If cheerfulness were an Olympic sport, the USA would have a guaranteed gold medalist in Diana DeGarmo.
Idol's perky silver medalist, Diana DeGarmo, is hard at work on her debut album.
The 16-year-old singer from Snellville, Ga., seems just as preternaturally perky over the phone as she did on American Idol this year. "This is what I'm like," she chirps. "Take me or leave me. Hee-hee-hee."
Granted, DeGarmo's oversized voice and personality earned her only silver on Idol, won by Fantasia Barrino. But like last year's runner-up, Clay Aiken, DeGarmo, the TV talent search's youngest finalist, is being groomed for A-list stardom by Idol mastermind Simon Fuller and RCA, the label that inherits the show's bounty.
RCA Music Group chief Clive Davis personally chose Don't Cry Out Loud, the 1979 Melissa Manchester hit that became DeGarmo's signature song on Idol and, accordingly, is half of her double-A-side debut single, out today. The single leads off with Dreams, a similarly sentimental midtempo ballad penned by veteran hitmakers Desmond Child and Andreas Carlsson with Chris Braide, who wrote Aiken's songs Invisible and This Is the Night.
"Dreams is a really positive song, with great words," DeGarmo gushes. "It really fits me." The single's B-side, I Believe, co-written by former Idol finalist Tamyra Gray and also the lead track on Fantasia's single, released last week, could hardly be mistaken for a dirge either.
DeGarmo may seem a little young to tackle more complex emotional terrain. Manchester, who was in the studio to lend support when the younger singer recorded Don't Cry Out Loud, deemed the new version "really good" but noted that DeGarmo had "much less worldly experience than I had when I sang the song."
The teen doesn't view her tender age as a liability, though. "More than people would think, I've had a very fulfilled life. I can understand what songs are about, and find a way to put my own feeling into it, to make it convincing for me." For her first CD, tentatively scheduled for October, DeGarmo and RCA exec Steve Ferrera are sifting through contributions from such veteran chart-toppers as David Foster and Linda Perry to find songs that also will prove persuasive to a mass audience. "From what I've heard, I'm very, very excited," DeGarmo says.
DeGarmo's no-holds-barred vocal style has garnered comparisons to Celine Dion and Christina Aguilera, whom she praises with predictable enthusiasm. "I love Celine. I idolize her to the 10th degree. And Christina has such an amazing voice." Surprisingly, though, the teenager also cites role models with relatively subtle, nuanced approaches, among them the late country legend Patsy Cline. "They all bring something different to the table, I think."
The prospect of becoming a superstar in her own right has been a little dizzying, DeGarmo admits. "They keep you crazy at all times. You never stop. But I'm having a wonderful time. My life has changed for the better, definitely."
There are minor inconveniences. "I can't go outside without makeup on anymore," says DeGarmo. "That's the one thing I miss, being able to, like, go to the grocery store without anyone knowing who I am. Now if I go out in, like, pajama pants and a sweatshirt, with my hair in a ponytail and just looking a complete mess, people are like, 'Can I take a picture with you?' And I'm like, 'Um, I don't really know if you want a picture with me right now. But sure, OK!' "
DeGarmo's mother, who now manages her, and her old buddies help keep her grounded. "They know when I come home, I'm just Diana, and they don't treat me any differently. They're not like, 'Diana, can I do this for you?' "
With her senior year of high school coming up, DeGarmo says, she will try to retain that sense of normalcy — to an extent. "I'm going to try to stay in school as much as possible, but I'll definitely keep my career going. I want to keep that ball rolling, you know?"