May 24, 2004 08:00 AM

When you’re hot, you’re hot, as Diana DeGarmo realizes.

The American Idol finalist, whose ultimate fate will be decided this week (the third season finale of the FOX talent hunt airs live Wednesday) already is in gear to start work on a CD.

“My plans are definitely just to keep the ball rolling – don’t stop while people know who I am,” the 16-year-old tells the Associated Press.

“It’s crazy to think that of 70,000 people, little me from Snellville, the youngest girl in the competition, has made it this far,” DeGarmo added. “I’m just so excited to be on such a great show that has helped me in my career, no matter what.”

Judge Simon Cowell has already stated for the record that he believes DeGarmo will take the crown. The general consensus, echoed by all the judges – including last week’s guest arbiter, respected music producer and Whitney Houston’s mentor, Clive Davis – is that Diana’s rival, 19-year-old Fantasia Barrino, is such a talented powerhouse that she doesn’t need the show, which makes Diana an underdog favorite.

To accommodate the monster tally that is expected, FOX is allowing four hours instead of the usual two for members of the public to cast votes by telephone.

In Diana’s home state of Georgia, Gov. Sonny Perdue has invited DeGarmo’s family, friends and neighbors from her hometown of Snellville to the governor’s mansion to watch Tuesday’s show and vote, Perdue spokesman Dan McLagan said Sunday. He added that about 300 people are expected to accept the invitation.

Diana, meanwhile, says that when she and Fantasia were first told they had made the top 12, “We made a pact we were going to stick together to the end, no matter what, and you know what? It worked.”

Diana says her rival “has a beautiful voice, a very unique voice that really makes her Fantasia,” while Fantasia, from High Point, N.C., said Sunday that Diana has a “more powerful” voice than Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera.

“If I heard her sing a song on the radio I’d say ‘There’s Diana.’ There’s nobody like her,” said the powerhouse.

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