J.R. Martinez Waltzes Closer to “DWTS” Victory

The war hero’s been a favorite since day one, but after his most recent routines, it seems hard to believe that even his closest competition could stop his inevitable sweep.

It was a night of ups and downs on “Dancing With the Stars” Monday, as each of the five remaining celebrities attempted to prove they were worth a spot in the final four. In the end, some succeeded, one completely failed and another firmly established himself as the true contender poised to win the ballroom bash.

Of course, J.R. Martinez is the man with the mirror ball trophy almost in his reach. The war hero’s been a favorite since the earliest days of the competition. But after his most recent routines, it seems hard to believe that even his closest competition could stop his inevitable sweep. After all, he just scored the first perfect 30 of the season — twice!

The coveted “10” paddles first flashed after Martinez spun around the floor alongside pro Karina Smirnoff in a romantic waltz. A nitpicker (like, oh, say, yours truly) might point out that the routine lacked heel leads, something head judge Len Goodman is usually quick to highlight. But with the audience launching into a spontaneous mid-dance standing O and all other elements performed to perfection, the panel left the nitpicking to more deserving dancers. (More on that later.)

Not satisfied with wowing the crowd just once, Martinez hit another high note when he returned for his quickly rehearsed Instant Dance. His jive was packed with side-kicks and precise flicks. There was also a slight stumble at the end of his opening slide — again, the sort of thing Goodman would usually point out — but it was a small detraction from a great dance. Great enough to rake in another set of 10s.

But while Martinez might have been pleasantly surprised to take all of the night’s top honors, he certainly couldn’t have been more surprised than one of the dancers right behind him on the leaderboard.

After weeks of mixed efforts and plenty of flawed footwork, Hope Solo suddenly found herself in second place, tied with this season’s leading lady, Ricki Lake.

Solo’s first dance, a surprisingly springy and well-paced quickstep, impressed the panel. It rightly earned raves as her best dance so far, as well as a slightly generous 27 points. But her good luck didn’t end there.

When she returned for the instant jive, a dance she muddled through on her last attempt, Solo delivered a routine every bit as good as the quickstep, with considerably less rehearsal time. For that one she received 25 points, but perhaps more importantly, some high praise from Goodman.

“This was fantastic,” he cheered. “It was everything a jive should be. … It was bloody brilliant!”

That comment not only served as a confidence booster for Solo. It also marked an end to the ire between Solo’s headstrong partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, and the judge he recently went head-to-head with. No sooner had Goodman made the remarks, than Chmerkovskiy rushed to the panel to plant a kiss on his cheek.

So it looks like the ballroom beef is over. For now.

The good night for Martinez and Solo, and even the OK night for Lake and Rob Kardashian, stood in stark contrast to what Nancy Grace experienced.

While Grace’s first routine, an imprecise tango, wasn’t so bad, she ensured her last place spot on the leaderboard with her not-so-jumping jive.

Maybe if the former prosecutor had spent more time focused on the dance rather than bickering with her surprisingly patient partner, Tristan MacManus, she could have pulled off the high-energy moves. But she didn’t. Instead, Grace ended the night with a combined score of 44 — a full seven points behind her closest competition, Kardashian.

As Goodman told her, “Yours is a Cinderella story. You’ve come to the ball and you’ve lasted for eight weeks, which I commend you for. However, for me, it’s midnight and it’s time to go home.”

Which she just might do Tuesday night, if that tell-it-like-it-is comment doesn’t earn her enough sympathy votes to stick around.

Do you agree with Len that it's time for Nancy to go home? Or should it be another hopeful?  Share your thoughts on the Facebook page for our TV blog, The Clicker!

Ree Hines thinks Tristan MacManus deserves a mini-mirror-ball trophy for enduring Grace’s backstage grumbles. What do you think? Debate that and other “Dancing” details during Tuesday’s live chat with Ree’s fellow “Dancing” expert, Anna Chan.

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