Wednesday 25 April 2018

The TV guide: Strictly fabulous

With nearly 10 million viewers, Strictly Come Dancing has finally trumped ITV's X Factor. But what, asks Emily Hourican, is the actual appeal?

Strictly Come Dancing presenters Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman.
Strictly Come Dancing presenters Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman.

Emily Hourican

What is it about Strictly that makes 10 million viewers tune in on a Saturday night to watch celebrities that many of them don't really know dance dances they will never dance themselves, wearing clothes they wouldn't be caught dead in, in a contest presided over by a bunch of pretty bland judges and cheered on by a pair of smiley presenters? Frankly, it's weird. But clearly it works.

The false eyelashes, big hair, sequins, fake tan, hairspray and twirly-curly, high-stepping moves have now conclusively won out over the 'journeys' and backstage dramatics of the X Factor hopefuls, putting a million viewers between the two shows. Strictly is now bigger than its celebrities, which is the point where a show like this really takes off. Pretty much anyone could have stepped out there this year and viewers would still have flocked to it.

So although Helen George, Georgia May Foote, Anita Rani, Jamelia, Peter Andre, Jeremy Vine, Daniel O'Donnell et al did their bit to generate interest among viewers in the personality dynamics of performers, competitiveness and so on - all the usual reality-TV mantras of 'grateful' 'it's broken my heart' 'passion,' 'put so much into it' - really, they needn't have bothered. It's not like the jungle in I'm A Celebrity . . . which badly needs jazzing up with turf wars, nascent romances and the odd bit of bullying; here, the clothes and dances are the main attraction.

Clothes are uniformly tight and sparkly. For the women, this means cut-away swimsuits with feathery, dangly or frilly bits in the kinds of colours not usually seen outside a bag of Dolly Mixtures. For the men, it's tight trousers and shirts slashed to the navel. Equal-opportunities gawping, basically. Everything shines and sparkles; as Olympic sprinter Iwan Thomas said of the blue sequin polo shirt he wore for the opening dance: "I put this top on, I zip it up and I become Glitterman."

There is plenty of appeal, too, in the blandness of the format. Unlike X Factor, Strictly judges Len Goodman, Darcey Bussell, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli are rarely cruel. There is a general sense of trying to be encouraging and celebrating effort that is now entirely lacking in X Factor, where the audience bays for blood like a gang of ancient Romans on a day out at the Coliseum, treating anyone over 25 as middle-aged and egging on judges, who seem to have entirely dispensed with the whole fake-regret thing and now battle with each other to out-do Simon Cowell, who has at least the benefit of brevity: "Well, this is easy," he said recently. "No."

Over at Strictly, no matter how much the tabloids tried to talk up the rivalry and competition among supposedly 'warring' contestants, no matter how beady-eyed and ambitious Peter Andre became, the reality seems to be a genuine (well, celebrity-genuine) level of affection and closeness between contestants.

When Anita Rani said how sad it was "to lose a friend; such a close-knit group" after Jamelia's departure, it felt like she really meant it. After Daniel O'Donnell left, he apparently sent a message of support to the remaining contestants and when Jeremy Vine then jokingly asked him to sing for them, another message soon arrived; a short video-selfie of O'Donnell crooning What a Wonderful World and signing off: "Sleep tight, everyone.." "It made some of us cry," said the usually-hard-headed news reporter Vine.

Even the recent rumours of 'fixing' - that judges are being directed by producers as to who to keep and who to eject - cannot dampen enthusiasm for a show that is the antithesis of 'modern' in pretty much every regard and yet sweeps all before it in a series of fabulous fishtails and reverse pivots.

Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1, Saturday 7pm

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