American Idol may have ended its long reign this past spring, but one thing that will last far beyond Ryan Seacrest’s frosted tips is the love between Season 3 runner up Diana DeGarmo and Season 5 heartthrob Ace Young. They never met in Hollywood, but instead connected on Broadway when they replaced Caissie Levy and Will Swenson as the on-and-off lovers, Sheila and Berger, in the 2009 Broadway revival of Hair.
Young credits his wife for paving the way for American Idol alums like Fantasia Barrino, Taylor Hicks, Constantine Maroulis and Justin Guarini finding success on Broadway. The Georgia native took over the role of Penny Pingleton in the 2002 production of Hairspray in 2006. Young made his Broadway debut in 2008 as Kenickie in the 2007 revival of Grease (which also starred Hicks as Teen Angel). Since then they’ve each juggled songwriting, recording and theatre careers. The couple returned to the American Idol stage to get engaged, and shortly after they were married in 2013, they hit the road to star in the 2014 National Tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This summer, Young enjoys his wife’s “fun, quirky side” while she plays the ditzy high-school senior, Suzy Simpson, in the Off-Broadway sock hop-style musicalThe Marvelous Wonderettes. When DeGarmo finishes her run this week, they will return to their homebase in Nashville and finish up their upcoming solo albums. DeGarmo plans to release hers at the end of the year, and Young’s will be ready in early 2017.
I was just re-watching your proposal on the Season 11 finale of American Idol. It was amazing.
Ace Young: Thank you. It was the only way I could catch Diana off guard, because every time we go [back to Idol] we’re ready to hop, skip, jump and do whatever they ask of us, so I knew [she’d be distracted].
Diana DeGarmo: It still feels like a dream, like it happened, but it didn’t really happen in real life because it was so perfect.
Was that the first time you were on the American Idol stage together?
AY: The first time we were actually onstage together was for Simon Cowell’s last show [in 2010].
DD: While we were doing Hair, where we met, Idol asked us to come back for Simon’s finale. Flash forward two years later and that was the proposal.
When you met in Hair, did you really connect over being contestants on American Idol? Was it weird to go back for Simon Cowell’s last show?
DD: When we first met, we didn’t have to talk about American Idol, which was kind of refreshing for both of us. It was just like, “Oh yeah, I got you.” We actually never had a full-blown conversation about it until almost two years into our relationship.
AY: It felt like we went to the same college and knew the same professors, and that everybody had their opinions on everybody, but we knew them on a different level.
DD: When we went to Idol in 2010, it was very strange because I had a different history with the show then Ace did—everybody loves Ace. It was really scary for me to go back, but he ended up being kind of like my security for the show. By this point we had been doing Hair for so long, and we were like cohorts in crime. We were like, “Okay, we’re here as hippies. We’re not here as Idol performers.” That was a big moment for me, knowing I could go back on my own terms, because I was 16 [years old] on the show, so there were a lot of things personally, for me, that were different. Thank God. That was the beginning of realizing what our relationship had started to become. We were protecting one another and helping each other get through things like that.
Going back to when you first met, who made the actual first move?
DD: Diane Paulus. On our very first day of rehearsal she walked up to us and said, “You two are going to have to be very comfortable with each other very quickly, so I’m just going to need you to go ahead and kiss each other right now and just get it over with in front of everyone.”
That sounds a little unromantic!
DD: We were replacing the Broadway company that had been together for so long, and we had some big shoes to fill. We had over 20 new [castmembers] coming in and only had two-and-a-half weeks to learn the show. [Diane] was like, “I need you guys to hang out as much as possible because you’re the leaders of this group, and you have to be the most comfortable together,” so we started going to lunch and dinner every day and walking to and from the hotel [we were both staying at], because we were both from out of town during rehearsal, and we just instantly became really great friends. We were extremely comfortable with each other way faster than most people usually are. We got to see each other naked within the first month of knowing each other, but because it was our job, we could poke fun at one another and laugh. It was completely platonic. When the show closed, we didn’t realize how much we would miss each other until the other one was gone. It [turned into] this kind of weird long distance friendship thing, and next thing you know I had to go to L.A. [where Ace was living] for work. A year after that we were engaged.
Even though your first kiss was technically “work,” did it feel different?
DD: The entire Hair experience was so electric. We had so many brand new experiences and everyone was living their lives in this bright, charismatic fashion that you weren’t sure if you were caught up in being in the show, or if it was something else. The show was so unique. It really was an event. Once that was over, and the dust had settled, that’s when we really realized that there was more there than just our characters.
How did you decide on Nashville as a home together?
AY: Nashville picked us. We love producing music and writing songs, whether it’s for ourselves or for other artists. We have a recording studio, and we have friends all over the place that are working on songs with us—amazing guitarists, songwriters and producers. When we were traveling in Joseph… we fell in love with Nashville. We had both been there individually, but we didn’t realize how many of our friends lived there already, so when we were there everybody was coming out of the wood work. In California we were jumping around, going from job to job and I didn’t really get to hang out with my friends as much as I would have liked to. It’s the same thing in New York. You’re working on a show eight times a week and you don’t really get that time, but in Nashville it’s the exact opposite. Everybody is relaxed, everything is creative. You can write an amazing song with an amazing friend or you can just hang out all day and do nothing. It’s just a very relaxing feeling, especially when I have time between gigs and I get to see green trees, huge land and nice people. It makes you want to write a song and sing.
DD: It’s our place to recharge and refuel our batteries, but we’re also easily inspired by Tennessee. We’ve been working a lot with a theatre down there called Studio Tenn [DeGarmo played Dorothy in their 2015 production of The Wizard of Oz], where Eden Espinosa is going to be doing Evita [in September]. Nashville is kind of where all of our worlds—songwriting, my Southern roots, Ace’s mountain-man outdoor roots, musical theatre—collide peacefully. We’re constantly moving anyway, so it was nice to find a place that is our touchstone—a little oasis for us.
Watch highlights of Young and DeGarmo in the tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: