By Matthew Gormley @MatthewPGormley
Strictly Come Dancing’s 2017 spook-fest saw cobwebs and pumpkins adorn the haunted ballroom, a bewitching Quickstep from Ruth Langsford, a devillish Mollie King perform a Cha Cha Cha to a Kylie classic, Debbie McGee do the Charleston to Frankie and a truly horrifying American Smooth from Simon Rimmer. The annual Halloween special has become as much of an institution as the Blackpool broadcast, with the celebrity contestants fighting tooth and nail for the opportunity to done their grisly get-up.
A stunning routine from the professional dancers set the scene for an evening full of tricks and treats. Dressed as zombies, with blood-torn clothes and pasty faces, it was a chilling performance set to the Pet Shop Boys 1987 hit ‘It’s A Sin’. The costumes and make-up were so gloriously over-the-top that the professionals were unrecognisable.
The judges fully immersed themselves into the frivolity, with Craig dressed as The Joker, Darcey as a sinister Red Riding Hood, Head Judge Shirley as Cruella de Vil and Bruno as Beetlejuice. There was much love for the judges costume choices across social media, with @tkt2everywhere tweeting “Just switched on #Strictly to see Craig with a massive smile on his face (and lipstick on his cheek) – not a sight you see often”. Another viewer, Bev Fink, saw the funny side to Shirley’s Cruella outfit, commenting, “One way to tell the trolls where to go.” The ghosts, sorry, hosts, were less embracing. Claudia was in her usual black number, whilst Tess looked more like she was dressed for Christmas, in a figure-hugging red velvet frock.
There were some terrifyingly terrific routines, whilst some were shocking for all the wrong reasons. At the top of the judges leader board were Debbie McGee and partner Gionanni, who, as Frankenstein and his bride, performed a Charleston to ‘Frankie’ by Sister Sledge. Debbie is an unstoppable force of nature and bounces around the dance floor with all the energy and enthusiasm of somebody half her age. Her Charleston was one of the best we’ve seen on Strictly, and featured two breathtaking lifts. You could almost hear the gasps from the audience as Giovanni rolled her around his shoulders. Achieving a near-perfect score, with three nines, she’s cemented herself as the one to watch.
Aston Merrygold and Alexandra Burke, who previously went head-to-head on The X Factor back in 2008, have been the front runners since the beginning. On Halloween weekend, they were second and third on the leader board, respectively.
Aston and Janette made Strictly history, being the first couple ever to perform to Nirvana. Their Paso Doble, set to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, would not have looked a jot out of place had been it used as a Show Dance in the Final. Even Craig Revel Horwood was prepared to overlook the fact that it was far from traditional, whilst Bruno declared it to be the perfect mix of contemporary and conventional. It was certainly one we’ll come to watch back on YouTube.
Alexandra and Gorka’s Tango to ‘Maneater’ by Nelly Furtado was sharp and feisty, supremely executed and full of character. The traditional tango isn’t my favourite of dances, but Alexandra and Gorka brought something extra special to it. They scored 35, though I can’t help but feel it should have been a little higher. Although it would be a little boring if the same couples were the top scorers week after week, I hope they’re not being purposely under-marked.
Down at the bottom of the leader board were Simon and Karen, who managed to scrape together a total score of just 16 for their American Smooth to ‘Delilah’ by Tom Jones. Good on Simon for admitting that they had just two days to prepare and rehearse for this week’s routine, but it did them no favours and proved how much hard work and dedication is required to succeed in the ballroom battle.
Jonnie and Oti didn’t fare much better, scoring 20 for their Cha Cha Cha, to Olly Murs’ ‘Troublemaker’. Johnnie excelled with his Jive back in week two, but his Cha Cha Cha was stiff and laboure. Sometimes, it’s just not your dance, and sadly this was the case. Mollie and AJ also performed the Cha Cha Cha, to Kylie’s ‘Better The Devil You Know’ – after all, it wouldn’t be Halloween unless somebody was two-stepping to this cheesy classic. And whilst Ruth Langsford made a vast improvement upon last week, we’re reaching the stage whereby being consistently average is, unfortunately, no longer good enough.
Last year, I commented on how the Halloween theme had been done to death, so it was refreshing to see some different music choices this year. The tracks weren’t all necessarily direct links to the Sauin theme, but were more than suitable for the stories portrayed through the dances.
Steps joined in the fun on Sunday night, performing their comeback single ‘Scared Of The Dark’. Putting a spooky spin on the instant dance floor classic, they were joined by their own troop of backing dancers, rather than a couple of the Strictly professionals putting on a dazzling display whilst the performers become merely background artistes.
In the end, it was Simon and Karen who were dealt the killer blow and bowed out of the competition. Their disastrous American Smooth was barely recognisable and perhaps would have been suited to the living dead. Quite why Mollie and AJ were competing against them in the dance off is a mystery.
So whilst Simon and Karen become merely spirits in the Elstree glitter-quarium, it’s time for the ten remaining couples to brush off the cobwebs and put their broomsticks away as they return to the training rooms. The next hurdle, performing at the iconic Blackpool Tower Ballroom, is just two weeks away.