HOT DISH: Say Hello to Diana DeGarmo as Dolly

And Mr. Haggard Goes to Washington

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

All I knew about her when she arrived in my kitchen was Diana DeGarmo was on the road in the role of Doralee that was played by Dolly Parton in the hit movie 9 to 5 and she almost won American Idol in 2004. There is more. Much more.

Dark-haired, dark-eyed Diana DeGarmo was born June 16, 1987, in Birmingham, Ala., but grew up in Snellville, Ga. Diana is presently in the national tour of 9 to 5: The Musical in the role of Doralee Rhodes. The dark hair of Diana is covered by a ‘Dolly look-a-like’ blond wig during the stage show. Her small stature, stage makeup and country vocals are just so Dolly.

In 2004, Diana narrowly missed winning the third season of American Idol when she came in second to Fantasia Barrino. At the time, she was only 16 years old and a junior at Shiloh High School in Snellville.

The talented Diana began singing publicly at a young age. She performed in the stage production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 1997 in Atlanta. As a third grader she was a Coca-Cola kid during the 1996 Summer Olympics also in Atlanta. The following year she was singing at Opryland during Christmas. In 2002 she was named Miss Teen Georgia, an honor that belonged also to my former guest on CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks, Joanna Smith.

The 16-year-old Diana performed on the road with American Idol finalists in 2004, and she performed independently the next year. In 2007 she began recording a pop/R&B album but backed out of the project. Later that same year she auditioned for and returned to her country roots in CMT’s Gone Country. She signed to John Rich‘s production company and recorded a country demo with him in 2008. Early in 2009 she released an acoustic EP, Unplugged in Nashville, that contains songs she co-wrote.

That pretty much brings us up to the present time. Hundreds auditioned for the role of Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5: The Musical, but it was the 23-year-old Snellville, Ga., girl Diana DeGarmo who walked away with the prize. She’s all rehearsed and ready. She knows her lines, knows the songs and she’s out there in the national tour striving to emulate the greatest female singer/songwriter this hillbilly town has ever known, and she’s got to add a tad of Hollywood to the girl who owns Dollywood!

Kennedy Center Honors Royalty
The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., recently honored some powerful people. I surely consider the inimitable Merle Haggard to be royalty. Same goes for Paul McCartney and Oprah Winfrey. Also honored were lyricist Jerry Herman and dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones. Merle, Sir Paul and Oprah are definitely in the same category as kings and queens in anybody’s book. I am told when Merle and Oprah embraced, that she compared their journey, which made all the sense in the world to me. Think abut it. Oprah’s journey began with her pregnant at 14 by a relative who forced himself on her, and Merle was locked up in San Quentin. Those two people have come a long way.

So far, in fact, it brings tears to my eyes.

Backstage at the affair, my friend said, “This is Jamey Johnson,” to Oprah as she walked past. “Singer/songwriter from Nashville,” he added.

“I know your dad used to have a barber shop in Nashville,” Jamey allowed.

“Still does,” replied the richest woman in show biz, looking at Jamey’s long beard and longer hair. “Only charges $8 a haircut,” she informed him. “I used to hate to walk across that wide Jefferson Street bridge to school every morning,” Oprah remembered.

Detroit native Kid Rock brought his dad to the affair. Dad was not impressed that foreign made cars were used to transport guests and said so. I vote for Mr. Rock.

The concert from the Kennedy Center airs Dec. 28 on CBS. Those honoring Merle include Kris Kristofferson and Miranda Lambert singing “Silver Wings,” Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow doing “Today I Started Loving You Again,” Vince Gill and Brad Paisley performing “Working Man’s Blues” and Jamey Johnson and Kid Rock singing “Ramblin’ Fever.”

Oprah was honored by Julia Roberts, Sidney Poitier, John Travolta, Barbara Walters, Jennifer Hudson and Chris Rock. Saluting Sir Paul were No Doubt, Dave Grohl and Norah Jones, Steven Tyler, James Taylor and Mavis Staples.

I was told that during the dinner a visibly moved Kristofferson paid tribute to Merle when he said, “There is no one more deserving of this honor, or come further to get it, than Merle Haggard.”

I just want to say, I think it’s OK when a great man sheds tears.

Adult Taylor
Taylor Swift says she’s not counting down the days until her 21st birthday. She says she will celebrate with a winter-themed party. She’s not a partyer, never been a drinker, but she may have a glass of wine. Happy birthday, Taylor.

15 Books
“I’ve just finished my 15th book,” said our 5-year-old kindergartner, Mattie Lyn Smith. Of course, Dolly Parton is the reason the child reads like a pro. Dolly’s Imagination Library has sent Mattie a book a month since her birth. Is it any wonder she has read more books than any child in her class?? Thanks, Dolly!

Travis Signs
I have not heard enough from Travis Tritt recently and am happy to hear he has signed a management deal with Parallel Entertainment. J.P. Williams is the man in charge, and it is also home to Larry the Cable Guy.

Grammy Country
Country songs inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame this year include “Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys, “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson and “Steel Guitar Rag” by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, featuring Leon McAuliffe.

Cowboy News
ACM Artist of the Decade George Strait has teamed up with Wrangler to release George Strait Cowboy Love Songs, available exclusively at select Wrangler Specialty Apparel outlets nationwide. With the purchase of $50 worth of Wrangler apparel, music lovers will receive the collector CD free.

Big Alan
Alan Jackson‘s No. 1 smash “As She’s Walking Away” with Zac Brown Band has a Grammy nomination for best country collaboration with vocals. The song is included on Alan’s just-released 34 Number Ones collection.

Martina
Martina McBride performed “America the Beautiful” during ceremonies at NASCAR’s 2010 Sprint Cup Series Awards at the Wynn in Las Vegas.

Number One
Did you know that the Grascals CD The Famous Lefty Flynn’s was No. 1 for four months on the Bluegrass Unlimited album chart and their single “Last Train to Clarksville” is also No. 1. The group has formed their own imprint, BluGrascal Records. The group’s next album, The Grascals & Friends – Country Classics With a Bluegrass Spin, will be available exclusively at Cracker Barrel locations on Jan. 10.

Kenny’s Announcement
Kenny Chesney announced his first-ever New York and New Jersey area stadium concert slated for Aug. 13, 2011. Kenny, Zac Brown Band, Billy Currington and Uncle Kracker will be on hand.

Jack and Craig
Jack Daniel’s and Craig Morgan are joining up with the USO as the Toast to the Troops tour rolls on with upcoming events at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. Jack Daniel’s has been collecting personal messages in the form of toasts to include in USO care packages. Stuffing parties held at several military installations across the country and a performance by Morgan are a part of the agenda. Care packages will total 150,000 for MacDill and will be presented to troops deploying to Afghanistan, Iraq and other overseas locations.

Off to the Grammy Awards
Marty Stuart has two Grammy noms — for best country collaboration with vocals for “I Run to You,” a duet written and sung with his wife, country music queen Connie Smith, and for best country instrumental for “Hummingbird,” his tribute to the late Clarence White.

Bill Anderson
Bill Anderson is tickled to death over the fact that Bear Family Records will release his first boxed set next year. The package will be a five-CD compilation encompassing his recordings from 1958 through 1966. Plus the package also offers demo recordings of songs he wrote that became hits for other artists. Bill will celebrate his 50th anniversary at the Grand Ole Opry in 2011.

Phil Headlines 2011
Phil Vassar is set to ring in the New Year at Music Town’s Bash on Broadway. The free block party starts at 7:30 p.m. on Lower Broadway, and along with great music and fireworks, there will be a guitar drop at midnight.

See this week’s Hot Dish Recipe: [news id="1654004"]Chicken Soup.[/news]