Strictly Come Dancing star Aston Merrygold and his professional dance partner Janette Manrara reveal their highs and lows of the series so far...
Pop star Aston Merrygold has bedazzled everyone on this year’s Strictly – if you weren’t charmed by his fab-u-lous foxtrot, his cheeky cha cha in full troll costume must have won you over – even craggy Craig raised a smile!
But when TV Times caught up with the JLS star and his professional partner, Janette Manrara in the rehearsal room, they were keen to play down their chances of winning, insisting they are taking one week at a time – and that some training sessions are a real struggle.
Here Strictly’s dynamic duo reveal the highs and lows of life beneath the glitterballs…
Aston Merrygold and Janette Manrara's TV Times interview
TV Times: Are you enjoying training?
Aston Merrygold: "It’s going well, I love Fridays and Saturdays because I know the routine by then but I hate Mondays – it’s stressful not knowing what I’m doing and I put a lot of pressure on myself."
Janette Manrara : "You don’t ‘hate’ Mondays, that’s a strong word, it’s just hard work."
AM: "I do! I just get really frustrated if I can’t pick the routine up straight away."
JM: "Aston’s an incredible student, he’s got a natural ability to listen to me and process the dance, but he’s his own worst enemy. I’m always really happy with him, but some dances will always be harder than others. I’ve learned to spot when he’s glazing over and we go for lunch."
TVT: How does it feel to be frontrunners in this year’s series?
JM: "I don’t even want to even think about that! I constantly say to Aston that it doesn’t matter if we’re at the top of the leaderboard, what’s important is doing the best possible job and nailing the routine, because that’s the only thing we can control."
AM: "I’m really glad people are enjoying the performances as much as I am, I’m concentrating on trying to do the routines to the best of my ability."
TVT: You have some dance experience from your JLS days, Aston, is it coming in handy?
AM: "Dancing’s fine for me but ballroom is just not my style. If a footballer went onto a rugby pitch it’s still a ball game but there’s different rules, you can’t compare it. We’ve got to match someone with 20 years experience in four days training, so I do my best to deliver. People have said to me, “You will be fine, you are a dancer!” but I’m actually a singer!"
TVT: Have you found it tough to adapt to the ballroom style?
JM: "I’m going to say ‘yes’ on his behalf!"
AM: "It’s true. I have rhythm but having the strength in your back to stand in hold for a full routine is nothing to do with that, it’s a different world."
JM: "Posture is definitely the hardest thing for Aston because he has spent his life doing shows with more of a hip-hop vibe – none of our dances are like that. We’re constantly fighting to get rid of his old habits!"
TVT: Janette, do you enjoy sharing the Strictly experience with your husband, (fellow pro) Aljaz?
JM: "I love being on the show with Aljaz, although I miss him at the moment because he spends the week in Manchester training with Gemma (Atkinson). Strictly is a 24/7 job, even when we’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix we’re choreographing in our brains and thinking of ideas. I’m very lucky my husband understands the whole thing, especially if we have a tough day in the studio."
TVT: Aljaz won the show in 2013 with model Abbey Clancy – does that spur you on to win a glitterball trophy of your own?
JM: "Anyone who knows Aljaz knows he’s not smug about that kind of thing at all. His trophy is on display in a beautiful spot in the living room, but it was my decision to put it there because I was so proud of him winning. I would love to be in the final for the first time, I think that’s an honour for any professional dancer and it would be nice to be there till the very end of the series. Fingers crossed!"
TVT: Aston, you’re friends with Alexandra Burke, (JLS came second to her on X Factor in 2008), and Mollie King, is it fun being on the show together?
AM: "It’s great to have friends here, especially when you feel under pressure. I’m here for Alexandra through thick and thin [Alexandra’s mum passed away shortly before Strictly started]. She has shown she’s a strong, powerful woman, hard as nails, and I just have to applaud her because she’s absolutely smashing it. It’s great to have Mollie here, but if there was a dance off between JLS and The Saturdays, the girls would absolutely get destroyed, no question. [laughs]"
JM: "No! I know all of the Saturdays, they’re awesome girls."
AM: "I didn’t say they weren’t awesome, but in a dance off they wouldn’t win. Ask any of the JLS boys, I’m telling you now."
TVT: How does Strictly compare to your time on X Factor?
AM: "The X Factor is a totally different show these days – it felt a lot more intense than it is now. We were hidden away in a house, we couldn’t see anyone and there was a lot of rehearsal. The show has evolved over the years, whereas Strictly has stuck to its guns a bit more. It’s amazing to be a part of something so special and unique – it’s the biggest opportunity for any celebrity on TV."
TVT: Aston, your girlfriend Sarah is expecting your first baby. Are you looking forward to showing your child what daddy did on Strictly?
AM: "Yes, every week we’re recording the shows to show him or her. I think the routine where we dressed up as trolls will be the favourite for the little one. I was going to watch the movie Trolls before we did the dance but then I wanted to wait until the baby is here. It’s an exciting time, everything’s changing and I feel like I’m changing too. I’m in a good place in life."
TVT: Finally, Janette you’re teaching Aston to dance – has he taught you to sing yet?
JM: "Yes, I’m going to release a Latin album like JLo! [laughs]"
AM: "There’s a voice in her that creeps out sometimes, she was constantly singing the week we were doing the salsa to Despacito."
JM: "My voice is like his dance moves – it’s all in there somewhere, we just need to get it out!"
Watch Strictly Come Dancing, Saturday, 6.45pm, BBC1
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Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.