Only 20 years old and already a two-time dancing queen, Julianne Hough is now threatening to rule the country music kingdom. While the competition for a pretty princess in that realm might be much more fierce, at least she has found a Prince Charming to take her along for the ride.
The immediate goal for Hough, who’s paired in Season 8 of Dancing With The Stars with country singer and real-life boyfriend Chuck Wicks, is to win her third mirrorball trophy as one of the show’s most vibrant and vivacious performers.
If only the current powers that be will give the cute couple a break.
While teaming them up seemed like a natural — Julianne came back for another run this spring after she earlier had decided to take a hiatus to concentrate on her singing career — the duo hasn’t exactly wooed DWTS judges Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba.
Hough admits the harsh criticism has left her a little annoyed, and she expressed her dissatisfaction on her video blog this week (see below), when she defied the posted order to “KEEP OFF THE JUDGES TABLE AND PLATFORM.”
But during a March 19 phone interview, when Hough became the latest participant in the Pop (Culture) Quiz, she appeared upbeat about the situation, though she believes the couple that is romantically involved has a couple of strikes against them.
Asked if the judges are tougher on them, Hough didn’t hesitate to reply. “I definitely think so,” she said with a laugh. “I think there’s this hidden thing where everybody thinks he can dance because we’re dating. And he never danced a lick. He grew up on a potato farm in Delaware. He’s definitely just a normal guy. I think the disadvantage for us is that everybody thinks it’s an advantage.”
And the fact that she’s won twice already (with speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno in spring 2007, her first appearance on the show, then with race car driver Helio Castroneves in fall 2007) doesn’t help matters.
“I think there’s an expectation for sure of what the judges want to see,” Hough said. “I mean, it just makes us more motivated. We’re really excited about this next week.”
Despite the criticism, Hough likes her chances to become the show’s first three-time winner and, with Wicks, the first real-life couple to share the throne. “You know, I think we’re in a good place,” she said. “We’re about fifth out of 13 right now; I think that’s great because the show is all about improving and showing progression and hopefully he’ll progress each week and one week we can go like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s in it to win it.’ So I think we’re in a good spot right now.”
The blonde bombshell with the hot moves also has performed the Quickstep in making the transition to become a singer-songwriter and reside in Nashville, the country music capital. Signed in 2008 to Mercury Nashville (now part of Universal Music Nashville) , her self-titled debut reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country Album chart last May and also peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart.
And when Hough leaves her dancing shoes behind to appear on the 44th Academy of Country Music Awards on April 5 (CBS, 8 p.m. EDT/PDT) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, she’ll already be a winner. On March 6, it was announced Hough had won the fan voting for the ACM‘s top new female vocalist, joining a heady group of past winners including Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Lee Ann Womack and Carrie Underwood. Her fellow nominees were Sarah Buxton and Ashton Shepherd.
That night she’ll have a chance to win another award as top new artist, going up against top new male vocalist Jake Owen and the Zac Brown Band, which was named the top new vocal duo or group. Fan voting began March 16 and runs until the beginning of the show’s live telecast.
“It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s fun,” said the optimistic and radiant Hough, who performed March 19 in Orlando, Fla., before traveling to Connecticut then to Biloxi, Miss., to appear on a bill with former Trick Pony singer Heidi Newfield (“Johnny & June”) on March 21. She’s also looking forward to joining current country king George Strait on his summer tour that begins May 9 in Hidalgo, Texas.
On this rare afternoon off, though, Hough was enjoying a chance to spend some rare quiet time with the “love of my life.” But don’t jump to any conclusions. It wasn’t Wicks she was cuddling with, but her 8-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Lexi.
Wicks, 29, is also new to the country music business, having released his first album, Starting Now (RCA Nashville), in January 2008. The pair met that month while touring with Brad Paisley and soon became an item on the celebrity circuit.
And while falling in love and becoming a famous power country couple like Tim McGraw and Faith Hill might be on the agenda, there are other worlds to conquer at the moment. And some tough dance practices.
“It’s so funny, we were just talking about this the other day,” Hough said. “We were like, ‘Wow, we really need a date night.’ Because even though we’re with each other all day, we miss each other. Because (while preparing for the show), we aren’t really Chuck and Julianne, boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s like total strictly business, professional … it’s all about work. So we’re like, ‘We miss each other,’ even though we’re with each other all day.”
Besides, Hough joked, “It’s kind of hard to do duets when you’re on different labels.”
Julianne Hough takes the Pop Culture Quiz
1. Country music duo: Johnny and June, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill or Sugarland (although bandmates Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush work together on strictly a professional basis)?
“I would say Johnny and June. For me, I kind of have a special … Chuck and I both do have a special kind of inkling toward them because we met on tour; we kind of felt like that was kind of our story (laughs). We remember watching Walk the Line with Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix. … And then Heidi Newfield’s song came out. It was all kind of around the same time that we were dating and we were on tour together, so we were like, ‘We love that.’ ”
2. American Idol, America’s Got Talent or America’s Next Top Model?
“I’ve never seen America’s Got Talent. … I sometimes watch America’s Next Top Model because I’m getting ready in the morning. And American Idol I never really have gotten into it because it’s one of those ones you really have to follow it and be invested in it. So I don’t know. … I’d probably say American Idol just because it’s music and that’s more of what I’m focused on.”
3. Facebook, MySpace or Twitter?
“I’m still on MySpace. I haven’t really crossed over to Facebook completely. I still use Facebook but I haven’t completely crossed over. And I haven’t started Twitter yet. I’m about to. My dad (Bruce) actually was the one who introduced Twitter to Chuck and I before it started getting really big. He introduced us to it like last year when a lot of the Presidential candidates were using it. So I haven’t started it yet but I think I’m going to.”
4. Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium or the Bluebird Cafe?
“Oh my goodness. I think the Ryman. My Opry debut was at the Ryman (on December 16, 2008). And it was really, really cool. I got to sing with Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood. It was a really big show. It was the Opry and it was at the Ryman. So I got to experience both. It was amazing. I’ve been a huge fan of Martina and looked up to her for a long time. And then I loved Carrie when she was on American Idol (in 2005); I think that was the only season that I really watched. I think I even voted for her. So that was cool. I’m a big fan of Carrie’s as well. I think she’s great, especially with what she’s obviously done.”
5. Bruno, Len or Carrie Ann?
“I would say Len. He knows more about the ballroom and the Latin and even though he’s more tough, he’s more constructive rather than just mean (laughs).”
• For Julianne Hough news, song clips, blogs and concert dates, go to her Web site or MySpace page.
• Go towww.cbs.com until 8 p.m. EDT on April 5 to vote for the Academy of Country Music Awards‘ Top New Artist.
• To read more about famous county music couples, go to gactv.com.
• Screen grab and Dancing With The Stars photo courtesy of ABC. Other Julianne Hough photo by Ondrea Barbe.
Julianne Hough takes on the judges in her video blog below: