up in series 8-14

    Week 1 score
    32: Abbey C, Jason D
    31: Danny M, Louise R, Matt B, Natalie G, Pamela S
    30: Frankie B, Kara T
    28: Harry J, Kimberley W, Susanna R
    27: Caroline F, Chelsee H, Georgia MF, Kellie B, Louis S, Jay M, Ore O, Simon W
    25: Denise VO

    If Shirley turns out to be a tougher scorer than Len, it may be more useful to analyse leaderboard positions, rather than scores.

    Week 1 leaderboard position
    1st or joint 1st: Abbey, Frankie, Jason, Matt, Pamela
    2nd or joint 2nd: Danny, Harry, Kimberley, Louise, Natalie
    3rd or joint 3rd: Caroline, Georgia, Jay, Kara, Kellie, Louis, Simon, Susanna
    5th or joint 5th: Chelsee, Denise
    6th or joint 6th: Ore

    So history would suggest that our final three celebrities in 2018 are likely to score at least 27 points this week, and/or finish in the top three places of the week 1 leaderboard.

    Our overall winner should be aiming to score in the high 20’s, and finish in 3rd place in week 1.

    • Rob

      Thanks for this, James. Love your statistical anlysis. The impact Shirley has on scoring will be interesting to see. I always felt Len was often over-generous & I personally don’t like to see week 1/2 routines scored too highly, unless we do see something truly exceptional. The proliferation of 7s, 8s and even a 9 on the first Saturday last year was ridiculous.

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