Five weeks into the "Dancing With the Stars" season, here is how Dalton native J.R. Martinez's performances have been received so far. [Individual judges' scores are out of 10. Combined scores are out of 30.]
• Week 1 (Viennese waltz to "Breakaway" by Kelly Clarkson) - 8/7/7 (22)
• Week 2 (Jive to "Jump, Jive An' Wail" by The Brian Setzer Orchestra) - 7/7/8 (22)
• Week 3 (Rumba to "If You're Reading This" by Tim McGraw) - 9/8/9 (26)
• Week 4 (Foxtrot to "The Pink Panther Theme" by Henry Mancini) - 8/9/9 (26)
• Week 5 (Samba to "Conga" by Gloria Estefan) - 9/9/10 (28)
WHEN TO WATCH
The "Dancing with the Stars" season concludes Nov. 22. The next episodes will air at 9 p.m. EDT Monday and Tuesday on ABC (WTVC-TV 9).
At the halfway point of "Dancing with the Stars," Dalton, Ga.'s J.R. Martinez is shaping up to be one of the show favorites this season.
The ABC reality program partners celebrities with professional dancers in performances critiqued and voted on by a panel of three judges. Martinez, an injured U.S. Army veteran and star of the ABC soap opera "All My Children," was paired up with show veteran Karina Smirnoff.
Smirnoff and Martinez tied for first place in the season opener on Sept. 19. Since then, they have occupied the No. 2 spot on the scorecards every week until Tuesday, when their samba to the song "Conga" by Gloria Estefan returned them to the top spot.
"I thought he was great. I'd have given him all 10s, if it had been me," said Gene Threet, a family friend of Martinez since he moved to Dalton with his mother, Maria Zavala, in 2001.
Threet's son Jeffrey, 26, was a close friend of Martinez when they attended Dalton High School together their senior year.
Before the season began, Gene Threet said Martinez texted him to let him know he was a contestant and to offer him tickets to attend a taping.
Threet, his wife and daughter flew out to Hollywood earlier this month to see Martinez's performance for the third week of the show.
The theme of the episode was Most Memorable Year, and Martinez danced a rumba to Tim McGraw's "If You're Reading This" in honor of soldiers killed or missing in action.
Martinez has personal experience with the cost of service.
While serving in Iraq with the Army's 101st Airborne Division in 2003, Martinez was injured when his Humvee struck a mine. He suffered severe burns to 40 percent of his body and has undergone more than 30 corrective surgeries.
Martinez turned his injury into a positive and now serves as a motivational speaker.
"I was given an amazing opportunity to come and make the most of a second chance at life," Martinez said during an interview after his Oct. 4 performance while sitting next to a teary-eyed Smirnoff.
"For those who didn't make it home, I live in your honor," he added.
Ron Ward, Dalton High School assistant principal and athletic director, coached Martinez when he played as a strong safety for the Catamounts. Martinez was also close to Ward's son Aaron and offered the whole family tickets to the Oct. 4 taping.
Short of the moves he put on display during student gatherings, Martinez never gave any indication of a talent for dancing, but Ward said he has been impressed continually by his former student's performance on the show.
"What we saw at the dances was like nothing we see him doing on stage," Ward said. "I don't see much difference between how he's performing and how the professionals are performing.
"He's come a long way in a whole lot of ways."
With 124 points, Martinez and Smirnoff have received the highest overall score so far, and at 24.8 points, also have the highest average weekly score.
On the "Dancing with the Stars" website, four of Martinez's performances have been featured on Show Stopping Moments, a weekly video highlight reel.
For someone without previous experience, Martinez's dancing technique is surprising, especially across a wide range of styles, said Jessie Bonanno, the director of dance for Dalton's Creative Arts Guild and an adjunct professor of dance technique at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
That, combined with his story of overcoming personal odds, makes him a strong contender to win this season, Bonanno said.
"Because his story pulls on heartstrings so much, he's a well-rounded, fantastic candidate for winning this season," she said. "I think he'll go very far."