SNELLVILLE (July 2004) - She belongs to America and the world now, but many in Snellville and Gwinnett County will always remember Diana Degarmo as "our little girl."
I first met Diana in 1995 when she was six years old. We were planning the second Relay For Life in Gwinnett and looking for some good talent for the Friday night entertainment. Committee member Joy Purvis, owner of a talent and modeling school, told us about a little girl with a whole lot of talent that would love to be part of the event. (Joy now owns Hot Shot Kids in Atlanta).
We had an Elvis impersonator that evening – a very good one, but it was Diana Degarmo who stole the show. Coming on stage in her black sequined shorts outfit, complete with top hat, we were amazed that so much talent could be packed into one tiny body. Six years old and a powerhouse of a voice!
In those days and until this spring, most of Diana’s appearances were gratis to give her exposure and experience. But that wasn’t the only reason Diana and her mom agreed to her performances over the next four years in the Gwinnett Relay.
At the time, Diana was competing in beauty and talent pageants in different parts of the country along with several other young girls in and around Gwinnett County.
One of them was Heather Johnson, another talented youngster whose possible career was cut short when growing pains in her left leg turned out to be osteogenic sarcoma, a deadly type of bone cancer. She lost her leg and was undergoing chemotherapy that resulted in total hair loss, extreme nausea and lack of energy.
Heather was Gwinnett’s Honorary Childhood Cancer Chair that year and at the young age of six, Diana wanted to do something to help fight cancer and somehow help her friend.
When Heather lost her battle the following year, shortly before the 1996 Relay, Diana and her friends did a special memorial at the event and Diana sang at the Luminaria Ceremony in memory of Heather.
That was typical Diana Degarmo. In all the years she performed at Relay, I never saw a hint of temperament or expecting special treatment. She was always polite to the nth degree, accepting her tremendous talent with a grain of salt.
On stage, she was a professional. Offstage she was a little girl who had fun with her friends, but aware of the plight of those with cancer and wanting to help.
The last time I spoke with Brenda, she and Diana were headed for Dollywood, where Diana would be performing for the summer. That was a few years ago and while it’s been a few years since she had performed at Relay, like everyone who saw her on stage as a child, I was not at all surprised to see her on American Idol, nor at her success on the show.
As far as the enormous maturity she showed on the stage and the gracious manner in which she handled herself, to those who know her that was – well, just Diana.
There’s no doubt, Diana truly put Snellville on the map. 'Oh, that’s the town Diana is from,' people will say to me when I’m traveling and mention where I live.
“She exemplifies the ideal American teen,” they will go on to say. Then, “Is she really that nice?”
And I’m always delighted to say. “Yes, she is. Nice, sincere and what my mother would have called, an old soul.”
Good luck in your career, Diana. It’s been said before, but can’t be repeated too often – you will always be our American Idol.