With the new season of Dancing with the Starsset to kick off September 22, Julianne and Derek Hough and their pal Mark Ballas are already back on the dance floor, but they're are also tackling their music careers.
"We've always done the music and dancing together, but the dancing came first," Derek Hough tells SheKnows. "Mark, Julianne and I had a little group when we were younger, for a short time, and even then, we wanted to write and play our own music."
These days, he and Mark are making major headway with their band Almost Amy, while little sis Julianne's taking the country world by storm.
While the Hough siblings admit to being competitive, Derek claims he doesn't come close to his little sister. Evidence of that is on Dancing with the Stars. She's hoisted the trophy twice.
"She gets competitive with me and she'll admit that," Derek laughs. "When I was on the TV show and she went with Helio, she said, 'Yeah, I'm with Helio, but I beat my brother, so I'm excited!' I'm three years older and when we competed before, I would always be ahead, with her right there behind. She's just excelled so much ever since the show."
He says this last bit with great pride, so we wonder how he feels about the fact that he hasn't taken home a trophy yet, unlike his sister and bandmate Mark.
"If this was a real competition, I would be upset," Derek admits. "But this show is a different thing. It's based on fan-base, likability and so much more. If someone doesn't like your celebrity, there's nothing to about it. It is entertainment, so the most important thing for me is that the celebrity has the best time of their lives, even if they get kicked out the second week. That's my goal."
And though Julianne's ready to beat her brother again this year, she would have to agree. She won't even pick a fave from her past dance partners.
"They were all so different and I've had such a good time and experience with every single one of them," she demures. "Apollo was my first, so obviously there's a special– wow, that came out wrong! But you get what I mean, right? Helio was a little handful, but he was great. We were the best of friends. And then Adam was just fun, and there was no pressure. We knew we weren't going to win, so we were like, 'Let's just entertain. Let's get a unicycle.'"
As many fans knows, the dancers have zero say about who they'll dance with each year. Word is the pairings from above factors in personality, height and look and this season, Derek is paired with hottie mom Brooke Burke, Jullianne with the shows' youngest contestant ever, Disney's Cody Linley, while and Mark will be twirling bootylicious Kim Kardashian.
That's quite a diverse group for these pros to train, so we wondered what makes a good Dance student.
"They have to have the drive," Derek insists. "If they want to work and train hard, then it's a lot easier."
Of course, sometimes, there are physical hurtles and challenges, like being the oldest, the least in shape, deaf… or to be more timely, being a mother of four, the youngest or the most bootylicious!
"I found it hard to teach someone taller than me," Derek recalls. "Shannon (Elizabeth) had a great work ethic, but some things looked better on Jenny (Garth) just because she's shorter. It sounds silly, but you have to be exceptional dancer to pull off that body type."
Above all this, however, Derek's biggest note for new dancers is to leave all reservations and fears at the door.
"Sometimes, they don't think they can do it, but they have to be open-minded," he explains. "A saying I like is: 'The mind is like a parachute: It works better if it's opened.'"
While Julianne is back in the dance studio with young Cody, she's also wowing the country world with her self-titled debut album and touring with the likes of Brad Paisley!
"I would be skeptical of myself if I wasn't me," Julianne admits with a laugh. "I'm serious: 'What's this dancer chick doing trying to come over to our format?'"
But like her big brother, she's been doing it all since for quite some time. "I started singing, acting, and dancing when I was three years old in Utah," she reveals. "I was in a family band and did little plays. And then I had the opportunity, when I was 10, to move to London to go to a performing arts school and focus on the dance."
That's where she and Derek honed their skills in ballroom and Latin (from Marc's father, Corky, who actually joins the show this year!), but nothing could replace the country beat in Julianne's heart.
"I've always wanted to sing country," she maintains. "In the family band, we did all country songs and I grew up listening to Dolly Parton and Reba. I love Reba (McEntire), Shania (Twain) and Faith Hill, of course. She's such a beautiful woman and she has her career, but she also has a family and her kids. Growing up, what turned me on to country music was just the fact that it's so real and normal. You can have the family and the life."
In fact, Julianne's commitment to country almost forced the struggling artist to turn down her big break when her now-manager, Irving Azoff, first spotted her.
"I was a background company dancer on the 'Dancing with the Stars' live tour and I couldn't pay my rent anymore, so it was a good gig for me," she recalls. "Irving saw me and said, 'I wonder if that girl sings?' I said, 'I do. This is my lucky day!' After I sang for him in one of the rooms at one of the venues, I said, 'Just so you know, I only want to sing country.' He was like, 'Really? You could sing pop, because you dance. It would be great.' I was like, 'Yeah. I don't think so.'"
When her album finally came out this May, it danced straight into the top five on the country charts. Good thing she didn't listen!
Meanwhile, Derek and Mark aren't naming names yet, but their band Almost Amy has just been signed to a label! With both guys work lead vocals and guitar and Mark noted as the composer, don't expect any country or any hip hop from these guys, who've been jamming together since childhood.
"We're very different," Derek says of his band and his sister. "Julianne is a solo artist, and Mark and I write our own material and play all the instruments. We went through every phase, but now our sound is more rock pop, with some crazy solos."
When Derek says "every phase," he means it! "We did the punk rock thing, the heavy metal thing and the goth thing, with the black hair, makeup and finger nails painted," Derek shares. "We'd show up at the dance competitions and scare everybody! Then we'd go into our dressing room and get on our costumes and our dancing faces."
Their real world style didn't slow down their dance floor wins, but as is often the case, the boys grew up a bit and started to dabble in more mature sounds.
"It's funny to see the evolution from punk rock to heavy metal to death metal...then funnily enough, to jazz!" Derek recounts. "We played a lot of jazz and John Mayer-style stuff with acoustic guitar. Then, just this summer, our music has evolved from that style to a very commercial rock/pop sound. It's going to be a fun album!"
We'll have to wait and see on that one, but get ready to start judging them when "Dancing with the Stars" three-day premier kicks off Monday, September 22 at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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