All right, all you urban hipsters who pretend you’re too cultured to pay attention to a show like American Idol: It’s time to stop frontin’.
Admit it. You followed the Ruben vs. Clay contest more closely than you have the presidential race. You either cried or rejoiced when LaToya London and Jennifer Hudson were eliminated this year.
And future scholars will spend generations debating the work of Jasmine Trias.
If you paid attention at all to Idol this season, then you know that R&B belter Fantasia Barrino narrowly defeated 16-year-old Diana DeGarmo in the final vote, with tens of millions of viewers casting votes.
The owner of a diva-sized voice à la Celine Dion, DeGarmo will be at Conseco Fieldhouse on Sunday along with the nine other Idol finalists in the “Pop Tarts Presents American Idols Live” tour.
A native of tiny Snellville, Ga., whose motto is “Where Everybody Is Somebody,” DeGarmo’s debut single, “Dreams,” debuted in Billboard’s Top 20 and she is readying an album for a fall release.
During a recent stop in Minneapolis, DeGarmo took time to chat with NUVO about her sudden appearance in the media and pop culture spotlight. On the phone, DeGarmo came across as much more serious, intelligent and balanced than her TV persona would indicate.
She said she was frustrated by judge Simon Cowell’s frequent comments that the teen was too young for the pressure-cooker environment of American Idol. “It’s very hard when they criticize you for something you cannot change,” she said. “So you’re out there saying, ‘Well, I know that I’m 16, but you all are the ones who made the rules for the show. Why are you the ones complaining at us? All we’re doing is following the rules. We’re just competing like everyone else, and it’s not fair to be criticized for the one thing you cannot change, your age.”
Still, she admitted that maybe the pressure could become too much for some. “It takes a certain kind of 16-year-old to do it. I know that if some of my friends did the show, they wouldn’t last a day. But it takes someone with thick skin to go out there and I know there are some 25-year-olds who couldn’t take it.”
The American Idol season was fraught with controversy, from Sir Elton John claiming the audience voting discriminated against African-Americans, to continued griping about certain contestants making it through to later rounds.
Snarky Internet posters even mocked DeGarmo and her fellow contestants over everything from their weight to their fashion choices. S
he said that she was unaware of all of the criticism at the time. “We lived in such a bubble,” she said, “and we were going 900 miles an hour at all times. We never got to stop and hear criticism from people and avoided all the controversy. We wouldn’t have let it affect us even if we did hear it.”
Director Quentin Tarantino, guesting as a judge one week, trashed DeGarmo’s song choice and delivery and seemed to almost drive her to tears.
“We’d already had trouble that night before the show, so I was already affected even before I went out there to perform,” DeGarmo said. “And, you know, I took it that, hey, he’s a movie producer. He doesn’t have anything to do with music, so I didn’t let it bother me.”
More generally, though, DeGarmo said she welcomed criticism of her performances and used them as a motivational tool. “It gives you more incentive to go out there and prove that you can do twice as good as what they said,” she said. “So it definitely gave you a driving force.”
The Idol contestants benefited from the tutelage of celebrity guests such as John, Gloria Estefan and Barry Manilow, each of which spent time with the group. DeGarmo said she learned the most from her time with Manilow.
“He was really great about working with us. He worked so hard with us to take his songs and update them to something modern. He gave us all books on acting and we were all, ‘What is he doing?’ But he really was able to emote the songs and put all of ourselves into the song, so we can show the audience what the true feeling of the song is.”
For right now, DeGarmo’s life consists of endless bus and plane trips, live-show performances and interviews. “We’re doing all kinds of music from Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner to Prince and Outkast, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé. So everybody’s going to find something that they will like.”
The pace is grueling, however. “There’s really not too much time for squabbles or jokes on the bus. We just sleep. The shows run so late, and we have to do so much press, that every chance we get, we’re dead asleep,” she said.
After that, she will continue work on her full-length debut album, tentatively due for an October release. She also has other priorities for the fall, though.
“It’s my senior year coming up, and it’s my last chance for high school memories, and you never get a chance to take that back,” she said. “I’m definitely going to try to stay in school as much as I can without it affecting my career in any way.”
Where does DeGarmo see herself in 10 years? “Oh, gosh,” she said. “I would love to be doing my fifth album, sixth album, and out there doing my world tour. Europe, Australia, everywhere, going out and performing for the people.”