Julianne Hough Singing & Dancing Queen
updated 05/26/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/26/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT
It's definitely a challenge for any 19-year-old in Hollywood—but especially for Hough, who's a practicing Mormon. A world champion Latin dancer by 15, she scored back-to-back Dancing with the Stars wins last year with Apolo Ohno and Helio Castroneves. Now she's taking on Nashville with a self-titled country album that's already earned fans like Rascal Flatts' Gary LeVox. "When I first heard her," he says, "I was like, 'She can sing too? You over-talented joker, you!'"
Growing up near Salt Lake City, Hough was the youngest of five siblings who, with their mom, toured the state as White Lightning, a blonde version of the Osmonds. "She was just a ball of energy," says her brother, dancer Derek, 23. On Sundays after church, he recalls, "it was the Sabbath, so we couldn't play with friends or watch TV, but we had all these instruments so we'd just entertain ourselves. Julianne would be bouncing around singing and dancing."
When she was 10, Hough's parents divorced, and she and Derek moved to London to live and train with the parents of fellow Dancing star Mark Ballas, who became Hough's dance partner—and briefly, boyfriend. "She was my first love," Ballas says. While attending the renowned theater arts school Italia Conti, the trio formed a pop group called 2B1G (short for two boys, one girl). "We had the corniest songs," Hough recalls. "We had a song called 'L-O-V-E Y-O-U,' and we spelled it out with our hands."
After five years during which Hough wandered away from Mormon principles—she says she drank and didn't go to church—and staved off homesickness listening to Shania Twain ("My British friends were like, 'You're a hick!'"), she was ready to come home. "I wanted to be around my sisters," she says. "And I didn't feel like a little girl. I missed out on that."
But American teen life wasn't as sweet as expected. "I ate lunch in the bathroom for two months straight," says Hough. "Girls would invite me to parties, and I'd go and there would be an abandoned house. The whole Mean Girls thing—that so does happen."
Less than a year after graduating, Hough found her footing in Hollywood on Dancing. But she also made unwanted headlines when Castroneves split from his fiancée a few months after she had broken off her own engagement. "They said I was a homewrecker," she says. "But I'm pretty much the only one on the show who hasn't hooked up." As for her own relationship, she says, "If I had stayed in Utah, that could have worked. But I'm in a different place in my life now."
In a lot of different places, actually. In June, the single-and-searching Hough embarks on a 42-city tour with Brad Paisley—but don't expect her to hang up her dance shoes. "I want to be a respectable singer, but I'm a dancer at heart too," she says. "I can't sit still when music comes on!"