JULIANNE HOUGH FEATURE - The Salt Lake Tribune
Utah's Julianne Hough and Blake Shelton to open for George Strait in first Utah stop since 1998.
By David Burger
This should be a great week for Utah native Julianne Hough -- and not just because she's opening for the legendary country crooner George Strait Friday. On Monday, Hough turns 21. "I'm going to make a special trip and hang out and get all of my high-school friends to come and have a birthday party on the 20th," Hough said in an interview. It's been quite a life for the girl -- I mean, woman -- who spent formative years in Utah before becoming a two-time champion of "Dancing With the Stars." She released a self-titled debut album in May 2008, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard album chart, and has now sold more than 300,000 copies, which is one reason she'll be a special guest on Strait's first Utah concert stop since 1998.
Fellow country singer Blake Shelton is another guest on Strait's tour, and he says he's proud to be opening for The King of Country. "Guys want to be [Strait], and girls want to be with him," said Shelton, who has charted 15 singles on the country charts, including five No. 1 hits: "Austin" (2001), "The Baby" (2003), "Some Beach" (2004-2005), "Home" (2008) and "She Wouldn't Be Gone" (2009).
While Strait wasn't available for interviews, one of the people who know him best was: Tommy Foote, Strait's tour manager since 1984 and the drummer for Strait's first band, Ace in the Hole. With Foote on drums, Strait's debut single "Unwound" was an instant success, and since then, he has amassed a total of 57 No. 1 hits, breaking a record set by Conway Twitty. And Strait isn't done yet -- his new album "Twang" will be released in August. Strait's concert this time around will be more than just another tour. "He's achieved a legendary status," Foote said. "It seems to be more of an event than just a concert. We're playing venues we haven't played for 15 years." The show should be considered an event, Foote opines, because Strait's voice is better than ever. "George is singing better," Foote said. "I don't know if it's a conscious decision, but it has gained more character and a timbre." If that's so, Hough will get one heck of a rendition of the "Happy Birthday" song from the headliner this weekend.