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It's Chico Time after 'Dancing on Ice' debut

Former 'X Factor' contestant embraces opportunity on skates

Chico and Jodeyne Higgins -- shown here in their "movie week" performance to music from <i>Top Gun</i> -- have received consistently positive feedback from the judges.
Chico and Jodeyne Higgins -- shown here in their "movie week" performance to music from Top Gun -- have received consistently positive feedback from the judges. (Sean Rice)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(02/23/2012) - It's a tale fit for Hollywood -- the understudy goes on and steals the show.

That's what happened this season on the hit British television show Dancing on Ice. Less than a week before the season premiere, singer Chesney Hawkes fell during a training session and broke his leg. The show always has at least one reserve celebrity train in case anyone has to drop out, due to the risk factor inherent in skating.

"If you'd have told me eight weeks ago that I'm going to be doing twists, lifts and shaking my hips on ice, I would have said, 'Get out of here,'" said singer/TV personality Chico (last name Slimani), who got the call to action in early January. He's well known to British TV fans, having appeared on X Factor in 2006 and CelebAir in 2008. He also topped the British charts with the song "It's Chico Time."

Although Chico and professional partner Jodeyne Higgins were thrown together, by the time of their first performance 11 days later -- due to the large number of couples, only half competed on opening night -- they received praise and solid scores from the judges.

"I think he's just so happy to have this opportunity and so blessed to be given this chance that he's trying to make the most of it," Higgins, 37, said. "The first live performance he did was phenomenal.

"Every week, we keep challenging him more and more," she said. "I've been really diligent in working on his basics -- three-turns, Mohawks and crossovers -- making sure that those things are solid so that when we ask him to do the harder skills he's going to be OK with that and balanced."

When told he looks at ease on the ice and asked if he skated as a kid, Chico, 40, who was born in Wales and raised in Morocco, laughed.

"I was a goat herder in Morocco. I didn't see electricity until I was 11, so ice skating is an alien sport to me. We didn't have ice or snow," he said. "It really has been sheer determination and never-say-no attitude that's pulled me through. I got to meet Jodeyne; we just clicked in the first couple of days. The rest is history.

"It really is wonderful for me," he continued. "I'm kind of like a child at the present moment. I don't care what's happened in the past and I don't really worry too much about next week. This moment is my moment, and we cherish it. Hopefully, by concentrating on the energy and positive mental attitude and the hard work into one present moment, we hope that's what's going to lead us onto the next moment."

Dancing on Ice history is on Chico's side. When reserve Zaraah Abrahams was called into action in 2008, she made it all the way to the final.

Higgins' husband/adagio partner, Sean Rice, is also appearing on the show, partnered with skier Chemmy Alcott. He appeared on the show in 2011, but he and celebrity partner Angela Rippon were eliminated in week one. He then focused on coaching his wife and her partner Johnson Beharry, VC (Victoria Cross), who made it to the semifinals. Rice also helped with the coaching when Higgins appeared on season one of Battle of the Blades, partnering former NHL star Ken Daneyko.

"It's been interesting. The two of us have been very much doing our own thing and seeing where we can get with it," Higgins said. "It's been a good challenge, especially for me. Once in a while, with some of the harder lifts we're doing, I ask Sean if he can step in and teach Chico the technique of it."

Chico is extremely appreciative of Rice's input.

"With all the lifts, I credit Sean," Chico said. "That guy is awesome. He can make the most complex lift so easy with the way he breaks it down and takes it step by step. It's amazing the way he explains things."

During last week's ultimate skills challenge, Chico and Higgins pulled off an overhead lift and received 8s from all three judges. This week's theme is rock and roll, and Higgins promises another fast-paced routine as well as some exciting new tricks.

"You never know with this show when your time will be up," Higgins said. "So we're just trying to stay positive, take it a week at a time, and we'll see where we end up."

Chico has been confirmed for the Dancing on Ice tour, so regardless of where he finishes -- the show is down to seven couples -- his journey still has a way to go. He's honest in saying he hopes he and Higgins make it to the final, where perhaps he'll be given a chance to skate to one of his own songs, as Vanilla Ice did last year with "Ice, Ice Baby."

"I fell in love with a sport I never thought I would," said Chico, who is also well known for his extensive charity work. "I'm having a wonderful time learning something I never thought I would and hopefully doing it some kind of justice. Hopefully, I can carry on in the same manner and do Jodeyne and Sean and my family proud."