What A Way to Make A Livin': DeGarmo On Stage Boobs, Theater Bats and Dolly Parton

Diana DeGarmo channels an idol in 9 to 5: The Musical.
Diana DeGarmo channels an idol in 9 to 5: The Musical.
Joan Marcus

Birmingham, Alabama native Diana Nicole DeGarmo (23), went from Idol to playing one of her idols. At the age of 16, DeGarmo not only won a spot on American Idol, but also made it into the final two. She didn't win the competition -- Fantasia Barrino was the winner that season -- but since then, DeGarmo has managed to win the role of Doralee Rhodes (played by Dolly Parton in the original film version) in the touring production of 9 to 5: The Musical.

Were you one of those kids who came out of the womb singing and dancing? I was definitely one of those. My mom called me a hambone growing up. I've always liked to sing and make people laugh. I did Annie and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (longest musical title in history) when I was a kid.

I grew up in Atlanta so we have the Fox Theater. There was all kinds of stuff for kids there. I really thought of myself as a singer more than anything and thought I would be a recording artist one day. It was all performing though, musical theater, recording artist, whatever.

Then I did Idol, which takes you from zero to hero. I had every intention of going to college and whatever. But I was already doing what I loved. I was afraid I wouldn't be good at it, But I was. And I've auditioned for every show I've gotten except one. So I've worked as hard as anyone else. It's my own version of school. I call it the school of life.

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How was the Idol experience? Idol was a roller coaster. It was an amazing learning curve for me as a person and as a performer. There was a lot of drama and lots of anxiety every week, thinking I was going home. It was refreshing to see an amazing pack of performers where you never know the forerunners.

Can you tell readers a little about 9 to 5 as a show? I tell people it's a fast, fun, funny show about three very different women who get together and get back at their sexist boss. Great score. Funny lines. Pure entertainment. And there are jokes about men and women.

How long have you been on the road with the show? We've been out since September. We opened in Nashville where I lived and then went to Atlanta where I'm from. We've been having a blast. I'm super stoked to come back to Dallas. I haven't been back since Brooklyn, which was my first tour. We're all looking forward to going to Six Flags.

Did you face any particular difficulties being that this was a movie first? People expect certain things or certain scenes. But, of course, some things cannot be done on stage. So that can be a hindrance. But our show follows very closely with the movie and what we couldn't do, we added characters and storyline to make up for it.

People seem to really have taken to 9 to 5. Why do you think that is? 9 to 5 works because it was such a loved movie. People love Dolly and the movie is so iconic. So that's a good base to start from. We've kept the jokes fast and funny. And the musical writer is the same writer from the movie. The director along with myself are big Dolly fans. We understand how simple is best. What you see is what you get with 9 to 5. We're here for entertainment. You'll laugh and you might even get choked up, which is what I think art is about.

Do people give you a hard time or not take you seriously in the world of musical theater because you were on American Idol? Idol stigma does always linger. But I love telling people, "I auditioned just like you." And once they meet me, they realize I'm a hard working person. It's better now that I have more shows under my belt. When I did Hairspray, I was really able to prove to people wrong that I wasn't just there because of Idol. When I joined, it was the first time two American Idol contestants were on stage together on Broadway. We didn't say anything and people didn't realize it for months.   Can you even believe this is what you get to do for a living? I love it. I'm a strong believer in doing what you love and loving what you do. It's truly an honor to be onstage with such talent. You do have to pinch yourself. I constantly count my blessings.

How did you come to get the part? I always talked about wanting to do this show. I was in Hair at the time they were casting and my agent said, "No one leaves a Broadway production to go on tour." The next day the casting agent called and asked me to come in. They looked at my Hair contract and they overlapped. So that was that.

Fast forward a month and all of the sudden Hair gets it closing notice for two weeks from that day. It was really jarring. My agent goes back and calls casting agent who tells my agent that they've been auditioning people for a month and they just booked someone yesterday.

Fast forward two weeks and my agent gets another call from the casting agent. The girl they cast had to leave the show for personal reasons. I went to New York and had one of the best auditions ever. I knew the music. I could do the accent easily. Dolly couldn't be there so they said they'd be in touch once she saw my audition tape. In no time, I got a call saying, "Dolly loved the video and you've got the part." The stars aligned and it was meant to be. It's kind of funny how this industry works.

Anything crazy happen on the road so far? There was a bat in the theater in Sacramento and we have one girl who's terrified of bats. During the second number, the bat comes swooping across the stage and she just hit the deck. But it's such a big number that I think you could only tell from backstage. I love the joy of live theater. You never know what you're going to get. We're human and things happen.

In terms of performing this particular show, what has been the biggest challenge for you personally? The hardest things for me are the shoes and the boobs. That's the God's honest truth. They had to put safety straps (aka elastic) on my astronomically high heels so they wouldn't come off. I ice my feet before the show, after the show, and at intermission.

The boobs have gone through a trial and error. The original girl on Broadway wore a corset with a push up bra. But, during first tech rehearsal, I almost passed out wearing. I have all of the girl's costumes from Broadway because we're the same size.

Instead, I actually wear a prosthetic in the bra with a push up that I sit on top off. Literally it weighs like ten pounds on my chest. Only the cleavage is actually me. I have to always make sure that the chicken patties are in check. Dolly's writing is such storytelling that it works great for musical theater. The shoes and the boobs are the tough part.

Who should come to see this show? There is some adult humor. Nothing offensive, I promise. For those who have seen the movies, there is some "Maui Wowie" that's partaken in. I had my nephew come see it. He's 11 and he loved it. And my nieces who are 6 and 8 saw it and thought it was hilarious. A mature tween will love it. 9 to 5 is great for first time musical theatergoers who think musical theater might not be for them. If you have any problem with the show though, I'm the complaint department. So come and find me.

See Diana DeGarmo as Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5: The Musical Wednesday through May 29 at the Music Hall at Fair Park. For tickets, visit dallassummermusicals.org.

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