Diana DeGarmo on Upcoming 'Gemini' Album & Why Post-'Idol' Music 'Broke' Her Heart

Diana DeGarmo

Diana DeGarmo

The season three finale of American Idol was a history-making moment in the series – it marked the first time that the top two finalists were both female. Fantasia and Diana DeGarmo were the last two contestants standing and when Ryan Seacrest opened the envelope to reveal the winner’s name, Fantasia claimed victory and DeGarmo was named runner-up. Both women were signed to label deals – Fantasia to J and DeGarmo to RCA, and both released post-Idol albums. DeGarmo’s single, “Dreams,” went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Singles Sales chart. She went on to star in Hairspray and Hair on Broadway and off-Broadway productions of The Toxic Avenger and The Marvelous Wonderettes, as well as national tours of 9 to 5 and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and an international tour of Jekyll and Hyde.

DeGarmo returned to Idol on the season 11 finale, when she and Ace Young, a finalist from season five, were called to the stage by Seacrest. Young surprised his then-girlfriend on live television by asking her to marry him.

This year, DeGarmo will release her first full-length album since Blue Skies, her 2004 set, when the Kickstarter-funded double-album Gemini comes out on vinyl and in digital form. Billboard caught up with DeGarmo to find out about the new album and her successful Kickstarter campaign, which ends on Feb. 28; fans can still make contributions and earn rewards here.

Your new album is being issued on vinyl and digitally, but not on CD. How did you decide on this release pattern?

I adore the ceremony of choosing a vinyl record, setting the needle down, flipping the record, the beauty and size of the artwork on the jacket, all of it. It is a daily ritual that my husband and I cherish when we are both home. That tradition helped plant the seeds for Gemini’s vinyl creation. I knew I wanted to hear my music that way. 

However, we live in a world surging with technology so I could not ignore the need for digital copies of Gemini as well. But it’s vinyl that I crave. Vinyl gives us the chance to slow down and remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of modern life. As far as CDs go, it has really just been an economical choice. I am as “independent” as you get! CDs are not completely off the shelf for Gemini’s future, but for now, vinyl and digital it is. 

How does Gemini compare to Blue Skies, the album you recorded right after your Idol season?

I never felt like the record I made with RCA was mine. I was forced to record an album where I had zero creative input. I was singing songs, like a demo singer, that my label reps chose. They didn’t let me decide anything but still billed me for all their time and business decisions. It broke my heart. Gemini is me. It’s my first chance to really do and say exactly what I want. 

What was your vision for the new album?

My vision for Gemini is to finally do what makes me happy. I am a strong, Southern woman with a love for the dramatics, and an old soul. I am standing tall with my country roots and shouting from the rooftops with my big-ass band. I want to transport you to a bygone era that may even be in our future. I have always been inspired by live performers and performing live has always been one of my strongest attributes, so I wanted to capture as much of that as I could. I’m tired of trying to blend into other people’s ideas of what “pop” or “country” is and just be me. I had no plan to write a radio single, a certain number of tracks or some other B.S. point made for people who only care about the business of music. Gemini is bigger than a song. Gemini is a show that you are all invited to visit with me. I wanted to create a world that has always been in my head so that’s exactly what I did.

You were born in mid-June, so does that explain the title of the album?

I am a Gemini. That’s what inspired the title. This record is about me celebrating being me. I always have and always will live up to my sign. My “twin” has another twin, and another, and even another after that, haha. It has leant itself very well in my musical theater career but I finally captured myself in record form. It was rumored that I helped inspire Desmond Child’s line, “she switches sides like a Gemini” in the Ricky Martin song ["She Bangs"], but I was young, so who really knows. I like to believe it though.

Why did you go the Kickstarter route to fund this project?

I created a Kickstarter campaign because I needed help. I have paid for every aspect of Gemini on my own while trying my best to give every person who worked on the record the money they deserve for their hard work and talent. 2018 was a hard year for me health-wise and the funds to see Gemini to the finish line quickly mutated into medical debt. I couldn’t bear to see this work be left in the shadows so I sent out a bat-signal. Asking for people’s hard-earned money was a hard pill to swallow for my ego, but I have been flabbergasted, gobsmacked and often brought to tears by the outpouring of love, support and donations made to make my dream come true. In truth, my career has been built on people helping me: people voting for me and buying tickets to my shows. Once again they have personally backed my dream to “let me entertain you.” 

The Kickstarter is to have the vinyls pressed and a three-city album release tour through Nashville, New York City, and Los Angeles. I want to celebrate this album with the world for many years to come.

What are your plans for live shows in those three cities?

We are going to party in NYC, Nashville, and Los Angeles! I will have my 11-piece band backing me as I debut all of my 16 new songs from Gemini. Each show will have fun surprises that I cannot wait to unveil. It will be the culmination of a ton of hard work. I will try my best not to cry – too much.

Where was the album produced?

We recorded the album in three different studios. The band was tracked at the incredible Blackbird Studio in Nashville on two magical days that I will never forget for the rest of my life. Hearing my songs transform from little ditties in my head to piano/vocal work tapes and then to fully-fledged songs still blows my mind just thinking about it. The horns were tracked at 2nd Story Sound in NYC.

We recorded my vocals and background vocals at our home studio in Nashville, also known as the Hippie Hideout. As soon as we bought our home, Ace went to work on building out our studio and made everything we needed to be at out fingertips 24/7. I was able to record in my PJs, take my time, and be creative when I wanted to be creative. It was a dream scenario that definitely influenced Gemini in many ways.

Are all of the songs on the album original or did you include any covers?

Fourteen of the 16 songs on Gemini are brand new, original tunes written by yours truly along with my longtime pal and kickass collaborator, Dylan Glatthorn. I do have one cover made famous by AC/DC. We actually recorded "T.N.T.” on the day Malcolm Young passed away. It was a special moment for all of us. The bonus track is the song from the first dance at my wedding written with my husband, Ace Young. An extra big thanks has to go to Ace for taking on the role of producer for Gemini. His leadership, creativity and extreme patience kept me and this project together from beginning to end. 

You’ve spent a lot of time doing musical theater. Has that kept you from recording an album until now?

My musical theater career has definitely taken its toll on Gemini’s timeline and being in the studio as a whole, but none of this would have been possible without the many contracts that helped finance this venture and I always love being on stage -- no matter what. Having the chance to live my life doing what I love in all aspects is an incredible blessing that I never take for granted. I always believe that all things happen for a reason and my journey is my own. I can never compare my own road to anyone else’s. Gemini was not in me when I first came off of Idol. Parts of it have always been there, but I didn’t know how to fully realize all of myself let alone put it into song. My life experiences, from moving to Nashville, being on Broadway, touring the country and the world that have given me the life I have needed to tell this story and live my truth.

When you look back on your American Idol journey, what are your thoughts?

I will always appreciate my time on Idol and what it did for my career. Yes, I could look back and shake my head or maybe wish I had done this or that, but all of that does nothing for me now. Idol helped make me who I am and will forever be a part of me. 

When you competed on season three, did you ever imagine there would be a season 17?

I honestly never thought American Idol would have a season four, let alone a season 17. That’s why I begged my mom to let me audition in the first place. It is fascinating to see how the show has evolved and how a new generation has their own Idols and their own version of the show. It's cool and I’m proud to be an Idol OG who had to sing uphill in the snow -- to tracks. I do try my best to keep up with the show when I can and see the new talent shine.

You grew up in Snellville, Georgia, but you and Ace have settled in Nashville. How do you like living in Music City?

Ace and I love calling Nashville our home. We are children of the world and love being able to live wherever the wind takes us, but growing roots in Tennessee has been a touchstone for us that we needed as human beings. This industry can be wild and crazy (most of the time) so coming home to our little country cottage lets us recharge and keep doing what we love – creating.