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An Interview with Julianne Hough

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Already a household name to the millions of Americans who have watched her compete on one of Television’s most popular shows, ABC’s Dancing With The Stars, Mercury Nashville’s Julianne Hough is one of the most well-known new artists in Nashville.

The two-time Dancing champion, who won with speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno in season four, and then again with race car driver Hélio Castroneves in season five, and who will release her self-titled debut album on Tuesday, recently took some time to answer questions for The 9513 in this exclusive interview, the latest in our series of Q&A’s with the genre’s rising stars.

Jim Malec: One of the things your artist bio makes clear is that becoming a country singer is something that you, “always wanted to do.” But just a few years ago you were studying dance in London. When did you make the decision to focus on country music as your number one 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 really, you know, 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.

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

JH: 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 thirty 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, and really being able to tap into songs emotionally and really being able to relate to people.

JM: Tell me about your debut album, which was recently described by 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?

JH: Absolutely. It’s funny that the Norfolk Daily News 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, and 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.

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

JH: Oh my gosh, I could not pick 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.

Julianne HoughJM: 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?

JH: 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. And regardless of if I had the show or not I would obviously still be pursuing county music because it is my first passion.

JM: You’ve been called, “…one of the very best dancers on the planet” (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?

JH: 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.

JM: You also recently partnered with MasterCard and Priceless.com to help promote a new online travel service–what’s that program all about?

JH: For me, I’m a big traveler, and anything I can do, or anytime that I can set aside to go on vacation, I’m always thinking about. And me being a MasterCard cardholder, I can go to Priceless.com and receive all the great offers and benefits that they give. And you can go anywhere in the country–hotsopts like Las Vegas and Hawaii and New York, and not only do you get great airfare, but they’ve got things you can do there with going to see shows, and adventures, and stuff like that. So it just seemed like a great fit.

Julianne HoughJM: In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, you are quoted as saying that “Everyone knows [you] as a goody-two-shoes.” Would you say that you have a mischievous side?

JH: 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 twenties 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 that decided in the fact that I do want to be a goody-two-shoes.

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

JH: 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.

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

JH: 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.

JM: What is country music?

JH: 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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