This year’s series really has been full of surprises. At the outset it looked as if it was going to be a two-horse race between Aston and Alexandra – in the first few weeks they vied for the top spot. But, as Aston found out in week seven, perhaps it’s better not to sprint out of the starting gates!
The two of them set the pace right from the off. The standard overall is very high this year and that has been largely down to them. We have a group of celebrities who are all loving keeping their place on the show and their competitive streaks have been ignited. Because, ultimately, none of them is a dead cert – there are too many variables. Firstly, it depends what dance they get each week. They’re not going to be good at every single one of them. Alexandra hasn’t done the rumba yet, and that might be her weakness.
Then they need to impress the judges, which isn’t – as they know – always easy. We are there to score each dance, but we are also there to help the celebrities to improve. Shirley has been an excellent addition to the judging panel and is always very constructive in her advice. Those who listen to us are getting better week by week – look at Debbie! Some celebrities start slowly and then quietly overtake the rest. Aston has already fallen and Alex could stumble at the next hurdle, whereas coming up the field steadily are Gemma, Joe and Davood.
Finally, the celebs have to canvass votes from the public: you can be the greatest dancer in the world, but if the audience doesn’t support you, you’ll never get to the final. Ultimately, the Glitterball trophy is the public’s gift. If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago who would be in the final I’d have said, without a shadow of a doubt, Aston, Alexandra and Debbie. But we’ve already seen just how quickly things can change. All bets are off!
Greatest strength: He’s a great actor, which means he’s at one with every character and that shines through in all his dances.
Biggest weakness: He can look awkward at times — especially in the Latin — and that comes from not feeling confident in the steps. He needs to practise, practise, practise!
Must improve: He lacks the the correct hip action in the Latin dances. He has the ability to achieve it, but it’s a matter of applying himself.
Verdict: If Joe can put in the hours, he’ll be flying. He could be a real contender.
Final score: B+
Greatest strength: She has great energy and is delightful when she’s flying around the dancefloor. She can also tell a lovely story. I love her. Mainly for her entertainment value!
Biggest weakness: She’s a bit too flighty; she leaps off the floor rather than keeping one foot on it at all times. She’s just like a bull at a gate — she goes for it and loses all sense of grace. Do some meditation, darling. Calm down!
Must improve: Her frame and footwork need a lot of work.
Verdict: Unfortunately, I don’t think she’ll make the final.
Final score: C+
Greatest strength: He’s getting heel leads on both legs, which is amazing — he’s doing really well. I wasn’t worried about his disability, but I have been surprised. I don’t have any problem with his lower half, I have a problem with his top half.
Biggest weakness: His frame.
Must improve: Dancing isn’t just about using your body, it’s about emotionally committing to each and every move. There’s got to be a story behind the dance, otherwise it’s boring. He needs the confidence to release emotionally. He’s not yet free.
Verdict: He has body confidence, but not emotional confidence. If he can improve that, he will go further.
Final score: B-
Greatest strength: She shows great deportment, great balance and really good technique. She’s an amazing dancer — absolutely fantastic.
Biggest weakness: It can be a little samey — it feels like she’s performing some dances in a similar way. She needs to get into the character each week and make sure that they all look different. She achieved that in her charleston and tango, but needs to keep that up.
Must improve: Everyone said her ballet background was an advantage, but actually, she still needs to knock the ballet out of her body a little bit. It really hampered her at the beginning. She needs a bit more grit.
Verdict: She’s got everything on her side, so I’d be disappointed if she didn’t get to the final.
Final score: A-
Greatest strength: She’s focused and determined and looks like she’s enjoying herself.
Biggest weakness: She can look awkward and wooden sometimes. I feel like she’s holding something back. I thought at the beginning that she’d be one to watch, but she really needs to pull her socks up because she’s lagging behind.
Must improve: She needs more physicality and to “find” her body; she’s too loose, her movements need more power and definition.
Verdict: She just doesn’t have natural ability and that’s hard to overcome. I think she could, but it’ll take double the work of everybody else.
Final score: C
Greatest strength: She really can dance! I worked with her on the stage show Sister Act, but it was a big surprise to me that she could move like that. In my book, she wasn’t a dancer. In Sister Act there was a lot of armography but little choreography — she was mostly in a nun’s habit!
Biggest weakness: I love the fact that she’s doing the show for her late mother, it’s very touching. We’re all human — well, mostly! — but she has to make sure she keeps channelling all of that emotion in a positive way.
Must improve: She needs to polish her footwork. She’ll only get a 10 from me when that’s perfect.
Verdict: A frontrunner for the final — but then, so was Aston, so she needs to make sure the public is behind her in order to get that far.
Final score: A
Greatest strength: He is naturally a good mover. He’s never danced before, so he started from nothing, but there’s an aspiring dancer waiting to come out.
Biggest weakness: I was surprised he was in the dance-off in week four, as it showed he wasn’t that popular with viewers. It gave him a shock, though, and made him work harder — his jive the following week was fantastic. He needs to keep that drive and passion and lighten up a bit, to get the audience on side.
Must improve: His hip action in the Latin dances is holding him back.
Verdict: People can surprise you when they have a natural gift. He reminds me of cricketer Mark Ramprakash in 2006, who had also never danced before but then performed one of the most amazing salsas I’ve ever seen and won the show.
Final score: B
Greatest strength: She’s incredibly determined to get her footwork right and tell the story — and she can dance. I think she is the most improved dancer week on week, and I’ve been surprised by how much fight she has in her.
Biggest weakness: At the start of the series she was full of fear. She was nervous and couldn’t give her emotional self, as well as her physical self, over to the dance. She is starting to learn how to do that and has come out of her shell a bit.
Must improve: She needs better technique — and to show more feistiness.
Verdict: She’ll need to keep improving, but I wouldn’t rule her out of the final.
Final score: B+
Find out what Craig has to say about the expelled contestants (including Aston Merrygold) on the next page…
Strictly Come Dancing is on Saturday at 6.45pm and Sunday at 7.15pm – both on BBC1