BORN TO ENTERTAIN
For RYAN ANDREWS, Grainne Gallanagh, Aidan Fogarty, and Lottie Ryan, last Sunday night was supposed to be the semi-final of the hit RTE show
DANCING WITH THE STARS. One of that foursome would finally leave the show, and for the remaining three, a chance to dance for the coveted Glitter Ball would come a week later. But these days, a week is an awful long time in this world. Circumstances and events surrounding the global Covid 19 outbreak prompted the show producers to make a dramatic decision around lunch-time on Sunday…that night’s show would become the grand final! All four celebs – Ryam, Grainne, Aidan, and Lottie – would dance for the Glitter Ball a matter of hours later.
Time spent on any reality TV show is often described as a ‘journey’ by those involved. As far as Dancing With The Stars is concerned, that description is most definitely appropriate. The intensity of the time commitment, the public scrutiny of ‘live’ performances before the whole country at prime-time every Sunday evening, combined with the physical and mental toll for those who last the pace for the full duration of the series, mean that the true experience of taking part is about so much more than just that weekly one minute and forty second dance routine.
And last Sunday’s show proved that this year, more than ever before, being a contestant on the show was a journey. An unforgettable one. An historic one.
As it turned out, 2FM presenter Lottie Ryan and her pro partner Pasquale were crowned Dancing With The Stars champions for 2020. And based on Lottie’s incredible performances on the show each week, she and Pasquale were worthy winners. For many viewers, however, Ryan Andrews had been a hot favourite to take home the main prize. And once again, as he and his pro partner Giulia Dotta did week in and week out throughout the series, they dazzled on the dancefloor, ending their time on the show in style.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Ryan (best known for playing the role of ‘Sean Cassidy’ in Fair City) during a break in rehearsals last Saturday afternoon, and we began our chat by looking ahead to what we thought at the time was certainly going to be a semi-final – and a show – with a difference! For the first time ever, as a result of current events in the country, it was going to be a Dancing With The Stars without an audience. I asked Ryan how everyone was feeling about that situation?
“It’s a bit of a tricky one, to be honest, because the audience is such a huge part of the show. It’s that ‘live’ audience, and the adrenaline that brings that gets you through. And of course, the nerves before going out in front of a ‘live’ audience as well. But look, it’s just one of them things. Anything can happen in showbiz. And as we say, there’s two-hundred people in the audience, but there’s over six-hundred-thousand people watching at home. So that’s what we need to put into our heads. We dance for the cameras. Normally during the dance you try and block out the audience anyway, so that’s what we’re going to try and do tomorrow. But would the audience help? Absolutely! But is there anything we can do about this? No. So we just have to go in there and give it ten times more than we used to.”
Did Ryan feel than when the time came to actually dance on Sunday night, that that was when it would really hit everyone that there was no audience? Or had they already accepted and adjusted to that new reality?
“I think we’ve already adjusted. I’m actually out in Ardmore [Film Studios] now, and we’ve ran all our dances, I think five times already today. And by the time the ‘live’ show comes, we’ll probably have rehearsed another five or six times. So we’re doing the same thing over and over again. This eleven weeks now, and we’re doing it so much that we’re kind of used to it. But yeah, I think when we walk down the stairs it might hit, because normally we’re there and we’re waving and the audience are going mad. But tomorrow, there’ll be…nobody! [laughs]. It’ll be canned clappin’ and canned laughter! But sure look. To be honest, we might not know how it hits us until half-six tomorrow night.”
After eleven weeks, and looking back over the whole series so far, is there a personal high-point or memory that stands out for him, aside from the high scores?
“Well yeah, first of all, the entire experience as a whole has been incredible, life-changing for me. I know those words get thrown around an awful lot, but it has. But the week of the Rumba, week five I think, that week I opened up about a story of my life. I opened up about having scoliosis, a back condition, and I’d never talked about it before. Since I’ve opened up about it, ya know, I’ve felt like I won since that week. It was a weight off my shoulders. And off my back, nearly literally. I got an amazing reaction from the public. I was really happy with that week, not knowing beforehand what the reaction was gonna be. But it was so positive, even with people saying that people look up to me now as a role model, so that’s been pretty amazing.”
In a recent interview, Ryan spoke about how he and Aidan are sharing a changing room right now but sound like two old men trying to get dressed, such is the physical toll the competition has taken on each of them. But what, I wondered, about the mental strain? Learning brand new dances each week, dancing on ‘live’ television each week, and for eleven long weeks so far…what’s that been like?
“That’s a great question, but that’s a question that doesn’t really get asked that much. People usually ask about the physical side of it, not so much the mental side. But this is one of the most mentally challenging experiences I’ve ever gone through. Because first of all, you can go through getting three tens and a standing ovation on the Sunday night, but then on the Monday morning at ten o’ clock you have to forget about that and you’re learning a brand new dance, a new song, and you’re back to basics! So you have to push yourself to that kind of level. There last week, with the Charleston, I got three tens, and everyone was like, ‘Aaaw, that was incredible!’ BUT, it was the toughest week of my life! I was cryin’ on the Tuesday because I couldn’t get it. And I was so frustrated that I couldn’t get it. Because it means so much to me. So I was having a bit of a breakdown. I was saying to myself that I can’t keep pushing myself past these boundaries. But then, you kinda do, and you get on with it, and you pull yourself together. It’s like a rollercoaster of emotions! But yeah, the mental side is probably the toughest part of the show.”
With Ryan admitting to having had a tough week himself, and Grainne Gallanagh also sharing how it had been a very hard week for her too, I wondered if everyone had gone through something like that at some stage?
“Oh 100%! Myself and Grainne actually, we were rehearsing together but in two separate rooms, and we both walked out of our rooms at the same time, and walked into each other. And we kinda just hugged each other, and said look, it’s gonna be o.k. We’re all here in this together. Aidan, I know, had a week of it too. And Lottie has had a week like that as well. But it’s great that we all started the journey at the same time, and we’re all still here now, so we know exactly what each other is goin’ through. So when someone says I’m havin’ one of them days, you can relate straight away and you go look, it’s grand. It’s only today. We’ve all found ways to turn it into a positive, because you need to!”
Ryan mentioned Monday mornings and heading back to the rehearsal studios, and of course when they do, it’s back to just two people again: the celeb and their pro dance partner. In Ryan’s case, that’s the unbelievable talent that is Giulia Dotta. I asked Ryan to give some insight into how important the way he and Giulia have connected as people has been to how their dance partnership has developed and grown throughout the series…
“Well first of all, I wouldn’t be here without Giulia. From day one I said to her – and I actually said it again this week – I said Giulia, I’m all yours. I trust ya. No matter what you say, I will do! And literally that has how it’s been from day one with us. Anthing she told me, even if I couldn’t get it, or if I thought I looked like a fool, I just kept saying yes. Because she is a GENIUS. Her choreography, her concepts, her timing, her brain. But also, as a friend! People look and see the one-minute-forty [of the dance] on a Sunday night, but they don’t see the ten hours a day we’re putting in, and the highs and the lows of that. She picks me up, and she keeps encouraging me, saying ‘Oh my God, brilliant! Keep going, keep going!’ AND, she’s the hardest working person I’ve ever worked with! She has given me a work ethic that I will take into the rest of my everyday life now after the show. I owe her everything. And if we get to that final, it’s because of Giulia. I’m just following her! This is her journey more than anybody’s.”
When it came to the competition, the ones who were still standing between Ryan, Giulia, and that Glitter Ball trophy; Grainne, Lottie, and Aidan…how would he describe each one?
“Well, Grainne is beautiful inside and out. She has the greatest personality, and I think she’s probably gone on the biggest journey out of everybody on the show. From day one to now, I think what she’s done has been amazing to watch. Grainne is an inspiration to young girls around the country who are watching her. Aidan, other than Giulia, is probably one of the hardest working people I’ve ever come across! He literally puts everything into this show. Sometimes I’ve been going home at like ten o’ clock at night and he’d still be there in the rehearsal room, still pushing himself. I think he’s what this show is all about. And Lottie, I think this is her dream. This is what she’s always wanted to do. And she is living her best dream, and smashing it every single week.”
So in a week and a bit (from when we spoke, less now, of course), Dancing With The Stars 2020 will be over. Done. Dusted. And Ryan’s life will move on to a new phase. But what exactly is coming next for him?
“Sleep! [laughs]. As much sleep as I can get! [laughs]. I won’t be goin’ on any holidays now with all this madness goin’ on, so it’ll just be a lot of sleep! I’m very lucky that I’ll be back with Fair City come the end of April, so I’ll be happy to get back to normal. Even though Fair City isn’t really normal, but it’s my normal, if that makes sense! [laughs].”
Ryan has often spoken about his love of Strictly Come Dancing, and being a huge fan of the show myself too, what better place than there to finish our chat! News broke during that week that Kevin Clifton, one of Strictly’s most high-profile professional dancers – and its champion with Stacey Dooley a couple of years back – will not be returning for the 2020 series. And, the rumors have been swirling around that Kai – pro partner to Grainne – might well be replacing Kevin. Ryan’s thoughts…?
“I think Kai would be an amazing addition to Strictly! I’m actually looking right at him now! And now I’m waving at him [laughs]. He’s brilliant, so talented, great personality. Whether he stays or goes, he’s always going to be a brilliant addition to wherever he is. That’s the truth about Kai.”
And Ryan’s favourite Strictly champions from over the years?
“Well this year, Kelvin was obviously phenomenal! But the one that I’m always watching videos of – and he didn’t win it – is Danny Mac! I have watched his videos, I’d say, hundreds of times. His samba that he did, because I’m doing a samba this week for the semi-final, I’ve watched it on repeat for the last week to get up to that level. And before the show I always said that look, if I can do something like what Danny Mac did, and have a good dance every week, I’d be happy. And I think I’m on the way to doing that.”
And finally, to turn the tables slightly on Ryan’s Dancing With The Stars experience…if he could go through the whole show as one of the pro dancers, then which celebrity out there would he like to dance with?
“Ohhhh, that’s a good one! [Note: Not even half a second later…] Mary Kennedy!!! 100% Mary Kennedy! To be honest, I wish Mary was still in the show. She is the BIGGEST LEGEND in the world. Have you ever met Mary? [I did, once, a few years back now, but I agree completely with Ryan’s assertion that she’s the biggest legend in the world!]. She is the nicest, most beautiful person. But she’s also great craic! We shared a studio for a while, me, Giulia, Mary and John [Nolan, Mary’s pro partner]. And she’s just incredible. I literally think she should be the President of Ireland! So I would love to dance with Mary Kennedy!”