What's New on the Rialto
Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young
DeGarmo made her Broadway debut as Penny Pingleton in Hairspray in 2006, and her other stage credits include the first national tour of Brooklyn: The Musical and The Toxic Avenger. Young made his Broadway debut as Kenickie in Grease in 2008 and went on to play Danny Zuko in the show's national tour (he also co-wrote Chris Daughtry's debut single "It's Not Over," which was nominated for Best Rock Song at the Grammy's, losing to the legendary Bruce Springsteen).
I recently spoke with DeGarmo and Young about their new roles, new tribemates and "American Idol."
Nick Orlando: Thank you both for joining me. Did you two know each other before Hair?
Diana DeGarmo: We had met, but not hung out or spoke.
Ace Young: We ran into each other numerous times. The last time I saw Diana was at the opening of "American Idol Experience" in Orlando, Florida. I could not imagine anyone else playing Sheila. Diana is so down to earth, so comfortable. She is naturally beautiful. I think we bring a totally different energy than the original cast.
NO: How did the casting for this role come about?
DD: I put a lot of time, effort, and research into the role and it paid off!
AY: I was doing Grease, life was good. I became friends with casting directors. They told me if I get the role of Berger, it would help them cast me in everything in the future. Thank goodness I am from Colorado. I knew everything about Hair. It was a trip, I never saw Will [Swenson] play Berger. The show is ridiculous; it is so fun, so free. I read for about an hour during the auditions. They told me to come back one week later, had me in a room for five or six hours, and brought in different Sheilas. I never saw a Berger, so I had a good feeling. About one hour later, on my way to the airport, they called and told me I got the role! Berger doesn't care what people think about him.
NO: This is a very powerful show. Were the rehearsals exhausting?
DD: A little bit! We only had a few weeks to put the whole thing together. The show is about a tribe and you had a few weeks to build a bond with the tribe mates. The first week and a half of rehearsals were pure chaos. There was so much to learn. So much was being thrown at you in the show. Audience members can come back three and four times and pick up things you've missed. By the time we had opened, we were all comfortable. Every night, we have so much fun. I love my Ace [Young] and Kyle [Riabko]. I love my tribe mates.
AY: It was like doing two or three shows per day. So by the time we opened, it was a relief.
NO: Was it easier to come on board with new tribe mates?
DD: Totally. That was the beauty of what they did. We are becoming our own tribe. The previous tribe had been together for three years. We were able to create and discover together and make our own tribe, which is beautiful.
AY: I was in rehearsals with a whole new cast. It's the first time they have done that in a whilereplacing the whole cast. [Most of the original cast went to London to open the West End production of Hair.] It is definitely easier to start with new tribe mates. There is no real way to be wrong in Hair. Well, the only way is if we didn't incorporate everyonewe are a tribe.
NO: Are you comfortable with the nude scene? What about at first?
DD: I am now, not originally. I was against it when I started rehearsals. When I figured out who Sheila was, I learned Diana wouldn't do this, but Sheila would. We did not want to make it about the nudity; that's not what the show is about.
AY: I am the youngest of five boys. I always have hand-me-down clothes. I would take my clothes off and jump in the pool, if there was a pool around. I am very comfortable with my body and that is important. This is who you are and what you look like. We are all perfect, all beautiful. We didn't know if we were going to do the nude scene. The producers didn't want people to come just to see the "American Idol" alums naked on stage. The old cast had about seven people nude, now we have about twenty-two tribe mates naked. I think this made it a lot easier for Diana to do it also. It is the one part in the show where we are showing we are free. We are taking off our clothes and are free.
NO: Describe your experience on the Broadway stage vs. the "American Idol" stage.
DD: You don't hear verbal comments immediately after you are done performing. It's different. "American Idol" was glorified karaoke; you are singing other people's songs. In Hair, there is a lot more meaning behind it. Here, the audience is there with us, we don't have walls in between. This is why Ace, Kyle and I are so comfortable with the show. We interact with audiences on a daily basis.
AY: Everyone judges. If you see an actor do something, you might say I want to do it because I can do it better. If you are a writer, and see another writer's work, you might say I want to write about that, I can do it better. There are actually more judges in Hair. After the show and at the stage door, people are telling you their opinions. Fans have seen so much on Broadway. They want to go someplace and it is our job to take them there. I don't hold back, I give everything in every show.
DD: It's very different. I'm not funny. A lot of my other roles, I was funny. I love comedy and love being a goofball. Here, I'm not a character. I am more of a real person. I am a strong, focused, real woman on stage. I get to show a stronger side of myself in Hair. It's nice to be the strong lady.
NO: Ace, how does your role in Hair compare with your role in Grease?
AY: They don't even compare. I thought Grease would have been a bigger workout, but Hair is. Hair is an experience. In Grease, I had to separate me and the audience. With Hair, the audience is part of the show. It is like going from elementary school to college. I am very fortunate that I get to do this everyday.
NO: What did you learn from your "American Idol" experience?
DD: The work ethic. It is very similar to being on a Broadway schedule. You are working all of the time. You get to see good and bad performers.
AY: A lot! My family all sang. I have been performing since I was eleven, so I was comfortable on stage. No matter how you are edited, you have to stay true to who you are. I did so much on "American Idol" that never saw the light of day. People thought I was still living in Colorado, but actually I was living in Los Angeles for four years before "American Idol." I was touring with Brian McKnight. You get to make money doing things you love.
NO: Do you still keep in touch with anyone from the show?
DD: Yes, I even speak to alums from other seasons. I am good friends with Kimberley Locke.
AY: Everybody! Chris [Daughtry] and I speak once per week. When I'm in Nashville, I see Kellie Pickler. I keep in touch with Mandisa and Bucky [Covington].
NO: Would you do "American Idol" all over again?
DD: I would. I am a strong believer that all things happen for a reason. It was a great career boost.
AY: Of course! I would not have a Grammy nominated song because I wouldn't have met Daughtry. I wouldn't have a leading role on Broadway. But, would I do "American Idol" over if I just wanted to concentrate on my music? No, I would have continued doing what I was doing. I had labels interested in me.
NO: Diana, your mom was with you week after week on "American Idol," has she seen Hair?
DD: Not yet. She will come in a month or so.
NO: What is your ultimate gig?
DD: There are so many things I still want to do. I am only 22! I would love to be part of an original company and create a role. I would also like to be on tour with my own music. I write and record country music. I love being on Broadway.
AY: I haven't done it yettelevision and movies. I would like to be behind the camera as well. I am very visual. I have my own production company. I recently wrapped a shoot for a music video for myself and a hip hop artist in Chicago.
NO: Ace, are you going to work on television and film next?
NO: What is the last Broadway show you saw?
DD: A Behanding in Spokane. Ace and I saw it together.
AY: A Behanding in Spokane!
NO: Did you meet Christopher Walken?
DD: We didn't, but Christopher and Sam [Rockwell] signed a hand for us.
NO: Who is your favorite artist or genre of music?
DD: Patsy Cline. She is amazing!
AY: I like classical music; it makes me not want to write. As for current artists, I like what Lady Gaga is doing; it is not only about the music, it's about the experience. Her music is catchy.
NO: What is your favorite thing about New York?
DD: You can walk everywhere and get any kind of food.
AY: The people. The women! I can walk everywhere.
Nick was born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island, NY, where he completed his studies. He received his B.S. in communications and marketing from St. John's University in 2005, where he was also inducted into the Golden Key International Honour Society and Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. Nick considers traveling, theater, music and working out his favorite leisure activities. Nick currently devotes some of his personal time to volunteering with One Brick and God's Love We Deliver.
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