About Utah: Country singer's roots are in Utah

Published: Sunday, April 12 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

As a former two-time chairman of the Utah Republican Party and currently the state committeeman to the national Republican Party, Bruce Hough is used to people wanting to corner him for a chat.

But lately, it isn't politics they're most interested in.

They want to talk about that girl he's related to.

Hough's daughter, Julianne, is what the politicians would call a rising star. This past Sunday night, there she was on national TV winning the Academy of Country Music's Top New Artist award. This was on the heels of earlier winning the ACM's Top New Female Vocalist award after her first country album went to the top of the country charts and to No. 3 on the pop charts.

And as fans of the "Dancing With the Stars" TV series are aware, this is the same Julianne Hough who, as a dancer, "led" celebrities Apolo Anton Ohno, the Olympic speedskater gold medalist, and Helio Castroneves, the champion race car driver, to first-place honors in seasons four and five.

Not bad for someone who won't be 21 until July.

I was the latest to corner Hough, the dad, to talk about Hough, the daughter.

He was walking out of a political luncheon with Mitt Romney and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.

"So what's it like?" I asked him. "To know a real live country star?"

"It's very cool," he replied. "I am her biggest fan."

He admitted he's still trying to get used to walking through a mall or turning on the radio and hearing his daughter singing for him like she used to in her bedroom.

"She's very talented, and she has this incredible drive," he said. "I'm very proud of her."

But as dads will do, he also admitted he worries.

They talk, text or e-mail virtually every day, he said, and he's constantly "wondering" if she's getting enough rest, eating right and not overworking, as she is prone to do.

"I try to remind her what I've always reminded her," he said. "To be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. Ask any of my kids, they'll tell you that's what Dad tells them.

"I'm proud of all my kids," added Hough, who has five children from his first marriage. His second wife, Debra, also has five children. "I try to tell them all the same thing, not to equate fame and fortune with success. Whatever they want to do, that's fine. But what's important is if you're treating others well, and are you kind?"

Julianne's life has gone so fast, he recounted, that he's still trying to keep up.

She is the baby of the family and as a youngster used to perform at county fairs with her siblings in a country/pop band they called White Lightning.

In 1999, at the age of 10, she moved to England and enrolled in a performing arts school with her brother, Derek, a singing and dancing star — also a "Dancing With the Stars" champion — in his own right.

After winning "everything she could win as a Latin ballroom dancer," Julianne came back to America at the end of her sophomore year of high school. She attended Park City High School briefly and then a performing arts school in Las Vegas before enrolling at Sandy's Alta High School for her senior year, where she graduated with the class of 2006.

Then it was off to Hollywood, where she quickly found work doing ads, dancing on television shows and touring with "Dancing With the Stars."

Says Bruce, "I haven't paid for one thing since."

Dancing won her acclaim, but she never forgot those early roots growing up in South Jordan and performing country songs with sisters Marabeth and Katherine and brother Derek (oldest sister Sharee was already on to other things).

Taking a break from dancing, she auditioned for a record promoter, and the next thing she knew she was in a Nashville recording studio last summer, putting the finishing touches on her debut album, "Julianne Hough."

"She could sing anything, but she really loves country," said her dad.

She toured last summer with Brad Paisley and this summer is scheduled to open for George Strait.

That's good news on a couple of fronts. One, she gets to tour with King George and two, she'll be in Salt Lake for Strait's concert on July 17.

"We're planning a birthday party while she's here," said Bruce, noting that his youngest daughter will turn 21 on July 20.

It's only fitting she will celebrate her big day in Utah. She may have a condo in Nashville, an apartment in L.A. and a song on the radio, but Julianne Hough's roots, and her dad, are right here.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.

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