Diana Degarmo was a junior in High School when she placed second on American Idol, with less than 2% of the votes separating her from winner Fantasia. Sixteen at the time of her Runner-Up win, she remains the youngest to ever make it into the top two in Idol history. But Idol was not the beginning for Degarmo, who began singing at a very early age.
Before hitting the Idol stage Degarmo had already appeared in stage productions of Annie and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat , was a Coca-Cola Kid during the 1996 Summer Olympics and appeared as part of the Cartoon Gang on Cartoon Network, so auditioning for American Idol was a natural step for the artist.
“I just always sang, I was a huge Patsy Cline fan, I knew every song and every word.” But singing was only one facet of what she enjoyed. “I did Annie and Joseph at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, and performed at the Grand Ole Opry when I was twelve. I love it all and I still like to do it all.”
Growing up she was lucky to enjoy great support from a mother who also enjoyed music. “She said ok, you want to sing we will do it, but you have to keep your grades up and you have to give it 100%, and as long as I did those two things we got to keep going and it kinda snowballed.”
Then came American Idol. “By the time I was sixteen I had done a lot, I had been Miss Teen Georgia, I had been on TV on NBC, and had gone overseas to perform, and I felt like I had gotten to a point where I felt like if I wanted to be a recording artist I needed to be known and seen by more people. There was this television show with Millions of people tuning in every night. So I said to my Mother, very slyly, 'I don't think its' going to be on any longer, I have to do it now!'”
So what was it like? “It is very hard work, it can be very stressful on the contestants because you go from zero to hero overnight. You are thrown into these situations that for a lot of people, including myself, can be very overwhelming. It had it's highs and lows, but over all it was a very good experience for me.
After releasing her first album, that sold nearly 200,000 copies, she began work on a follow up, but walked away because she lacked creative control. She credits the theater with showing her the way. “The first album was a lot of fun, but I didn't have any creative control so I took a big step back from the recording side, and this is when theater began to take more of the stage for me. It was nice that I could personally control what I did as an actor and a performer, there was no man in a suit a thousand miles away telling me what to sing. It was a good time for me to be in musical theater, at eighteen my first show on Broadway was Hairspray and it was the perfect show for me at that age, and the people were amazing.”
But the recording industry and her desire to record would come calling. “I did a show called Gone Country on CMT and I absolutely fell back in love with country music, and was able to really start to find out who I was as an artist and a person. I have been so blessed by musical theater to support me and help me keep my bills paid, but at the same time I feel like I am at the point I can make music that I am really proud of. I released an EP a few years ago just to see if fans were cool with me doing country music, and some were and some weren't, but you can't make everyone happy. And at the end of the day it really made me happy to finally just put myself out there.“
Which brings us to her current project. She plays DoraLee in 9 to 5 the Musical, the role originated on film by Dolly Parton who wrote the score for this show. “It' s fun to find different parts of myself in the characters I play. Dora Lee who is a strong southern sassy woman, she is the closest I have come to bridging my theatrical life and my recording life. Musical theater is kind of like dress up and I can go and have a great time and experience new parts of myself, but then go home and just be Diana”
When I tell Diana that 9 to 5 is a gay cult classic, she informs me “I am Gay flypaper!” but assures me this is a show we will love. It follows very closely along with the story of the movie, our book writer also wrote the movie.” She tells me not to fret all the good one liners are here. “It's a fun show, and I have to admit that I share the stage with a level of talent that it is pretty ridiculous they are so good.” We definitely pay homage to the icons that created our roles, Dolly, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, but I am proud to say that we have each given our own spin on the characters as well.”
Spending her down time on the 9 to 5 tour in studios in L.A. and Nashville recording, Degarmo hopes to have a new CD hitting the shelves later this year.
9 to 5 the Musical is part of the Dallas Summer Musicals and plays the Music Hall at Fair Park Wednesday, May 18th through Sunday, May 29. The cast is headed by three time Tony Award Nominee Dee Hoty as Violet Newstead. Tickets are $25-$85 depending on showtime and are available at www.dallassummermusicals.org While there check out the rest of their season. Coming this summer Spam-a-Lot, Guys and Dolls and West Side Story.
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