Jake Old: Interview with Dolly doesn't disappoint

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 11:47 PM

At a recent press event for the opening of Dollywood, I got a unique opportunity to meet a legend when I took part in a roundtable interview with Dolly Parton.

Perhaps I was not as excited for it as I should have been, because I’ve never been much of a country music fan. Don’t get me wrong. Everyone knows Dolly’s music, and as a musician, it’s nearly impossible for me to have anything less than the utmost respect for what she has accomplished as a musician. It’s just that personally, I never really listened to her much.

Before meeting her for the first time in person, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I really had to go on were television spots I had seen her on and commercials for Dollywood.

When all of the press members who were taking part in the roundtable — a total of five people — had gathered in the room where we would interview Dolly together, one of the public relations officials went over the rules of the interview.

No personal questions. No political questions. Not too many questions about old musicians she once performed with, but have now passed away (apparently an interviewer from the night before was harping on this). Nothing that might make her uncomfortable. No pictures.

This started sort of a pre-interview interview, in which one of the media members was running all of his potential questions by the public relations official to see if each would be OK to ask. When he asked one that would have been out of line, he was told that Dolly was in a good mood and that we should try to keep it that way. We didn’t want to see Dolly get angry.

To be completely honest, this piqued my curiosity, and part of me actually did want to see if she would get angry over some random question at a roundtable. From what little I had to go on, Dolly seemed like she would be a good interview, but this pre-screening made me fear she might be a bit of a diva.

This fear was quickly alleviated once Dolly walked into the room. The charisma I recalled seeing on television was immediately apparent.

As it turns out, she was a better interview than most people are, famous or not. She paid close attention to each question, answered it as thoroughly as she possibly could and even asked follow-up questions to the interviewer. If she didn’t care, she was really good at faking it (which, given how long she has been famous and how many interviews she has given, is a distinct possibility).

Her responses definitely seemed candid, and she had a sense of humor about herself. When asked about which actress would play her in a biographical movie and Reese Witherspoon was suggested, Dolly said Witherspoon would need “a big ole boob job,” which made everyone in the room erupt in laughter.

When I asked my question, which was about music, she answered it and even asked me if she gave the answer I was hoping for. She then asked me if she could make a comment — as if I would say no — and told me that I have a strange last name. She told me that she had known of lots of Youngs, but never any Olds. She wanted to know the history of the name, where it came from and if it was a shorter variation of a longer name. Somehow it had become her interviewing me.

Once it was revealed that it was the birthday of one of the media professionals in the room, Dolly insisted that we all sing happy birthday to him. Some of the others in the room were a bit timid about it, but I was more than happy to chime in with her. How many people can say that they sang with Dolly Parton?

Afterward someone in the room broke one of the rules given beforehand: asking for a photo with Dolly. I immediately looked over at the public relations representative to see what her reaction was, but she was a true professional. No reaction at all, just a smile. And Dolly was more than happy to oblige.

We took a group photo, and Dolly shook each person’s hand and said it was a pleasure to meet each one of us, even addressing us by name. Not only were my worries of her being a diva completely unfounded, she wound up being the most entertaining interview I’ve ever been part of.

Jake Old is a reporter for The Mountain Press. Call 428-0748, ext. 214, or email jold@themountainpress.com.