Whether or not J.R. Martinez wins the Mirror Ball trophy on “Dancing With the Stars,” he’s already accomplished something no contestant has before — a spectacular rise from comparative unknown to America’s Celebrity Sweetheart practically overnight. Last week alone brought the Iraq War veteran, who overcame devastating burns incurred in a land mine explosion, the cover of People magazine, endorsements from Justin Bieber and David Arquette, and designation as the 2012 Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade.
How different things look now from the beginning of the season in September, when all the talk was about Chaz Bono, and there was speculation that J.R. might turn into the sacrificial lamb, i.e., he who gets axed from the show in the first week so the better-known stars can avoid that humiliation. (Remember Mike Catherwood in Season 12? You don’t? Case closed.)
As Sugar Ray Robinson once said, “To be a champion you have to believe in yourself when no one else will.” Well, when we spoke to J.R. prior to his first week of competition, he was full of praise for his rivals, including Chaz — and confident in himself, too. Even though he was keeping an overcrowded schedule of dance rehearsals and speaking engagements, J.R. was full of smiles and easy charm. He wouldn’t think of canceling his commitments without enough time in advance, he said. “Motivational speaking is very important to me. I want to help a lot of people, and reach as many as I can.” He also good-naturedly tackled questions about being the least-famous competitor: “I’ve got a lot of people rooting for me. Burn survivors, military personnel. I feel like I’ve got great chances.
“I know when people find out who I am and get a whiff of who I am, people are going to gravitate toward me and relate to me,” he added presciently. “I know one thing: I’m committed. I don’t know if the others are working as hard as I am.”
J.R. and professional dance partner Karina Smirnoff scored the first perfect 30 of the season with their dreamy waltz on the Nov. 7 show.