OREM, UTAH Last summer, returned missionary Zack Wilson was touring China with the Young Ambassadors performing group from Brigham Young University.
Now the hunky 25-year-old is the steamiest item on ABC message boards as a top contestant on the network's reality show "Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann," a spin-off of the smash hit "Dancing With the Stars."
Why is Wilson so hot? For one, he's been engaged not once but twice to Julianne Hough, who has won "Dancing With the Stars" not once but twice, first with Olympic gold-medal speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno and then again with Indianapolis 500 champion driver Helio Castroneves.
Some fans eat up Wilson's tie to Hough, which threads right back to the Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, where Wilson and Hough both trained and where Wilson and Hough's brother, Derek, were buddies.
Others complained the link gives Wilson an unfair advantage with Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba, the judges on "Dancing With the Stars" who picked the "Dance War" contestants and are the team captains on the new show.
Wilson clearly is a favorite of both judges for his combination of singing and dancing skills. The show could have been titled "Song-and-Dance War" because it requires the performers to do both, a combination of "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars."
Wilson called the show his final chance to make it in show biz before moving on to dental school.
"This is kinda like my last shot," Wilson said before his audition in Los Angeles, part of the show's first episode. "I just heard about this audition and wanted to give it one last shot."
A few bars into "Feelin' Good," Wilson forgot the words, but the judges didn't care.
"He's got a different feeling, like a gentleman," said Tonioli, who later called Wilson "so strong, a real leading man" who could be the show's version of Justin Timberlake.
Inaba praised Wilson's "All-American appeal" and said his acrobatic dancing is done so effortlessly that "he's like a ballerina on his feet, he's so light."
Wilson's friends and family back home in Utah Valley are watching with pride.
Young Ambassadors director Randy Booth started working with Wilson when he was 3 and sang "The Little Drummer Boy" in "The Gift of Christmas" at the Promised Valley Playhouse. He had a very different role on the BYU group's tour last year.
"He was the heartthrob for all the girls in China," Booth said. "Zack's a great dancer, a really solid singer and a fun personality. He's a born leader, very charismatic, lots of fun. People are drawn to him, whether in an audience or in person, and they want to be like him."
Wilson attended Young Ambassadors workshops in junior high and high school and began working at Center Stage when he was 14, studio co-owner Alex Murillo said.
"Right away we knew he was special, so we gave him more responsibility in singing and dancing, and he handled it."
Wilson served a two-year mission in Ghana and Sierra Leone for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Booth said turned him outward toward others. Tonioli singled him out as a leader when he made Wilson the first pick for his team on "Dance War."
The show pits Tonioli's team of six against Inaba's. An audience vote based on Monday night's live performances will determine which team "won," and next week the losing team captain will have to eliminate one team member.
Tonioli is convinced that with Wilson leading his team, he has "a slick, lean, song-and-dance machine."
ABC has to be happy with the show, launched in the midst of the writers strike. The show drew 11 million viewers when it debuted Jan. 7 and 10.5 million more for the second episode on Jan. 14.
During those first two episodes, Murillo was struck by Wilson's change from long, curly hair to a short cut, a five o'clock shadow and sleeveless shirts that show off his biceps.
"That's a new makeover," Murillo said, laughing. "He's just having fun. When you're having fun, you will succeed in the arts. If anyone deserves to be on stage, it's Zack Wilson. He's worked so hard and has so much talent. The world is about to find out."
Whether Wilson wins the competition, the spotlight should boost the careers of several of the contestants, Murillo said.
"That show will lead them to a recording contract, an acting career or Broadway. They're showcasing both their singing and dancing skills at the same time and their stage presence. Zack's getting a chance other kids don't have."