Actor J.R. Martinez has charmed the “Dancing With the Stars” audience and judges alike since the very first week of the competition’s season 13. Now six weeks into the hit ABC show, he seems poised to go all the way.
Martinez, who hails from Dalton, Ga., suffered horrible burns while serving with U.S. Army during the Iraq war, but his zest for life, reflected in his performances, has landed him near the top of the leaderboard during the entire competition, and last week he took the top spot with a sizzling samba that earned him a standing ovation from the audience in the ballroom.
“Talk about hip action. You were like a loin-shattering sex machine,” judge Bruno Tonioli said of the performance.
During week three, the former “All My Children” actor’s poignant rumba — which he dedicated to those who lost their lives during military service — again brought the audience to its feet, and tears to judge Carrie Ann Inaba’s eyes.
“You touched us all,” she said. “That was one of the most poignant, honest dances I have ever seen.”
When Martinez was 19 years old, he joined the Army and was deployed to Iraq. Two months into his tour there, he was driving a Humvee that hit a landmine. He was burned over 40 percent of his body and has undergone more than 30 reconstructive surgeries. His face remains partially disfigured.
“Ever since my injury … I’m that much more in-tuned spiritually to what’s going on in my life, and I can see things in a different light now. … As long as you do good things and have a great attitude, stay strong, stay positive, all these things will just happen,” he told “Good Morning America” correspondent Cameron Mathison, who happens to be a personal friend and fellow “All My Children” alum.
A popular motivational speaker, Martinez has taken his message all across the country.
“The way I see it, I was given second chance, and not a lot of people get a second chance in life … so I want people to understand certain things that I’ve learned in a second chance on how to make their first chance that much more meaningful,” he added.
When “GMA” caught up with Martinez recently, we chatted with him about what life is like on the dance floor. In a word? Painful.
“It hurts man. I never thought dancing would be this hardcore,” he told Mathison.
On and off the dance floor, Martinez is focused and determined. But he also enjoys life’s small pleasures.
Asked what his favorite meal was, Martinez replied: “I love, I’m a sucker (for) spaghetti and meatballs.”
As for his favorite dessert? He describes himself as “a brownie fanatic.” Just add some ice cream.
And when he’s at a party, his favorite dance move?
“I do the Sprinkler,” he said. “I’m spreading the love and the joy to the people.”
There’s no “Sprinklering” on the ballroom dance floor; head judge Len Goodman, a well-known purist, would frown and offer a scathing critique. But behind the scenes, he and partner Karina Smirnoff have a ritual that they do before every dance.
“Before we go live, Karina and I have this thing, we both say a prayer together, and it’s not a prayer for us, it’s a prayer for everyone. Even though it’s a competition, we don’t want anyone to get hurt,” he said.
Asked what dance pro he would pick if he hadn’t been paired with Smirnoff, he replied:
“This is going to get me in trouble … I think Kym Johnson, we would do well, but she’s taller than me, so maybe it wouldn’t look as good, maybe Cheryl Burke.”
He’s not above playing practical jokes — even briefly tricking Smirnoff into believing he had been injured.
Smirnoff believes his greatest ballroom strengths are his speed and that he’s very light on his feet.
The pair will need both tonight. They’re scheduled to perform the quickstep.