TODAY   |  August 21, 2013

Dollywood to undergo $300M expansion, creating jobs

Dolly Parton is not only a superstar actress and singer, but also the owner of a theme park bearing her name. Now she’s investing over $300 million into new Dollywood projects that will add thousands of jobs. TODAY’s Willie Geist reports.

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>>> in the world of country music it does not get much bigger than dolly parton . she is a legendary singer and song writer and actress and entrepreneur. she shared big news with willie geist in an exclusive interview.

>> reporter: it may feel like dolly parton has always been a living legend but she once was a self-described dirt poor little girl here in tennessee.

>> i came in here on dolly parton parkway and we're sitting outside a giant theme park that bears your name. what would that little girl in the cabin think about you right now.

>> she would be overwhelmed but excited. because i always dreamed big. i was always telling momma some big something. she would say you and your dreams. i wanted to get out and see the world and know what was beyond these hills.

>> reporter: dolly didn't waste any time beginning her climb.

>> you sang at the grand old opry by the time you were 13 years old. it was pretty clear you were destined for big things . but do you remember when you said i think i made it.

>> i don't think i reached that point now.

>> come on, there's a theme park with your name on it.

>> there is. but they're steps, though, because i'm always dreaming of bigger and better things.

>> reporter: an icon and ground breaker many times over from the studio to the stage and the big screen . she is the most honored female country performer of all time. she sold more than 100 million records worldwide.

>> if you had to pick one song to sing from the dolly parton catalog which would it be?

>> that's a tricky question. but my personal favorite song is the coat of many colors . it's a true story . it always makes you think of momma and daddy and appreciate them. it's what family stands for.

>> reporter: her family and her roots are always front and center. that's why he built dollywood, back home, in tennessee's smoky mountains .

>> did anybody tell you were crazy when you said you were going to start a theme park .

>> yeah, a lot of my business people , my lawyers and accountants said this is not a good thing for you to do. i said well i'm going to do it anyway because i know that it's the right thing to do.

>> reporter: they should have known better than to doubt dolly .

>> hey there.

>> reporter: opening in 1986 , her park became just her latest hit.

>> my name is jolene.

>> really? good to see you.

>> reporter: in dolly 's kingdom, as you might imagine, she is royalty.

>> i'm like a cinderella to them. an overexaggerated doll.

>> do you still get a big thrill from a crowd dolly ? here or on stage.

>> i do.

>> reporter: amidst the glitz, a reminder of where she has come. a replica of the home where she grew up just a stones throw from the park.

>> why is it important to put it here?

>> the center of things. the heart of the matter so to speak.

>> reporter: now her dream will get bigger.

>> we just made a $300 million commitment, which is more money than we spent, but part of that is we're going to start a new resort which is also a dream of mine from the time i started the spark.

>> reporter: in that expansion thousands of jobs will be created. she'll unveil a new family roller coaster and in 2015 a brand new resort hotel.

>> it has a southern flair but very classy.

>> reporter: dolly parton is full speed ahead and popular as ever and she shows no signs of slowing down.

>> i'm 67 now. i feel like i'm just starting. i really do. i feel like i've had a chance to really get to be part of and enjoy this. not something that was left behind. i'm still trying to grow and come up with new dreams every day and make them come true.

>> what a great spot. we just happen to have willie with us now on vacation but on the phone. willie , watching you two walk arm in arm, did you have a good time in dollywood.

>> yes, i'm with dolly in puerto rico . we're still strolling arm in arm.

>> nice.

>> she is one of the most magnetic, charismatic, charming human beings that i've ever met in my life. it was such a thrill to be around her. you see the crowd, you saw it in the spees, there's 10-year-old girls named jolene who are screaming fans of hers, the way they scream for one directions and adults that grew up on her music. she spans now three generations and they just love her down there.

>> well, you two seem to click. i liked it when she said she didn't feel like she made it yet and you said come on dolly .

>> there's an amusement park with your name on it.

>> yeah, i think when you have a theme park named for you, you have officially made it, it's safe to say.

>> sounds like you should go on the road, dolly and willie .

>> there you go.

>> you know what, don't twist my arm on that one. she was awesome.

>> willie , how's that pina pina coloda.

>> as you know, i'm here on assignment. investigative piece on the effects of umbrella drinks.

>> you're on the beach on a cell phone .

>> he's on a sailboat called assignment.

>> willie , great stuff. enjoy your vacation.