This weekend I was invited down to watch the latest live show of Strictly Come Dancing, series twelve.
It's no secret that both the main show and the Sunday night results show are filmed in one evening, so yes, I do know who the third celebrity couple to leave the dance floor were but I shall not be revealing it in this post until after the results show. So don't worry... no spoilers.
Over the years, Strictly Come Dancing has never been a programme I make an effort to be sat in front of the telly for. If it's on and there's nothing else on, great, I'd watch it and enjoy it, or if there's a celebrity on there I particularly then I'll tune in for their performance.
But this year has been the first year I have chosen to watch Strictly Come Dancing over The X Factor. So what's changed this year? Well... the main difference is that there is no Bruce Forsyth. After 11 series, Bruce decided to call it a day and bow out of presenting Strictly Come Dancing.
Yes he's a TV legend, yes millions of people love him, but for me, he was good back in the day on The Price Is Right, and i enjoyed watching him then, but recently watching him present Strictly became a real challenge. He'd make jokes that only he would find funny, deliver them in a way that ruined what little bit of a gag was left in there.
But anyway, with the exit of Bruce came the entrance of Claudia Winkleman who was chosen to present the show alongside original co-host Tess Daly. This for me has to be one of the best decisions the BBC have made, her energy, her fringe the way she snuggles up to Tess and the contestants is just brilliant, and a perfect fit for the show. Of course, Claudia has always been around, presenting weekday spin-off show It Takes Two from series two through to series eight, and from series nine onwards has presented the results show with Tess as Bruce decided to present only the main show.
From the second she walked out into the studio she was having a joke with the audience about her uncomfortable underwear, resulting in some rather odd, but funny walks. And it wasn't long before she made a beeline for Thom Evans' brother who was sitting in the audience, describing him as "gorgeous!".
Whilst Tess is very reserved and refined, Claudia looked like a big kid who has been let loose in a TV studio, but I love that. Occasionally during the recording you would just hear weird noises, and nine times out of ten, these noises came from Claudia. Oh and I don't mean to brag, but Claudia called us "the best audience they've ever had!" and "Much better than last week's audience." I'd like to think she meant it... she did also invite everyone back to hers after the show but once the credits rolled she was nowhere to be seen. So I'm beginning to think that wasn't a real invitation. Shame. I reckon she's a lot of fun.
As for the judges, Len Goodman, Darcey Bussell, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli were all on hand to give their critique. Craig is definitely the pantomime villain, and the audience are encouraged to boo, especially when he gave Tim a score of 3, which was a minor improvement on last week's score. If there was one thing I was looking forward to hearing more than anything else, was Len Goodman's legendary "SEVEN!" and luckily I was not disappointed as we didn't have to wait long before he awarded the famous seven to Mark Wright. If I was to pick a favourite judge, it would be a tough choice between Len and Bruno. Len's straight-to-the-point-ness is a joy to watch and let's be honest, who doesn't love it when Bruno gets a little too excited and ends up getting out of his seat and flapping his arms around?
What I like about the Strictly Come Dancing judges compared to judges on other programmes is that they're able to give constructive criticism to these dancers, that comes from years and years of experience. You don't get the feeling that they're in it for the money, and during each of the performances the judges were busy making notes to ensure the critique after each performance is personal, not generic, offers a bit of constructive criticism and doesn't become clichéd.
So taking all of that into account, you can imagine how excited I was to be invited down to Elstree to soak up the Strictly Come Dancing atmosphere and experience it all live right in front of my eyes. Fortunately I didn't watch Gregg Wallace dance as he was the first celeb to be voted off and unfortunately I didn't get to watch Jennifer Gibney (Mrs Brown's Boys) dance as she was the second celebrity to leave the show last week.
Yes two couples have already gone, but there were still thirteen celebrities left and week four saw Alison Hammond and Aljaz perform the Samba, Caroline Flack and Pasha the Quickstep, Frankie Bridge and Kevin gave the Cha Cha a go, whilst Jake Wood and Janette opted for the Jive. Judy Murray and Anton Tangoed their way around the dance floor (sort of), Mark Wright and Karen Quickstepped their way around and Pixie Lott and Trent performed a Rumba.
Scott Mills and Joanne performed the American Smooth, Simon Webbe and Kristina the Charleston, Steve Backshall and Ola the Salsa, Thom Evans and Iveta performed the Foxtrot and finally Tim Wonnacott and Natalie took charge of the Paso Doble.
The celebrities I was most looking forward to watching were Jake Wood from EastEnders and This Morning's Alison Hammond. After three weeks of dancing these have fast become my favourites, although I must add that the talent is incredibly high this year (with the exception of Judy and Tim) and being there in the studio proved just that.
The atmosphere inside the studio was incredible and it's no wonder really that 1.6 million people have applied for tickets this year to watch Strictly Come Dancing. It's a brilliant night out and despite the rather long record, the celebrities really gave it their all and were an absolute joy to watch.
No one more so, than Alison Hammond who danced to Destiny’s Child's Bootylicious, the perfect track for her. Her joy filled the room like no one else and whilst I'm no dancing expert she would have got a 10 from me purely for the fact that she was the most entertaining. Her energy really is on a different level to anyone else in the competition and I couldn't help but give Alison a standing ovation. Beyoncé who? I hear you ask... exactly!
As for Jake, never did I think that the bloke from EastEnders who plays Max Branning would go on to become one of the best dancers Strictly Come Dancing has ever seen. The way he moves, his rhythm, is really impressive and if I'm honest, I'm a little bit in awe of him. If I had to predict a winner, even this early on, Jake would definitely be up there.
I would never have imagined that the words 'Judy Murray' and 'standing ovation' would ever go together. Neither did I think I'd ever be the one giving her the standing ovation! I haven't exactly been Judy's biggest fan for the last three weeks, she's been stiff and quite uncomfortable to watch. However this week was a whole different story. I wasn't expecting to enjoy her performance, not for the right reasons anyway, but I did and thought she moved much better than she had in recent weeks and you can't help but fall for the Rob Brydon, sorry, Anton Du Beke charm.
As for some of the others, Simon Webbe bounced back from a place in the bottom two to a right cockney knees up that earnt him a standing ovation from the audience. Caroline Flack is fast becoming the dark horse of the competition, rising to the top of the leaderboard this weekend and Len described her performance as "the best of the night." High praise indeed. Also very good were Frankie and Pixie who could easily go on to win. I know I'm saying that a lot, but this year the standard really is so high that any one of them could end up winning.
Anyone that is, apart from Scott Mills or Tim Wonnacott. They're both very awkward on the stage and you can see them thinking through each step and thinking about what's coming next. Tim comes across very well and he is entertaining, but for a show that tries to find the ability to dance, it's probably better that he doesn't stick around for much longer. And as the talent is so high this year, we can't afford to keep hold of the deadwood, and unfortunately Scott Mills is one of those. I feel nervous just watching him, so let alone actually being him!
Watching him waiting for the results on the Sunday night show was not a pleasant experience. I can't help but feel that it'd all be a lot easier for Scott if he wasn't in the competition anymore, but I can't exactly blame him. I'd be exactly the same in that situation. Just watching it there in the studio made me empathise even more with the celebrities. And the thought of doing something completely out of my comfort zone, infront of nine million people at home, absolutely terrifies me.
Shortly after the live show, they recorded the Sunday results show where the professional dancers took to the dancefloor to perform a routine to Counting Stars. Earlier on in the evening we were treated to this week's guest performance, which came from Lady GaGa and Tony Bennett who sang Anything Goes from their new album Cheek To Cheek. Her voice totally owned that room. What a vocal powerhouse she is, and whether you're a fan of his music or not, Tony Bennett is a total legend and at 88 years of age, it was an honour to be able to hear him sing live, in what was their first ever UK TV performance together. They flew over especially for that performance, a certain Mr Cowell may be upset that he couldn't secure GaGa for his show.
Now for the results. I was sat right next to the right staircase and you could really see on the celebrities faces how nervous they were. As cliche as it may be, no one wants to go home, but unfortunately someone has to and you could cut the tension with a knife. When the couples went through it was great to share in their happiness, and when Mark found out he was in the bottom two he couldn't hide the fact that he was gutted. And rightly so too, I thought Mark danced really well, and there were many more worse than him. When Tim and Scott were left in a group with Frankie, Alison, Jake and Pixie it was clear that one of them would be joining Mark in the dreaded dance-off.
And rightly so, it was Tim Wonnacott who was to join Mark in the dance-off. The judges made it very clear that they were shocked to see Mark in the bottom two. But they have to judge it based on the dance-off, and luckily for Mark it was a unanimous decision from each of them that he was to dance again and Tim was to be sent home. He may not have been the best dancer but he came across as a true gent, and his farewell dance was pretty spectacular to watch... why didn't he pull those moves when it counted?
I can't wait to watch the show next week... but this time sadly from the comfort of my own sofa and not the Strictly studio.