After months of speculation and anticipation, the full Strictly Come Dancing 2019 line-up has been announced – with much derision over the cast’s apparent lack of star power.
While in previous years we’ve had names such as Will Young, Ed Balls and Louise Redknapp, the 2019 cohort – which includes social media influencer Saffron Barker, CBBC presenter Karim Zeroual and socialite Viscountess Emma Weymouth – could be considered not up to scratch.
The teasing out of this year’s bunch has sparked mass upset on social media, with some RadioTimes.com fans blaming the so-called ‘Strictly curse’ for the lack of big name celebs. Others have gone as far as to say they will switch off from Strictly completely.
But those threatening to ‘boycott’ the show simply because they don’t recognise a YouTuber, frankly, need to get a grip.
Strictly Come Dancing has never been about a celebrity’s level of fame, otherwise surely the show’s biggest name would win every year?
Saffron Barker (BBC)
Instead, we as viewers get invested in watching our hopefuls improve week by week; we appreciate seeing two left feet eventually find their rhythm as opposed to picking up the phone to vote for Denise Van Outen just because she’s already a household name. We’re not even bothered if there’s a better dancer in the competition – it’s all about watching someone “go on a journey”. It’s why Joe McFadden won over Alexandra Burke, and why Stacey Dooley took the crown over Ashley Roberts.
Casting younger, new-fangled stars prevents the show from going stale, and stops us seeing the same, tired old faces from the reality TV circuit.
Casting director Stefania Aleksander, who took on the role in 2018, previously explained this was the reasoning behind casting Joe Sugg in 2018.
“It’s a mixed bag – you don’t want to replicate every year,” she said on the Strictly Confidential podcast last year. “For me it’s about surprises. I want them to go, ‘Oh I didn’t expect that’.
“I think this year, YouTuber Joe Sugg is bringing Strictly into [the new year] and bringing in a new audience.”
And sure enough, despite nay-sayers dismissing the YouTuber as “not a proper celeb” Sugg emerged as one of the most popular participants – opening him up to a whole new YouTube-fearing audience.
It works both ways – people who wouldn’t usually watch Strictly will tune in to see Michelle Visage take on Craig Revel Horwood in the same way that they kept returning to see Sugg, who eventually reached the final.
It’s also worth noting Strictly’s professionals are bona-fide celebs in their own right now, thanks to the show’s all-encompassing popularity.
We’re as excited to see five-time finalist (and current Strictly champion) Kevin Clifton, and other old favourites like Anton Du Beke and Aljaz Skorjanec taking to the floor as we are the actual contestants.
And Strictly is, fundamentally, a show about family and togetherness. The programme is intended for an audience at home, and the cast frequently refer to themselves as family. Hell, when each new contestant is announced, a tweet from the official Strictly account welcomes the new celebrity to “the family”. The casting is less about finding big names to carry the show, and more about finding people that gel in this “family” set-up. Sure, Michael Caine – Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman’s personal favourite – would be brilliant on Strictly, but would he slot in well alongside AJ Pritchard and Anton Du Beke?
Regardless of their level of fame pre-fake tan, the all-encompassing fuzzy warmth and unrelenting “family feel” of Strictly sees us rooting for a new breed of celeb. The show has moved far beyond plucking out the biggest names and shoving them in some sequins – it’s more about uniting a group of people we fall in love with watching every week.
Does it really matter if we know who our celebs are before the series? With audience numbers regularly topping 10 million, we certainly know who they are by the end of it.
Strictly Come Dancing launches on BBC 1 later this year