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'Stars' dancer Julianne Hough says country music comes first

| Thursday, July 23, 2009

Julianne Hough gathered a huge fan following as a professional dancer, particularly from her two-time champion role in the smash ABC series "Dancing With the Stars." Now, Hough has shifted her focus to her budding country music career, at least for the time being.

Hough -- who will perform Saturday night at George Strait's show, along with Blake Shelton -- says focusing on both ventures simultaneously would be exhausting.

"I never like to do anything halfway," she says. "For me, when I try to juggle both careers at the same time, I don't feel like I'm giving my heart and soul."

Hough, who also has worked as an actress, says she loves dancing, but her ultimate goal always was to become a country music artist.

"I love both careers," Hough says. "I'll always dance; it's a passion of mine. ... With the music, I feel like you can connect with (people) more and get instant feedback. You can see them singing along, and actually talk to them and have a conversation onstage.

"With the dancing ... it's a little more selfish; you dance for yourself," she says. "With lyrics and melody, you can touch people's lives."

The Utah native, also a songwriter, spent five years in London dancing. She moved back to America a few years ago to continue dancing here, and pursue her highest aspiration, to sing the plainspoken, humorous, realistic and touching music of country.

"With country music, we're basically like, 'Hey, we're just like you, and we go through these things,'" Hough says. "I think that's why country fans are so loyal. They get it, and they understand it."

Hough's self-titled debut album, released in May 2008, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. The album includes the hit single "That Song in My Head." She followed up later that year with "The Julianne Hough Holiday Collection," part of the "NBC Sounds of the Season" series.

Hough is working on a new studio album and hopes to release a new single by the end of the year. She hopes to release the album early next year. Hough says she is excited, but also feels the pressure with her second album. Many artists fall victim to the sophomore jinx, where their second album isn't nearly as successful as the first.

Hough calls this next album her most important one.

"This is the one, I think, that's going to make me or break me," she says. "I could stay where I'm at or, hopefully, catapult" to a higher level.

Hough says she is thrilled to be opening for Strait, often called the King of Country Music. He is shy and does no media interviews, but Strait is very nice and a bit of a jokester, she says.

"He is just phenomenal ... a country music legend," Hough says. "He's somebody that I grew up listening to, and he takes me under his wing a lot."

Additional Information:

George Strait

With: Blake Shelton and Julianne Hough

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $15.25-$70.25

Where: Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown

Details: 877-598-8703 or www.livenation.com

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