Friday, 17 December 2010

The Strictly Finalists 2010: Matt Baker and Aliona Vilani

As we wait for the most exciting Strictly Final in years, this is the second of my profiles of each of our deserving finalists, look at their pre Strictly life (as if that actually matters), and Strictly story with their first, best and my favourite of their dances. Kara's is here and Pamela's is here.

Pre-Strictly Life

Matt Baker is another Blue Peter boy made good. Like Simon Groom, who was one of my Blue Peter presenters, he was raised on a farm - but unlike Simon, he is also a accomplished acrobat and gymnast. He wanted to be a physiotherapist, but ended up presenting Blue Peter for seven years instead. Since leaving Blue Peter in 2006, he's been doing various presenting jobs, most notably The One Show and Countryfile. He's also commentated on gymnastics and participated in a previous reality series, Only Fools on Horses, for Comic Relief which was ultimately won by Jenni Falconer. He's also been on tour in a dance show before, Disco Inferno. 

So, coming into Strictly, we knew that he had a cheeky chappie side to him, he was incredibly fit and agile, and game for anything. All of these indicate huge potential to do well on the show and he has wowed us with tricks and acrobatic feats never seen before on the show, but which were there to enhance his already natural ability to dance. He's back-flipped off the Judge's desk and ridden a unicycle, for goodness sake. Sometimes the dancing hasn't been as polished as it could have been, but when you consider that he had a full work schedule as well, what he did achieve was spectacular.  He has thrown himself in to everything he's been asked to do despite the exhaustion.

Strictly Partner

We didn't learn much about Russian Aliona Vilani last year as she was out very early on after her partner Rav Wilding in the third week. I have to say that I didn't take to her at all. She seemed quite sulky and petulant with few saving graces. This year, it's been very different. She can sometimes be quite fierce and sulky, but anyone who is as obsessed with custard as she is has to have a lot of good in them. She is also very funny and quirky. Her hair is the most garishly unashamed shade of red I have ever seen - although she seems to have put some softer highlights in it for the final. It clashed with everything except her Austin Powers dress. Her inventive choreography has sometimes brought trouble and their marks generally haven't reflected how good their routines are.

Strictly Story

Matt's first move on Strictly was a double cartwheel. I don't know if he's the first ever to do that while wearing a tartan tank top but the evidence exists, so he could end up in the Guinness Book of Records. He could have been mistaken for a professional in that first dance - and he even beat Kara that week by one point. He threw down the gauntlet in style.

He has always been up there at the top of the leaderboard, but the judges' marks haven't always reflected the excellence of their performance. I think that maybe they didn't appreciate Aliona's choregraphy. Their American Smooth was a case in point. Aliona had captured all the drama of the song. It was very untypical to see a man do the Smooth without a suit on. 

I said at the time that whoever thought of doing an Argentine Tango to Bat out of Hell should be shot at dawn. Despite that mismatch, they did really well and deserved their 34. 

They have established themselves as the couple with the quirkiest choreography and spectacular acrobatics and were dead certs for the final from the very first show.

The Dances

First Dance

That show-stopping cha cha cha

Best Dance

There are two of these, a carefree, bouncy, Samba from Blackpool and a dramatic, edgy Tango from the semi-final. It was strange that Matt managed to achieve his highest and lowest scores in the space of 24 hours in week 11 of the show. His Salsa was uncharacteristically as insipid as the costumes he and Aliona wore on the Friday, but he came out and nailed his Tango on the Saturday.

First though, that spirited Samba, in which he demonstrated beyond any doubt that he knew where his hips were and what they were for. They also really captured the essence of  young hearts, running free. And getting a ten for a Samba takes some doing.

And the Tango, to Hung Up, one of my favourite songs.

My Favourite

I have hummed and hawed over my favourite dance. Charleston or Jive, Jive or Charleston. At one point I thought of copping out completely and putting up both. But, because Matt nailed his character so well, and he was so brave in doing the backflip off the Judge's desk on live tv, it has to be Austin Powers. There was next to no Jive content. And they'd spent half the week in the Outer Hebrides - the first week of the snow, too. It was just perfect for the theme and I loved it.

Matt has to start tomorrow night as the favourite - he's a boy, and it's women who vote, and he has charm, pizazz and lots of tricks at his disposal. Their showdance will be acrobatic and fast. He'll have all our hearts racing. 

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I love Matt Baker! In fact, after watching his samba I think I tweeted that I loved him LOL
I'd love him to win, I think he's been unfairly marked some weeks yet he's shown great consistency (and I saw nothing much wrong with his salsa).
Pamela is a close second for me. I was over the moon that James Jordan reached the final! He's been so unlucky in past series. He suits Pamela so well. I can't wait to see them in the final. I still cannot get over Pamela's fabulous legs, or her ability to jive downstairs!
Tara is beautiful and she dances well but I find her a bit boring if I'm honest.