Entertainer Debbie McGee has become an early favourite to win this year’s Strictly Come Dancing contest, even though she failed to top the leaderboard on opening night.
The 58-year-old wowed judges and viewers when she stepped onto the dancefloor on Saturday night, performing a steamy Paso Doble with partner Giovanni Pernice to the movie track Be Italian.
Her debut on the BBC One contest earned her an impressively high first score of 30, including an eight each from critical Craig Revel Horwood and Darcey Bussell and seven each from Bruno Tonioli and new head judge Shirley Ballas.
Craig Revel Horwood said she “looked like a 20-year-old” on the stage, while Bussell said she was “on fire” and new head judge Shirley Ballas commented that she “has it all”.
Brunio Tonioli, meanwhile, compared McGee in her sizzling red gown to a hot and spicy arrabiata pasta sauce.
Even after she was pipped to the top score of the night by final act Aston Merrygold, bookmakers have still named her their favourite to win.
Ladbrokes and Coral both slashed their odds on McGee from 20/1 to 7/1, while William Hill similarly cut them from 20/1 to 6/1.
McGee’s appearance on the show follows in the footsteps of her late husband, the magician Paul Daniels, who took part in the competition in 2010.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s programme, she told how her experience in the Strictly studio had made her “genuinely happy” for the first time since Daniels’ death in March last year.
Fans at home are also showing their early support for McGee, with last year’s contestant Daisy Lowe leading the love on Twitter by commenting: “I LOVED THAT!”
Viewer Laura Tulloch added: “Wow! Wasn’t expecting that go Debbie!!” and Vanessa Adams commented: “Amazing! Couldn’t take my eyes off her #Strictly.”
Meanwhile, Laverne Anderson praised: “Fabulous! Debbie doing it for the older ladies…wow, just wow!”
The public vote will open after Strictly Come Dancing continues on BBC One at 6.45pm next Saturday.