Singer Aston Merrygold staked an early claim to the Strictly Come Dancing 2017 glitter ball trophy as he shot to the top of the leaderboard on opening night.
The former JLS member received the judges’ highest score of 31 with his punchy and dramatic foxtrot with partner Janette Manrara to jazzy classic It Had To Be You, bringing the BBC One contest’s first round to an end.
Notoriously critical judge Craig Revel Horwood teased that Merrygold was “self-indulgent” but “the one to watch” as he handed him a mark of seven, a rare high for a first dance.
Within minutes of his performance on Saturday night, bookmakers tipped him as a favourite to win the competition, with Coral cutting his odds to 5/2 from 3/1 and William Hill slashing from 3/1 to 11/4
He pipped presenter Debbie McGee to the top spot at the last minute, after her steamy paso doble with Giovanni Pernice stunned both the panel and viewers.
Judge Darcey Bussell said the 58-year-old was “on fire”, while new head judge Shirley Ballas commented that she “has it all”.
Other highlights of the glittering two-hour opening show included an emotional performance from singer Alexandra Burke, who burst into tears after her passionate tango to Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman with partner Gorka Marquez.
Her performance came two weeks after the death of her mother, Melissa Bell, on the day that the show’s special launch programme was filmed.
Meanwhile, Holby City star Joe McFadden and partner Katya Jones also impressed with their quirky 1950s car wash-themed jive, earning the actor the glowing compliment of “I like you,” from Revel Horwood.
Elsewhere, This Morning presenter Ruth Langsford made her watching husband Eamonn Holmes just a “wee bit jealous” with her and partner Anton Du Beke’s dreamy waltz to This Nearly Was Mine by Seth MacFarlane.
Rev Richard Coles brought an ethereal touch to his performance, floating down from the ceiling in a dazzlingly white outfit to join professional newcomer Dianne Buswell on the stage.
But his technique was far from heavenly, bringing in a total score of 17, including a two from Revel Horwood.
TV’s Brian Conley also struggled with his skills, but his bright red shoes and cheeky attitude brought an element of fun to his tango with Amy Dowden. While viewers on social media suggested he could be “this year’s Ed Balls,” new head judge Shirley Ballas assured him that she could see “room for growth”.
While the judges’ scores are in, the public vote will open next weekend, when the live eliminations begin.
Strictly Come Dancing continues on BBC One at 6.45pm on Saturday.