While Season 8 rockets to a grand finale this month, American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi reveals a romantic tale of love and luck right here at her getaway home in Prospect Harbor.
Interview by Colin Sargent
Tell us about your oceanfront getaway in Maine and how you met your Maine man fiancé Michael McCuddy.
I bought my house in Prospect Harbor in 2004. It's in this amazing cove. You can see tidal water all the way out to infinity. I'd been away for a while, working, and when I got back to Maine after a few months I looked and saw that another house was being built close to my house, and it kind of annoyed me. I went along, did my thing, called my friends up and asked, "What's up with this house?"
At that time, this new house was for sale, but the owner/builder only wanted to sell it to another Mainer that;s the thing with you Mainers-and finally he just decided to keep it himself.
My fiancé was not the owner but the general contractor.
The thing I remember most was seeing him on the roof. He was wearing these really cute shorts that didn't look at all like what a contractor would wear. I thought, he's really cool. I thought, wow, contractors look that good in Maine?
Wait a minute Michael wants to come to the phone.
Michael: We were working four days and then breaking and going back to Bangor as a crew. We kept working, and then we looked down [from the roof, to some rocks or a table] and saw five Corona Lights left out for us, with limes. We built a bonfire, and then, out of the dark, we heard the voices of Kara and her friend Becky. There they were, head to toe in their Hollywood outfits and fabulous clothes, and there I was
So, Kara, you and your Maine man Michael fell in love?
Well, he's not a true Mainer. His daughter is a true Mainer. Michael was born in New Hampshire and later moved to Bangor.
It's funny, but I was at an emotional time in my life when I met Michael. We met on the tenth anniversary of my mom's death. She's buried in Worcester.
How does your house here reflect your personality, and how does the house Michael worked on next door reflect his?
He likes a lot of wood, Mike, so there's a lot of wood in that house.
In my house, I have my grandmother's couch, beautifully reupholstered, and my grandfather's bed. It really grounds me.
What was it about the coast here that first attracted you?
I had a really close relationship with my grandparents, who were from New England, and I often remember times with them as I walk around the ocean, eat dinner with the people I love, do things I don't have time for in L.A. Coming to Prospect Harbor takes me back to my time when I felt the most loved, felt so connected with my surroundings.
I love to go outside and breathe the fresh air. I recently bought a log cabin about a mile down the street where we cut firewood for a woodstove. We go in the back woods and explore. There are some beautiful fir trees back there, they seem a little, you know, bonsai.
Michael (in the background, laughing): Not bonsai trees, they're spruce trees!
Kara: My favorite thing to do is take a glass of wine and a book - recently Eat, Love, Pray, and listen to the sound of the sea while I'm reading. We go to the corner store. We raid the library. At night during a recent visit, I watched the whole series of Mad Men. I listen to WBACH and terrorize everybody in the house. It's a fabulous station. I drink coffee and look at the water. I love the view so much I brought back the photo looking through my window in Maine to L.A. so that I can keep seeing it while I'm here. I have my famous Maine lobster slippers I've brought to L.A., and little Maine socks.
What are your favorite haunts up here?
We love Ellsworth. We go to Cleonice [Mediterranean Bistro, 112 Main Street]. And, of course, Bangor, because when we were first dating we'd see Michael's place. I went to 'The Gov' [Governor's Restaurant, 643 Broadway]. That's nice. Every time I was out of coffee, the waitress kept filling it up. I didn't think that happened anymore!
Take us through your house as if you'd just invited us in.
It's a sea captain's house from the 1800s. You enter through the kitchen. You can see the water everywhere, straight back to the dining and living rooms. To the left is the old entryway, now a reading room. Three bedrooms upstairs all look out to the water.
Have any of the songs you write been inspired by Maine? So if we hear Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, or The Pussycat Dolls singing about bonsai trees...
I don't work in Maine-it's such great downtime. I just love coming because it gives me the time to recognize and feel the beauty of the world. I like to cook Maine lobster, boiled.
The acid test is, how do you feel about 'steamahs'?
Clams, not a big clam girl. I had an issue with a clam once. Never quite got over it.
I love just being with my fiancé and his daughter. We love our neighbors, too-you have this whole neighbor thing in Maine. It feels like we're building our own [social] quilt. Bill and Susan [Burke] Leonardi live next door to us. We have dinner together. We participate in a charity, Hardy's Friends, that Susan started. It's to help people purchase kibbles and medicine for their dogs [Hardy's Friends, P.O. Box 63, Prospect Harbor, ME 04669].
Which of your fellow judges on Idol has the best temperament to enjoy Prospect Harbor the way you can?
I think Randy would be the best guy to be up there. He'd be like, "Dog, this place is beautiful!' I don't know if Simon would do well in Maine. I don't know about Simon in Maine. I'm not sure. He'd be so cold. He'd freeze his mouth!
Is Michael a Red Sox fan?
Of course! He wears that stupid hat all the time.
I think you know where we're going with this. We weren't worried about the Hollywood part. We can handle that. But as a New Rochelle native and the daughter of a New York congressman, you aren't, by any chance, a Yankees fan, are you? How do you guys work this out?
My grandpa was a New Englander-he lived in Worcester-so I have this duality.
If the state of Maine were a contestant on American Idol, what would you tell it after an audition?
Well, I think these are the things you;re going to have to work on. You need a little bit of the glam to remember you by. You're a little too understated. You have to learn to show off a little bit about it. You've got to make an impression, so you ought to notch that up quickly. Here's the good part about you. You're real. You've got heart. And once people get to know you, they're going to fall in love with you.
For a clip of Kara vs. Bikini Girl: portlandmonthly.com/kara
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