published Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Dalton's Martinez vies for 'Dancing' championship

After slipping slightly in the scorecards last week, Dalton, Ga.'s J.R. Martinez enters the finals of "Dancing With the Stars" still near the top of the leaderboard.

Martinez, an injured Iraq war veteran and former star of soap opera "All My Children," is paired with professional dance partner Karina Smirnoff. The duo have been on a steady climb up the rankings of the ABC reality program since the season started Sept. 19.

Martinez and Smirnoff will be one of three teams performing in the season finals, which air Monday and Tuesday night. They will compete against current points front-runner, talk show host Ricki Lake, and reality TV personality Rob Kardashian.

The themes for the final shows have not been announced, but recent seasons have ended with judges' and dancers' choice events.

Throughout the season, Martinez' friends in Dalton have expressed surprise at his determination and fluidity on the dance floor, given his lack of prior dance experience.

WATCH IT

The finals of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" will air at 8 p.m. Monday and at 9 p.m. Tuesday on WTVC-TV 9.

"Even folks we've had like family that didn't necessarily know J.R. have started watching the show and have all talked about what a genuinely nice person he seems to be and how well he handles himself," said Gene Threet, whose son, Jeffery, was Martinez' friend in high school.

"Everyone I've talked to is very proud of him and is showing their support through voting and their comments," Threet added.

Martinez and Smirnoff's weeks-long streak faltered in the semifinals after Martinez injured his ankle during rehearsals.

As a result of the injury, their early performance of a paso doble received a combined score of 23 out of 30, among their lowest of the season. At 27 points, the duo's second dance, an Argentine tango, received a better reception from judges, but the combined score still left them trailing in the scorecard for the first time in weeks.

After receiving the season's first double-perfect judgment on Nov. 8, Martinez said he saw the injury not as a setback but as another obstacle he had to overcome.

"Every time I go through something, I want to come back and redeem myself," Martinez said. "We all have that goal in mind, that mirror ball trophy, and this isn't the time to quit at all."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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