Sunday 26 September, 8.00pm
Our specials betting expert Rob Furber provides an in-depth preview of Strictly Come Dancing 2021 ahead of Saturday's first show proper and says it's high time for a female winner...
"Rose will start with the ever difficult jive which is a very tough assignment and likely to see middling to low scores for her, but you can also probably expect to hear the 'potential' word bandied around by the judging panel."
There look to be a good few contestants with more dance training lurking in their background than they're letting on this year, starting with Rhys Stephenson, paired with Nancy Xu.
Rhys is like the entrant at the Huntingdon racecourse mascot Grand National who, while others are putting on their fancy dress costumes, is applying his Nike Zoom running spikes and sprints away from the field, landing a massive betting coup in the process.
Rhys's ringer status will likely be confirmed in the first couple of weeks of the show. He was already exhibiting moves straight out of the John Travolta oeuvre during Saturday night's launch show, and being too good too early on Strictly can be a recipe for disaster in terms of a contestant's public vote.
On the flipside, he will also be very difficult to beat should he drop into the dance-off during the series and could still easily end up going to the final and landing the Top Male money.
Week 1 dances and songs
AJ and Kai: Jive to Gold Dust by DJ Fresh
Judi and Graziano: American Smooth to Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin
Katie and Gorka: Tango to Black Hole by Griff
Nina and Neil: Samba to Mi Gente by J Balvin, Willy William featuring Beyoncé
Rose and Giovanni: Jive to Shake It Off by Taylor Swift
Tilly and Nikita: Waltz to Consequences by Camila Cabello
Sara and Aljaž: Cha Cha Cha to The Boss by Diana Ross
John and Johannes: Tango to Blue Monday by New Order
Adam and Katya: Cha Cha Cha to Beggin' by Måneskin
Rhys and Nancy: Viennese Waltz to End Of The Road by Boys II Men
Dan and Nadiya: Quickstep to Everybody Needs Somebody by The Blues Brothers
Tom and Amy: Cha Cha Cha to September by Earth, Wind & Fire
Greg and Karen: American Smooth to That's Life by Frank Sinatra
Robert and Dianne: Cha Cha Cha to Rasputin by Boney M
Ugo and Oti: Samba to Iko Iko (My Bestie) by Justin Wellington ft Small Jam
AJ looks like a dancer...
Line up all 15 contestants this year in an identity parade, ask an eyewitness to pick who looks the most likely top dancer in the line-up and the majority would point to TV presenter AJ Odudu.
Whether AJ takes an Alesha Dixon (winner) or Vick Hope (4th elimination) trajectory on the show remains to be seen.
She is paired with newcomer Kai Widdrington who at least has some solid form figures to his name during his stint on Dancing With The Stars Ireland. Dancing-wise they could charge towards the top of the class with that week one jive, though AJ could also then risk enduring a public vote shortfall similar to Rhys.
Adam Peaty was a late signing to the show and has landed the trump card pro dancer-wise in the form of Katya Jones. Katya, along with Oti Mabuse, is the strongest female pro on the show, and can turn base metal into gold, a colour Peaty is all too familiar with.
These two look guaranteed to clock up the most training hours together and, with some Olympic goodwill already in Adam's locker, he is no forlorn hope to be last man standing in the competition despite his size 12 feet.
Who can forget Robert Webb's legendary Flashdance routine on Let's Dance For Comic Relief back in 2009? Not me as I trousered a nice few quid backing him.
Webb looks sure to entertain partnered with Dianne Buswell. With Bill Bailey's win still fresh in the memory, however, the fear is Webb could be persona non grata on the show's list of preferred winners this year.
Tough act to follow
McFly's Tom Fletcher had been holding early favourite status on the Exchange in the lead up to the live shows, partly because his wife won 'I'm A Celebrity...' last year and his bandmate Harry Judd won Strictly 10 years ago.
But Tom doesn't carry the same heart-throb status as Harry and doesn't have a pro partner as sensational as Aliona Vilani to call upon.
Amy Dowden is tasked with teaching Tom the difference between a fleckerl and a heel turn and this coupling looks a tad insipid and more middle of the road than the cat's eyes on my local stretch of the A10.
Breakfast presenter Dan Walker is a likeable guy with a strong BBC brand. He is also 1.98 metres tall which isn't conducive to fast Latin dances, or low ceilings for that matter. More likely to excel in ballroom paired with Nadiya Bychkova, he could have a decent run as the show will want him to hang around a while so they can chart his progress on Breakfast, and in so doing plug the show. A quickstep for him on Saturday could see him get off to a decent start.
Former Bake Off winner John Whaite will form one half of the show's first ever same sex male couple. John has dance training lurking in his past and is expected to be another ringer-level snake hips paired with Johannes Radebe. The difficulty for this pairing will be, no matter how much the show endorses them and bigs them up, Strictly's largely older, conservative audience is going to struggle with the optics and may not play ball on the public vote. But a week one tango should see John get off to a flyer.
Tilly who? Oh, Gordon's daughter
Most people over 30 won't know who Tilly Ramsay is. Having a famous dad helps open doors in the showbiz world and hers happens to be potty-mouthed TV chef Gordon.
Tilly has 9.5 million TikTok followers which means the BBC have her tagged to pull in a younger audience but don't be fooled into thinking that big social media following means she will be a voting behemoth.
Add in the nepotism tag, and being paired with newcomer Nikita Kuzmin, and older middle England could prove difficult to charm.
Actress Katie McGlynn is paired with two-time finalist Gorka Marquez. She's unlikely to be anywhere near the dancing standard of former ringers and Gorka partners Alex Burke and Maisie Smith, but she does have some journey potential as long as her Hollyoaks filming schedule doesn't get in the way of her making it to the dance studio to train.
Sara Davies is best known from Dragons' Den. She has drawn one of the most popular pro dancers in Aljaz Skorjanec and looks like embracing the challenge. Being an older woman, a mum of two and making up for any dancing deficit with sheer enthusiasm look good starting points for Sara to win over the voting audience. Being a multi-millionairess much less so.
Wade in on Wadia
Actress and comedian Nina Wadia is paired with Neil Jones. In interview and on Instagram Nina comes across as genuinely witty. Given her diminutive frame she could be surprisingly light on her feet and a week one samba offers the window for her to be an early surprise among the class of 2021.
These two may well go down the fun/comedy route and have some potential to be one of this year's water cooler acts, similar to Bill Bailey last year. There is room for Nina to out-run her current odds on the Exchange.
Judi Love is best known as a Loose Women panelist. It is easy to see her going all-out when it comes to selling fast Latin routines, something we are likely to see happen in week two. Her pro partner, Graziano Di Prima, merits the Timeform squiggle next to his name after a disastrous outing on the show in 2018 partnering Vick Hope.
Greg Wise is Emma Thompson's other half and such luvvie credentials look a nice fit with Home Counties mums, and as a handsome older man he could plug into the older female vote.
The only snag is, Greg has confessed he cannot dance, and early intel observing him during last Saturday's group dance suggest he's not lying.
His partner, Karen Hauer, made the final last year and there is a general trend for finalists from the previous year to fare much worse on the show the next year, Oti Mabuse notwithstanding.
Talking of which, Oti is on for a remarkable three-peat in her last year on the show. Everyone loves Oti and she is a superb teacher and choreographer. Her partner, Ugo Monye, was once great carrying a rugby ball in his hands but may prove more of a liability trying to lead Oti around the dancefloor. However, samba could play to his strengths in week one.
The name of the Rose
Among this year's cast the one who looks custom-built to withstand the scrutiny of middle England is Eastenders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis.
Rose is the show's first ever deaf contestant. Her pairing with three-time finalist Giovanni Pernice looks a match made in heaven. Giovanni is arguably the best teacher and choreographer among the established Strictly pros list never to have won the Glitterball trophy.
Not being the best dancer at series start could also work in Rose's favour, teeing up the all-important 'journey' narrative for her. Rose will start with the ever difficult jive which is a very tough assignment and is likely to get middling to low scores for her. But you can also probably expect to hear the word 'potential' bandied around by the judging panel.
Rose's progress could end up the feel-good story of the series as viewers get to see her overcoming her disability and proving an inspiration along the way. Already well backed, Rose looks a worthy favourite to win this year's Glitterball trophy and odds of 4.3100/30 in the Strictly winner market could easily end up looking a big price in about a month's time.
Rhys, John and AJ look like being leading lights in this year's Strictly boogie wonderland but there are clear concerns for all three in terms of the public vote. The wisest cover bet for Rose has to be Nina Wadia who looks the each-way and Top Female value in case Rose's improvement stalls and her journey goes down a dead end.
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Sunday 26 September, 8.00pm