NASHVILLE, Tenn. When "Dancing With the Stars" champ Julianne Hough came to town to make her debut album, Nashville's songwriters went to work churning out a bunch of songs about what else? dancing.
"Each one that said dancing (in the title), I said 'Nope, sorry,' Hough, 19, recalled over coffee recently.
For now at least, Hough, whose self-titled CD came out Tuesday, wants people to forget she's a dancer and think of her as a singer.
She's been doing both since she was a little girl and had actually begun pursuing a career in music before "Dancing With the Stars." She had reservations about doing the show in the first place.
"I didn't want to get pigeonholed as being a dancer, and then when I start in music people think 'Oh, just because she got this exposure, now she thinks she can sing,"' said Hough, a blonde with a bubbly voice and sparkly blue eyes.
The youngest of five children, Hough comes from a family of dancers and singers in the Salt Lake City area (her sister Marabeth Poole co-wrote one of the tunes on her CD, and her brother Derek, who was also on "Dancing With the Stars," sings on it). She was playing bongos and singing in the family's country band by the time she was 4.
"We're all blond and we were kind of known as the blond Osmonds," she giggled. "We were known as White Lightning because of our hair. It's kind of embarrassing now. But we were in these bold Spandex and black cowboy boots and black fringe vests and black cowboy hats."
She studied dance in Utah and then in London for five years. But by 14 she yearned for a more conventional life back home with her family, and she realized that it was singing, rather than dancing, that was her greatest passion.
"I knew if I stayed in London my whole life would be dancing. I'd won almost every major title you can. I thought 'This really isn't my passion. I really want to sing,' and I knew I wouldn't be able to if I stayed there."
She returned to the United States and began pursuing music seriously until "Dancing With the Stars" came along and was too good to pass up.
Hough joined for the show's fourth season and won with her partner Olympic speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno. She repeated the next year with Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves. For her third season, she teamed with comedian Adam Carolla but was eliminated in April.
"I wouldn't take it back, even though it might have slowed my singing down a little," she said. "I feel that now that I've mastered dancing I can pursue singing."
Her sound is country-pop in the vein of her musical heroes Faith Hill, Shania Twain and Martina McBride. The CD's first single is a breezy uptempo tune called "That Song in My Head" that was No. 31 on Billboard.
"Obviously it's still very young on the charts, but I think it has a lot of upside," remarked Tim Roberts, program director at WYCD in Detroit. "I think it really connects with women her age."
With her TV popularity, comparisons to "American Idol" alumna Carrie Underwood are inevitable. But Underwood's path from music show to music career was much more direct. Hough's situation is more akin to an actor trying to become a recording star, and, historically, those transitions don't always go well.
"Does it help? Of course it does," said Luke Lewis, chairman of Universal Music Group Nashville, which includes Huff's Mercury Records label. "She's a highly recognizable celebrity at this point, so we don't have to spend a lot of time trying to educate people to who she is just to the fact that she can sing really well."
So well that Lewis says he signed her without even seeing her on "Dancing With the Stars." He considers her dancing a bonus that reminds him of Twain, who's also on his roster. But don't look for the label to play up Hough's fancy footwork. On that, Lewis and Hough are dancing to the same tune.
"We don't want it to be the first thing that comes into somebody's mind," Lewis said. "She's got to build a career as a country artist just like everybody else."