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Adam Larkey
Julianne Hough will co-host "CMA Music Festival."

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — A lot of people go on "American Idol" hoping to launch a music career. Julianne Hough launched a music career by going on "Dancing With the Stars."

The Utahn, a two-time winner on the hit ABC show, had a hit song on the country charts, she toured with Brad Paisley and she's one of the hosts of "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock," which airs Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC/Ch. 4.

Hough will co-host the event, taped earlier this summer, with Taylor Swift and Kellie Pickler. Performers include Trace Adkins, Rodney Atkins, Billy Ray Cyrus, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Jewel, Miranda Lambert, Sugarland, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood and Dwight Yokum. And she knows it's one of many opportunities "Dancing " made possible for her.

"Being a part of 'Dancing With the Stars' is HUGE," said Hough, who turned 20 in July. "I thought about trying out for 'American Idol,' but I felt like 'Dancing With the Stars" is more me.

"I would've continued trying to do my music if I wasn't on the show, but I love being a part of it. And the fans that I had from the show have followed me over to the music."

She does blend her two areas of expertise when she performs.

"You don't see a lot of country artists dance. That's one thing that kind of sets me apart is I feel comfortable moving around the stage," Hough said.

And she's not abandoning her "Dancing" fans. Hough returns for her fourth season this fall — she's partnering with the show's youngest-ever celebrity, 18-year-old Cody Linley of "Hannah Montana." And she insisted she didn't return just because she's contractually obligated to do so (as has been reported).

"I don't think it's whether I have to or not. I'd love to be on the show," said Hough, who didn't want to comment on her contract status.

But she wants to make it clear that music isn't an afterthought for her. And that she's always been more than a little bit country.

"I started singing, acting and dancing when I was 3 years old in Utah and was in a family band," Hough said. "And then I had the opportunity when I was 10 to move to London and go to performing arts school there and really focus on the dance."

For the five years she was in London, "I really focused on the dance but never stopped singing."

Even with the boost from her TV stardom, Hough had to prove herself in Nashville. Which she's doing, with the single "That Song in My Head" making it into the top 20 of the country-music charts and an album that's selling briskly.

"You know what? I would be skeptical of myself if I wasn't me," she said. "I'm serious. I mean, 'What's this dance-star chick doing trying to come over to my format?' What's been cool is the minute they talk to me and know that this has been a passion of mine."

"Nashville is a different kind of town," said CMA producer Richard Deaton. "Julianne didn't make her record out here or in New York. She came to Nashville. She worked with writers. She worked with producers. She became ingrained in the community. I think Nashville is real accepting of people who do that.

"And the other thing is, she made a great record."

She's definitely got the country-music twang down — although it's certainly not something she acquired growing up in Utah and London.

"When I lived in London, I had a full-on English accent. Nobody knew I was American," she said. "And then I came back and I was American with a Utah accent. And then I've been in Nashville for a couple of months. I just pick it up wherever I go."

She's also getting better at doing interviews, dodging questions about politics (her father, Bruce Hough, is a former GOP state chairman) and her former fiance, Zack Wilson, who was on the winning team on ABC's "Dance Wars." And, asked to name her favorite "Dancing With the Stars" partner, she exclaimed "You can't make me do that!"

She did, however, have a bit to say about each of them.

"Well, Apolo (Anton Ohno) was my first, so, obviously he's very special," she said. "That came out wrong. You know what I mean, right?

"Helio (Castroneves) was a little handful, but he was great. We were like the best of friends. And then Adam (Carolla) was just fun. And there was no pressure — we knew we weren't going to win."

She said she wasn't at all bothered about the many, um, unflattering things the shock jock said about her on his radio show.

"I didn't care at all. That's just Adam talking," Hough said. "He talks and talks and talks and whatever comes out of his mouth, I know that's just his schtick."

Hough also got an early education into the tabloids' schtick — she got to read a lot of "romance rumors" about herself and both Ohno and Castroneves.

"It's funny. The fact that three months before that I was reading the magazines and saying, 'Oh, they're so together. Why are they lying?' And then I'm reading (about herself) and I'm, like, 'We are so not together. Why are THEY lying?"' she said with a laugh.

"You see other people on the show get together and actually end up staying together," she said. "I'm the only one that gets rumored to and I've never even touched them, except when we're dancing."

As for her real personal life, she said, "I'm single and loving it!"


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com