'80s - Deborah Gibson
'No Longer A Teen Queen ... Now An All-Round Entertainer'
Deborah Ann Gibson was born August 31, 1970, in Long Island, New York. With her family always behind her, Deborah wanted to delve into show business at an early age and began songwriting at the age of five.
She also took her talent to the stage of the Community Theater, with her sisters. Three years later, she was part of the children's chorus at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
By the time she signed to Atlantic Records at age 16, Deborah had already showed off her vocal skills on Broadway, in various shows. Although Deborah was gradually paving her way in the industry, she was a normal student at Sanford H. Calhoun High School, where she was a cheerleader.
In 1987, Deborah (then Debbie) Gibson's first album was released, titled Out of the Blue. It spawned the hits "Only In My Dreams," "Foolish Beat" and the title track. The success of "Foolish Beat" made Debbie the youngest artist to have written, produced and performed a Number 1 song (at the time). With over 5 million copies sold, Debbie set on to continue her success with her follow-up album, Electric Youth.
Released in 1989, Electric Youth went triple platinum, and spawned the title track and the single, "Lost In Your Eyes." The latter earned the New York Music Award for Song of the Year in 1990, while Deborah took home the same award for Best Pop Female Vocalist that same year.
Debbie had just forged a name for herself in the music industry, but in 1992, she returned to theater as Eponine in the Broadway production of Les Miserables. In the years that followed, Deborah played opposite roles as Sandy and Rizzo (respectively), in productions of Grease, and was also cast as Fanny Brice in the Broadway production of Funny Girl.
In 1990, Anything Is Possible was released and was certified Gold, while Body Mind Soul was released in 1993. 1995 saw the release of Think With Your Heart as well as a Greatest Hits album, and her self-titled album, Deborah hit shelves in 1997.
In the meantime, Deborah had returned to Broadway again, this time as Belle in Beauty and the Beast, and Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy at the Paper Mill Playhouse. You may have also recognized her voice as the narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and stepped into the shoes of Cinderella as the title role of the national production.
Her most recent album, M.Y.O.B (Mind Your Own Business) was released in 2001, and features material written and co-written by Deborah. It was released on her own label, Golden Egg Records.
While it doesn't seem like Deborah has time to do anything but sing and act, she created her own Broadway musical called Skirts in 2001, and starred, executive produced and musically supervised a VH-1 movie titled, Teen Queens.
Deborah also has a long acting resume to add to her musical and theatrical careers; she has appeared in Beverly Hills 90210, Step by Step,' and the films 'Ghostbusters,' 'My Girlfriend's Boyfriend,' 'My Ex-Girlfriend's Wedding Reception, and most recently 'Coffee Date.'
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of American Bandstand's debut, Time Life, through an exclusive arrangement with Dick Clark Productions, is releasing a 12-CD box set, Dick Clark's American Bandstand 50th Anniversary Collection. It highlights 25 years of music (spanning the late '50s to early '80s) from America's longest running music entertainment show. The collection will be introduced in a half hour music show filmed on a re-creation of the Bandstand set, featuring music and videos of the artists and classic clips of the teenage guest audience doing the latest dances on the show. The show will also sell the product. Along with Deborah also co-hosting will be popular music icon Frankie Avalon. The show will air nationally beginning on August 24th to coincide with the collection's official release date.
Finally, when she's not busy at work, Deborah is an active supporter of charities like Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and St. Mary's Children & Families Foundation.
At age seventeen (and ten months), you were the youngest person to write, produce, and perform a Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit single (in the U.S.) with your song "Foolish Beat". But, back then was it such a big deal to you? "Oh yes, that was actually one of my hugest moments personally. Because I fought really hard to record my own music and everybody told me that because I wasn't a proven songwriter, and because I was young that I should just take outside songs. Which makes me have extreme respect for Kelly Clarkson's whole deal right now where she's really standing up for doing her own thing. Because nobody in the whole world can predict what's gonna be a hit and what's not."
So even at a young age you knew what direction you wanted to take "Well, I just had this extreme desire to express myself my way and I thought no 50 year-old male songwriter can know what a 16 year-old girl is feeling. Unless you're Hugh Hefner maybe," she laughs. "So that was huge for me. That was huger than probably anything else up until that moment. Then I won the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year and that was like my other hugest moment. And I've got nominated for an AMA which was amazing, but that didn't feel the same as any songwriting honor."
At such a young age and in such a white hot spotlight, did you ever feel the pressure to better the last single, always striving for a little more musically than before? "You know, no I didn't ... and I'll give you a really good example of that. When I released 'Electric Youth' it was like a six and a half minute song and had all these different little dance breaks in it. And everybody said that if they edit it it would probably be a #1 single. But, if they didn't edit it it might just only go Top 20. And I was like, even though I knew it sounded silly, I really felt that as it had this anthem feel that came from all those musical transitions, that without them it would feel so ordinary. So, I would rather have it be not so high on the charts but have it come out in its entirety. And I think it hit #11, but for it in that form to go #11 was a huge accomplishment."
"So, I never really cared about the numbers 'cause people assume that 'Only In My Dreams' was a #1 hit, but it was only like 3 or 4. Things feel like a hit to people that weren't. And I've had other songs go Top 40 and no one ever heard them! So, I realized that the numbers didn't really matter. So, no I didn't really have that particular desire. I just had this desire to always express who I was and where I was in the moment."
What happened musically with regard your third album, Anything Is Possible? "Well, yeah, ... I came out with that third album which didn't do as well as the first two as it had more of an old school approach to it. In that it had eight ballads and eight up tempos and kinda had a theme in that way. And again, everybody cautioned me and said that they want to keep it short, sweet and to the point. And I said this is what I'm going through. They said that it didn't have a direction and so I told them that was because I was going through a transition and that so many people of my age also had no direction! So, I wanted to reflect that."
Do you recall when this old school vibe first attracted you? "I always had an old school artist mentality. I grew up with people like Billy Joel who'd have one album that hit the bulls eye and then he'd have an album that didn't really sell as many copies. But those were the albums that the diehard fans hold on to and cherish because they weren't the albums for everybody. So I think there's something to that. As over time that's what creates a career more than just a string of random hits."
At what point did you realize that you had turned into an American Music Icon ... and was there ever a point where you felt like an industry puppet? "Honestly, when you're in the middle of something you can't possibly look at it. It's only just hit me in the past few years I sold out Madison Square Garden! I was like 'Holy Cow, I sold out Madison Square Garden'! It can't hit you at the time ... you're just gradually walking up this stair case, on your step and in your zone. Like for me, when I was doing my shows I did the exact same vocal warm up for it as if I was doing a 20 minute set in a club for 200 people - in the first year of my career - or if I was playing for 20,000 people. So, I've had this same weird point of reference that was very much about my voice and just getting in a zone to get on any stage. And I wasn't giving much weight to what kind of stage it was, what venue it was, how many people were there. I just wasn't thinking about it a lot."
So, no crazy times come to mind then? "I guess there are moments like the press schedules that were so crazy - when you're in that moment. Every country in the world wants you there at the same time. I remember going to Japan and coming back to the US for a matter of weeks, and then I had to turn around and go back to Australia. And you'd think somebody would have thought that while I was on the other side of the world too bad it couldn't have worked out that I could have stayed on the other side of the world! So that's when you're definitely a bit like a ping pong ball, but I never thought of it like, 'Oh God, this is so hard. I'm just such a puppet.' I was so young, so excited, and I think that as I didn't admit it at the time that there was any aspect of it that was difficult, that got me into a little bit of mental / emotional trouble. Because I was so ... and even how I talk about it now it's probably not the healthiest thing because I think about the good part, the good part, the good part. Because you feel like nobody wants to hear somebody who's on top of the world whining and complaining."
"But yeah, it definitely was exhausting. I look back at pictures of me at that time and I swear I look older then than I do now, in a way. Because I was constantly fatigued. You're running to keep up and you're running to stay mentally healthy, vocally healthy, physically healthy and that's difficult. I look at a lot of people today and I feel for them and wonder how each individual artist does it. I look at someone like Beyonce, 'cause I feel like she's been so on the go. She just goes, and goes, and goes and I've never heard her hit a bad note. I think man, how is she on all these planes and her throat doesn't get dry. And she seems to stay grounded. Whatever people are doing to accomplish that they're working really hard at it to make it seem effortless."
A few years ago 'Debbie' transformed into 'Deborah' ... a sign of growth and a new musical approach, perhaps? "It was actually a return to the old me, if that makes sense? I was called Deborah growing up until my record came out. The record company really wanted to go with Debbie. At one point they had actually wanted to change my name entirely. They just didn't like the ring of my name so they were going to call me just Deborah with no last name. Because at the time there was so many one hit wonder bimbo dance artists and I was like that's certainly not what I want to represent. There was also Tiffany who wasn't using a last name ... so when it came around to Debbie I said, 'Fine, I'll take it!'"
"And then the first time I had to shake someone's hand and introduce myself as Debbie Gibson it was like introducing myself as Ronald MacDonald! It was like I was saying some character's name and it never felt like me. I just got to a point where I tired of that and so I thought that name went with that music. But I have a long life ahead of me where I want to now introduce myself to people as me."
It still seems that even today the introduction phrase of ‘Popular Teen Music Icon’ still accompanies you everywhere! Is this good or bad for Deborah? "What makes me laugh is that I joke that I'll be 65 years-old and the headline will still be 'She's All Grown Up'! Like, they still write that and I think, 'My God, I'm turning 37 in two weeks so I've been grown up for quite some time. So yeah, the needle definitely gets stuck. But at the same time I totally understand it so I don't cringe. I also go to a place of like it's nice to have had such an impact where you have any title in life. So, if they say 'Former Teen Queen' it's really fine. I'd love to get referred to as an all round entertainer. A lot of times I'll do a show and get introduced as 'America's Original Pop Princess' which I love, as it's kind of fun. And, unless you live in New York a lot of people aren't aware that I've had a Broadway career. So, people have all these different titles and perceptions about me and none of them are usually exactly right. So, I've learnt that everybody has their own experience with you and whatever that is it is."
And recently you agreed to be a co-host [along with Frankie Avalon] to help promote the new 'American Bandstand - 50th Anniversary Box-Set' "Yes, ... I usually turn down a lot of quote-unquote infomercials as I can't sell something that I don't love. So, when I got called about this I was like, 'Where do I sign up?!' I didn't even care what the deal was! I remember getting the call telling me that I was going to be on Bandstand 'cause I made it in right under the wire. And I got to be on it twice in the late '80s."
What was your own history with 'AB'? "I grew up hearing my mom talking about what Bandstand meant to her ... and just like in 'Hairspray' where they go and dance in front of that TV watching The Corny Collins Show every day after school, that was my mom. It just really is a show that is connected to so many generations and created stars. If you were on Bandstand it meant your record was going to sell more. And Dick Clark produced the AMA's - and I hosted one year - and he's been this little part of my life over these past years."
"And so when I heard Frankie Avalon's name ... well, they could have told me that I was co-hosting with Justin Timberlake and I wouldn't have been as excited as them telling me Frankie Avalon! I so respect people that pioneered music and he's one of them. And those people really paved the way and did all the leg work. And he still looks like Teen Angel in 'Grease'! He still looks like a teenager!"
When you made your first appearance on AB were you nervous or was it just another show to perform and get through? "No, it wasn't just another show for me at all. I wasn't nervous ... I was just terribly honored. I just remember looking over at Dick in the bleachers introducing me thinking, 'Oh my God, how much black and white footage have I seen of that man in that location introducing people ... and he's about to say MY name'?! I just got goose bumps saying that because it was such a trip. I also got to shoot the same day as INXS who were label mates at the time. I hadn't met them before. That was a huge thrill and I have a picture with them that was taken outside the studio that's in my house."
March 2005 = Playboy pictorial! Nervous as hell or relaxed and carefree at the time?! "You know what, relaxed and carefree. I think I'm a lot different than people think I am in the sense that I'm a lot more free spirited. I also grow and change with the times. And so old concepts of nudity are just that, old concepts. My friends just went, 'Boobs and booty ... that's just a day on South Beach'! Somebody was talking the other day about Britney Spears getting out of that car and I did Playboy and I showed a lot less than that! So yes, it was a very liberating experience. They are one of the most professional and respectful organizations you could ever work with. Every 'I' is dotted, every 'T' is crossed. I got approval over everything. In the end the nudity becomes secondary to the whole experience."
"And I'd just done 'Cabaret' on Broadway, which was a very sexually aggressive show where the audience is two feet away from me and you're in this little corset and boots! That, I swear made me feel more naked appearing in that show - and I don't mean physically naked, just feeling so vulnerable - than the photo shoot. And I knew I would have fun with the aftermath of it. I knew that when people do have a perception of you if you step out of it they get very flustered by it. And they were actually looking at me wondering why I wasn't getting more flustered! In the end I didn't think that it would help or hurt me. I just knew that it was an experience that I wanted to have."
May 2007 = The world premiere of "Electric Youth: The Musical" at The Starlight Theatre in Orlando, FL. Have you seen it yet and what did you think? "Oh I have. I went all week and took notes. I actually just got sent the DVD of it and an updated script. Basically, I want to dive in and do some rewriting. It was a great first go round. I've written original musicals before so I know that it's a long process. Because something that doesn't work on the page can surprise you on stage and something that you thinks’ gonna work on the stage just doesn't. So, until you get it on its feet you just don't know."
Please tell us more about another musical you are preparing called 'The Flunky’ "Yes, I wrote this musical with Jimmy Van Patten called 'The Flunky.' It's almost like 'Entourage: The Musical,' in a way. It's about how this guy's really given up on his own life to just be around celebrities. And that's such a phenomenon in LA. People just don't care how they get famous ... they'll be famous by association. I mean, people's assistants are even famous now! We're doing some re-writing, we've done a reading in LA, and so we either want to do a reading in New York or put it up straight away. Because it's such a quirky musical that in the theatre world you do a workshop for producers and I don't think this is the kind of musical that the theatre snobs are gonna love. The people are what could make it and break it. But I think that the people, the real people are gonna love it and I would love to just get it directly to them."
And you are also to be found acting in the new DVD movie called ‘Coffee Date’! "Yes, this is this little independent movie that I did and my character is so fun; although I'm still dying to do something more grounded at some point! But, basically I play this girl who only likes this guy in an office when I think that he's gay and I think that I can convince him to be straight! Like, I'm somebody who craves drama and wants to know that I can change someone. I'm kinda like the twisted office vamp!"
Will there be a new music CD out soon, perhaps? "Funny you should ask that as I'm recording a vocal tonight. I'm working on new music for a foreign label. Basically they gave me a budget to do three songs to hear what I'm up to to see if they want to do a full album or not. And if they don't feel these songs are for them then I will shop it elsewhere. But, yes I am doing new music and I'm ready for that real Round 2. I've had a lot of phases in my career but I'm ready for the OK-I'm-About-To-Start-The-Rest-Of-My-Life-And-I-Want-To-Kick-It-Off-With-A-Big-Fat-Hit-Record phase! That's just the place that I'm at."
"I just love that a lot of the women dong music right now are my age and older. And so as much as people like to focus on the ones that are getting younger and younger, I think that the staples in the music industry are all hovering around forty years-old ... and I want to be a part of that. And I kind of have that eternally youthful - not youthful in a silly way - approach to it all. I love connecting with both a young and old audience. Which is really what I'd like to do with this new music."
Will you be touring any time soon? "I would love to. I'm in talks with Vegas right now also ... with my ultimate goal to be to sit in Vegas. To perform the new music, the Broadway music and the old music."
An upcoming Autobiography, perhaps? "You're asking all the perfect questions as I'm in talks about that as well. Things are circular and it's a little over 20 years now since I started. There just comes a point when it's time for all that stuff. And it's time to write a book that isn't just a straight up autobiography - as I'm not 80! But at the same time I've lived a really long, full life in my profession. So, I think I have an interesting vantage point - to write from the point of view of what's happening now in the business vs. what was happening then. Because I'm in it now and I was in it then and I think there's a unique book to be written about why all these young girls are freaking out? Not in a judgmental way but to try and really get behind the mindset of what goes on."
"In this day and age of American Idol everybody wants to be in music and everybody wants to be a star. But I'd love for there to be people that want to be singers, not 'stars.' And so I think for those people they that would be able to get a lot out of what I have to say."
Twenty years ago would you have gone on American Idol? "I would have been first in line," she laughs. "And I think I would have done well because I'm versatile. And they have all those theme weeks."
Lastly, would you like to put the record straight about an issue / headline that you’ve read about yourself that is / was just so untrue? "Wow, what an amazing question. I'm pretty lucky 'cause I don't have lot of weird things written about me. I mean, this is a silly one but there was this whole thing last year that I was dating this guy that was moving into my house. But that only lasted about 3 weeks so that was incorrect," she laughs. "I'm not really into gassing up my car and alerting the media," she laughs again, one final time.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk