At 20 years old, Julianne Hough has one of the coolest summer jobs anywhere — opening concerts for George Strait. Prior to a show in Cincinnati last month, the two-time Dancing With the Stars champion spent a few minutes fixing her hair, fussing over her puppy and tackling questions about life on the road, her determination to succeed in country music and why her bubbly personality shines through in her songs.
CMT: For the people who see your set, what do you hope they would take away?
Hough: A lot of them are coming because they’re a fan of the music, but a lot of them are coming because they’re like, “Oh, I wonder if she can sing?” You know, “We know her as a dancer. We’ve heard her song on the radio, but can she sing live?” Or, “Is she fun live?” Hopefully, that’s what they leave with when they come to see me — “Oh, man. She’s a great performer. She really can sing, and she deserves to be in this format.” So, you know, it’s definitely a two-thumbs-up when you’re with the King of Country Music, but you still have to show ’em what you got.
Do you think you were born with determination, or did you develop it?
I have a lot of characteristics that my dad has. He’s very determined, very daredevil. He’d be willing to do anything and do it full out. So I definitely inherited it, but also with everything that I went through — and being young and having all of these opportunities — I definitely wanted to make the best of it.
With so much going on in your career, what’s the course of action when you have to make a tough business decision?
Well, I first go to my dad and I say, “Dad, this is what’s going on.” You know, I have my business manager and I have a manager. But nobody has my best interests like my dad does and my family and my mom and everything. My dad’s just a little wiser because he’s got a business degree. (laughs) I would never do anything that would compromise anything with my family, and I want to make sure that they’re always involved. They’re not stage parents, but they’re very much involved. I let them know what’s going on.
So many young girls love singing and dancing and dreaming of that life. But for parents who see that talent in their children, what advice can you give them?
It’s so hard because everything costs money. If you have it, and you see your kid that has talent … or maybe isn’t technically the most talented, but if she had lessons … that would help them so much. And it would give them something to dream about, to look forward to and even keep them out of trouble. (laughs) I know my parents put me in all of the lessons — and all my siblings because there were five of us. To keep track of us all is a hard thing to do, to make sure we’re doing the right thing. I mean, we always would go to lessons, and we would go to a million different things. Then we would pick the ones that we really loved. That way, we just kept going for it. I would just say trust your kids because even though they’re young, they definitely have passions, too, and dreams and goals, and parents are the ones that can help them achieve it.
Let’s talk about your new music. How far along are you on the new record?
I’m just starting. I’m writing still, and because I started to do Dancing With the Stars again to dance with Chuck [Wicks], I blame it all on him. No, I had to kind of stop the writing process a little bit. I’m just now starting up again and listening to songs and getting ready for that whole thing again. I’m so pumped. I’m so excited. Just being on the road the last year with Brad Paisley and doing my own shows and, of course, now with George, you kind of figure out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve figured out what doesn’t and what does, and now we’re going to go with the “what does” work. (laughs)
What can your fans expect from it? What does work?
You know, just some really fun grooves. Music is music and country music has the lyrics. I want something with a really cool groove. Keith Urban stepped out of the box. He’s got those awesome grooves. It’s still country, for sure, but it makes you want to stand up. It makes you want to move, and that’s one thing I felt that I missed a little bit on the last record. … A lot of honesty. I think the simplest, most honest songs are always the best and people can relate to those and that’s what it’s about. That’s what I’m looking for to, and hopefully everybody else will like it.
I think people are really drawn to your personality. How important is it that your personality is reflected in the music that you’re writing and supporting?
It’s huge. People kind of saw “Julianne” on the show because it’s a reality show. But also, reality shows aren’t always all what they seem to be. They show a lot of things that are great, but I want people to see “Julianne.” She’s positive and wants the best for everybody … and I’m talking in the third person. (laughs). But, you know, I’m just saying that it’s really important. I want people to realize that I’m 20 and, “Oh, my gosh. I have a career at 20 years old.” But it started really early, and even though I’m young, it hasn’t been easy. And I like to just hang out with my family and play with nephews and nieces and just be normal. I think that’s the best part. I mean, I’m sitting here in the bathroom doing my hair and makeup, doing this interview, with curlers in my hair!