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“I’m just Julianne” – An Interview with Julianne Hough from Dancing with the Stars

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Already a household name to the millions of Americans who have watched her perform on ABC’s Dancing With The Stars, 19-year-old Julianne Hough is embarking on career as a country singer. The two-time Dancing champion—who won Season 4 with former professional speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, and Season 5 with race car driver Hélio Castroneves—is set to release her self-titled debut album on Tuesday.

Jim Malec: Your artist bio says that you always wanted to become a country singer, but just a few years ago you were studying dance in London. When did you make the decision to focus on country music as a priority?

Julianne Hough: I moved back from England because I knew if I stayed in London my whole life would be dancing, and I knew I wanted to be a country singer. So when I was 15, I moved back to the States so I could really pursue that. And the first opportunity that I had to actually have a connection to start pursuing it was at a venue in the States on the Dancing With The Stars: Live tour, when I met my music manager.

Malec: Your path to Nashville–beginning in Utah, then moving along through London and Los Angeles–isn’t the usual road taken to country music stardom. How has your unique background influenced you and your music?

Hough: Being 19, a lot of people don’t think I could’ve experienced too much. But an actual fact, I feel like an old soul. I’ve experienced things that most 30-year-olds haven’t experienced. And I feel like things I’ve gone through in my life will help me with songs, as far as writing, as far as really being able to tap into songs emotionally and relate to people.

Malec: Tell me about your debut album, which was recently described by Carrie Pitzer in the Norfolk Daily News as having a “strong organic feel.” Was there a particular sound that you and producer David Malloy were looking for in the studio?

Hough: Absolutely. It’s funny that they said the word organic, because that’s the word we’ve used this entire time. You know, when you think back at some of the most organic music and great sounding icons, names like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, you could hear the little imperfections in their voice that gave it character and personality. This whole time I chose songs, I related to them personally. I didn’t want it to be a machine making this music. I wanted people to connect to that. Some of the best music is Reba McEntire, where she can connect to anybody with one word. That’s what we were kinda hoping for–connecting with the personality and the emotion and the character.

Malec: What’s your favorite song on the record, and why?

Hough: Oh my gosh, I could not pick just one song that I love. Let’s see…”My Hallelujah Song” really hits home because it talks about, “I can’t believe I finally made it here,” and, “I feel like I’m right where I belong.” And it’s the actual truth, because everybody’s helped me along the way, and I can’t thank them enough. This is really my dream. And everybody has their hallelujah song, whether it be in work or just in life having a family or anything; it’s about you being in the right place right now in your life, and feeling like you’ve worked so hard for it, and finally you’re getting there.

Malec: There’s no doubt that your time on Dancing With The Stars has helped to get the wheels rolling under your music career, but does it ever become a distraction? Is it difficult to convince people to think of you as Julianne The Singer rather than Julianne The Dancer?

Hough: When I first decided to do Dancing With The Stars, I was very nervous because I didn’t want to get pigeonholed as just being a dancer. But I knew that the way the music industry is these days, it’s hard to get exposure. And American Idol is so great for that… not even just for the winners, but for the contestants, too. Because of the exposure, they get to have careers as well. And so I thought, you know what, I love to dance, what a great opportunity to get this amazing exposure and hopefully further my singing career along [the way]. And regardless of if I had the show or not, I would obviously still be pursuing county music because it is my first passion.

Malec: You’ve been called “…one of the very best dancers on the planet” (ABC’s 20/20), and Maxim recently named you one of the “100 Most Beautiful Women in the World.” Your first single just broke into the Top 40, and you’re about to embark on a national tour with Braid Paisley and Jewel. All at the age of 19. Is any of this overwhelming?

Hough: It’s all overwhelming, are you kidding me? But I have a great family, and a support system where I feel like I can keep my head. It’s funny, with being “sexy.” I don’t think that at all. It’s kinda flattering, but funny at the same time. And then… I just can’t believe I really am here doing this and pursuing everything that I love. And I’m just having a blast with it.

Malec: In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, you said that “everyone knows [you] as a goody-two-shoes.” Would you say that you also have a mischievous side?

Hough: As far as the goody-two-shoes thing, everybody knows me as the Mormon girl that hasn’t done anything wrong. But, you know, everybody goes through things, and of course, I obviously did. I grew up really fast in London. And I feel like my 20s were actually when I was in my teens. And so I went through things that made me become who I am today, and I’ve made choices and decided that in fact I want to be a goody-two-shoes.

Malec: What’s the most important thing the world needs to know about Julianne Hough?

Hough: Probably just that I’m real, and that what you see is what you get with me. There’s nothing in the way of me meeting a fan and letting them know that I’m grateful for them. I want people to know that I’m just Julianne. I’m not somebody that needs to be put up on a pedestal. I’m just down to earth and real, and I want people to think that they can come and hang out with me and be normal. As much as I want my successful career, it’s not about the fame for the success–it’s all about the passion and the love for the talents I’ve been given.

Malec: Is there a song in your head right now?

Hough: That song in my head of course! There’s a lot of songs in my head right now–mostly my stuff! And “Wake Up Call” by Maroon 5.

Malec: What is country music?

Hough: You can sing about anything in country music. You can be fun. You can have controversial songs. You can have patriotic songs. You can have badonkadonk songs and honky tonk songs. I mean, you can sing about anything–and it’s all about the music. It’s not about the image. It’s not about anything. It’s all about the quality and the pure sound of the music, and how it relates to people and can touch people.

Jim Malec is a journalist whose work has appeared in American Songwriter, Country Weekly, Denver Westword and others. He is the founder of American Noise and former Managing Editor of The 9513.

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