Last summer, “American Idol” runner-up Diana DeGarmo was in New York City doing a play called “Toxic Avenger” and decided to check out the new Broadway musical “9 to 5.” She immediately wanted to be in it.
She imagined donning a big blond wig and becoming the sassy Doralee Rhodes, the role made famous by Dolly Parton in the popular 1980 film “Nine to Five” also starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman.
“I’m a huge Dolly Parton fan,” she said in a phone interview earlier this month while prepping for the show. “I’ve met her a handful of times but I could never say anything. I clam up!”
DeGarmo, since almost winning “Idol” six years ago, has had plenty of success in musical theater, doing more than a half-dozen shows, from “Hairspray” to “Hair.” Her soaring vocal ability and cheerful persona has worked well on stage.
Earlier this year, when she heard “9 to 5″ was casting for the national tour, she figured she had no shot at it because she was under contract with the Broadway revival of “Hair.” But “Hair” unexpectedly got a closing notice over the summer and DeGarmo heard the gal set to play Doralee on ”9 to 5″ had to bow out. DeGarmo was there to fill her shoes.
“The stars,” DeGarmo said, “were aligned.”
The Snellville native said she already knew the music going in and understood Doralee’s sensibilities. It didn’t hurt the director was the same one who had worked with her on the national tour of “Brooklyn.”
“I’m excited,” she said. “It’s easy when the role is really well written and it’s a fun character people already love. Half the battle is already done.”
But she understands she’s stepping into “quite an iconic role. Everybody loves Dolly Parton.”
The musical, she said, is set in the late 1970s, just like the film. “You’ll see pictures of Farrah Fawcett and Donna Summer and Tom Selleck,” she said. “It’s disco and pet rocks. It’s cool to go back to such a fun time.”
DeGarmo will sing a solo “Backwoods Barbie,” which is on Parton’s last album. “It’s perfect,” DeGarmo effused. “It’s a very simple country song. It gives insight into her character.”
Here’s Dolly’s version:
And she was anticipating the costume: “Blond wig, corset, high heels, fingernails, make up, big bra,” she listed. “And Spanx. There’ll be plenty of undergarments! I’ll be losing a lot of water weight!”
She said she’s still coming off the high of doing “Hair.” “I’ll never have such an experience again,” she said. “I truly had a blast.” She also got to work with fellow “Idol” alumni Ace Young. “He and I really bonded. We’re buddies forever, having done both ‘Idol’ and ‘Hair.’ ”
Here she is singing “Easy to Be Hard” on the “Early Show.”
DeGarmo has been trying to break into country music since she did the CMT reality show “Gone Country” with the likes of Bobby Brown and Maureen McCormick. Her forays into theater have made it difficult to focus on recording music, but she has an EP of songs she sells on the side with no major label attached to it. “I got burned by the big record labels,” she said. “It makes me cautious to ever get near them again. I like being my own boss.”
She will be selling her EPs at the “9 to 5″ shows and hopes to do a few acoustic sets on her days off while in various cities. Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to set up any dates while in her hometown.
Her “Idol” experience, she said, seems like another generation. “I feel like such a grandma when I’m around” the more recent contestants, she said. “The show is so different now. We walked uphill both ways in snow in comparison!”
She thinks with Simon Cowell gone, “Idol’ should just have one more big season and “give it up.” Else, “the longer they go, the crazier the show is going to get. I say blow it out of the water and call it a day.”
Here’s a clip from the Tony’s in 2009 of the musical with Dolly Parton leading the song “9 to 5″:
And a scene from the original movie of Doralee’s revenge against the boss: