Strictly 2020 has the strongest line-up ever – why this year’s final is anyone’s game

Week 1 of Strictly 2020 saw HRVY and Maisie Smith shoot to the top of the leaderboard – but when it comes to predicting this year's champion, the answer isn't so straightforward, says Lauren Morris.

HRVY

After months of anticipation, various teaser clips from the BBC and last weekend’s COVID-secure launch, Strictly Come Dancing‘s 2020 competition finally kicked off on Saturday, with this year’s cohort of celebrities putting the complex choreography they’d hopefully absorbed over many hours of intense training to the test for the first time.

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While it was hard to predict what the contestant’s debut performances would look like considering the number setbacks they’re facing due to the ongoing pandemic, the Strictly Come Dancing line-up exceeded all expectations during week one. Each of them brought high-energy enthusiasm to their routines, managed to stick to the steps (on the whole) and racked up some of the highest scores Strictly’s first episode has ever seen despite Bruno Tonioli‘s absence.

Just 12 points separate first and last place at the moment, the lowest score paddle used being a three and the highest being a very rare nine, and with eight weeks to go until the Strictly final, the already-tight competition is bound to get much closer.

We’ve got the current obvious front-runners – pop star HRVY and EastEnders’ Maisie Smith. While Maisie had already piqued bookies’ interests after winning Strictly’s Children in Need special last year, she wowed the judges once again with her sizzling Samba with professional Gorka Márquez, earning her 24 points (80 per cent). However it was HRVY, with his and Janette Manrara’s energetic jive, who nabbed the top spot on the Strictly Come Dancing leaderboard despite recently recovering from COVID-19, scoring 25 in total (83 per cent) and a nine from Motsi Mabuse – who told BBC Radio 2 on Monday that she almost gave him a 10.

HRVY is only the fourth person in Strictly history to receive a nine in week one of the competition – following in the footsteps of Daisy Lowe (series 14), Austin Healey (series six) and Zoe Ball (series three) – and when comparing percentages, his overall mark is the highest received by a celeb in week one since Ball scored a ridiculous 35 (87.5 per cent), receiving three 9’s and an eight for her waltz over 15 years ago.

However, those impressive scores won’t automatically secure Maisie and HRVY the Glitterball trophy. Historically, the celebs who’ve shot to the top of the leaderboard with a strong first dance don’t always take home the coveted Strictly title – just look at series 16’s Ashley Roberts (runner-up), series 15’s Aston Merrygold (10th place), series 13’s Peter Andre (seventh place) and series 10’s Lisa Riley (fourth place), all of whom did well in the competition but didn’t emerge as Ballroom champions.

They were beaten out by their competitors, who improved immensely over the course of the series – and with several celebrities trailing closely behind HRVY and Maisie this year, there’s every possibility of that happening once again.

Clara Amfo
Clara Amfo
BBC

Firmly in the running at this stage of the competition are the elegant Caroline Quentin, the history-making Nicola Adams and Good Morning Britain’s Ranvir Singh, who is already miles ahead of the broadcasters from previous series with a score of 21.

They’re followed by the celebs sat securely in the middle of the leaderboard – presenter JJ Chalmers, Radio 1’s Clara Amfo (whose Cha Cha was criminally under-marked by Craig Revel Horwood, in my opinion) and The Wanted’s Max George – all of whom are ones to watch with eight weeks to brush up on their technique, fine-tune their posture and embrace the Strictly process.

Even Bill Bailey, Jamie Laing and Jacqui Smith, who scored 15, 14 and 13 respectively, did well despite landing at the bottom of the leaderboard. Each of them displayed a strong sense of rhythm, performed the choreography (albeit not in the most technical way), appeared unfazed by their various props and were a complete delight to watch, despite the few mistakes made during their routines.

In fact, all the contestants received scores in the double digits, which is impressive when you consider some contestants would not have done in previous series if Bruno had been absent (without the Italian judge’s marks, last year’s James Cracknell would have scored just eight points in his first week, as would have Susannah Constantine in 2018).

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With this year’s celebrities demonstrating an eagerness to learn, large amounts of enthusiasm and lots of on-stage charisma, the competition is set to be a hotly-contested one, with all bets off at this stage of the competition. Strictly Come Dancing 2020’s Glitterball trophy is truly anyone’s game.

Strictly Come Dancing next airs on Saturday 31st October. To find out what else is on in the meantime, check out our TV Guide.