Growing up as a teenager in the 80’s, there was a colossal amount of energy and excitement behind one simple phrase “I want my MTV.” Every kid had their own list of favorite videos, artists and songs. It was time without the Internet and MTV was the hub to discover diverse artists. Moving forward to 2017, many pillars of the MTV Generation have long since faded away. There are trends, styles and sadly artists who are no longer with us any more. One artist has been working and evolving since then, still performing for her global fan base. With an abundance of talent, drive and a gifted voice, Debbie Gibson is still making great music and entertaining the world.
From humble beginnings in Merrick, New York to platinum records, touring globally and tearing up the Broadway stage. She is a dynamo with focused gifts and a passion to entertain. I was able to chat with her after her performance kicking off the Gay Days in Orlando.
Tell me about the love and support from your fans in the LGBT community.
Generally I have fans that have been following me for 30 years. It’s been so remarkable to me. In particular the LGBT community has literally been there for me since day one in the clubs. It’s amazing to be performing “Only In my Dreams” at a club 30 years later celebrating pride. I think we all feel that connection to each other and the music.
You have proven to be so much more than just a pop star. You are a full out entertainer. How has it been surfing the wave the entertainment industry since you were 16?
Thank you. In my 20s and 30’s I checked off most of the Broadway roles that I ever wanted to play. The ones that I didn’t play that I wanted to play are Peter Pan, Maria Von Trapp and Roxie Hart, which I still can do. (Laughs) I got to play all of my dream roles. My career has been crazy gratifying. I got to run from giant critters with Tiffany in the movie Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. It doesn’t get any better. (Laughs)
Can you share with me some of your “Oh my God I’m on Broadway” moments?
Oh my God, where do I start! (Laughs). I was in three Broadway shows and all had such great meaning to me, as did Grease in the West End. When I went into Les Miz I will never forget opening night. Richard Jay-Alexander, who single handedly is responsible for me being in that show, as well as being the person to literally put me in as director, took one look at me and said, “I can tell you are already thinking about hitting the high C in Act 2! The key is to be in the moment and not get ahead of yourself. It will happen when it is time…don’t worry and enjoy Act 1!” It was advice I never forgot!
“Beauty and the Beast” was the first time I got to be home in NYC while performing and it was just so cool to have an actual “life” while performing 8 shows a week. I learned how have a nice normal day, and to save the warm up for the theater. It changed my life and sanity! It was so profound to me that I got the rose with the petal falling off tattooed on my ankle. That year was THAT profound!
Lastly, getting cast in “Cabaret” was beyond surreal. My Mom got a call on Thursday from the Roundabout Theater peeps saying, “Can Debbie be at the theater tonight, watch the show, pick up a script, start rehearsal tomorrow, and open in 2 weeks? We need a name who can sell tickets but who can also handle the workload and learn fast.” I was so honored they trusted me with all that! Working with Neil Patrick Harris was incredible. His performance was so stunning. I also got to overlap by one week with my dear friend Jon Secada and, to watch him throw himself into that roll with such abandon was thrilling. I saw him perform a medley from “Cabaret” recently in Las Vegas at his Casino show and he snapped back into character and the audience was transported. God given talent is one thing but what impresses me more is when people stretch themselves beyond expectations. I know that was a very long answer to a very simple question but Broadway for me has been one big Oh My God moment!
How does it feel when you give yourself into singing or writing a song?
Writing never fails to amaze me. Like I said to the audience at Parliament House, it is like it is happening through me and to me…. not like it is coming from me. Melodies drop in and I get the pen or the voice recorder and make sure I honor the gift that is being handed to me to share with the world. It is like witnessing birth daily or multiple times a day. As far as singing goes, I have always had to work very hard on my voice. I don’t have that natural freedom like some friends of mine who literally roll out of bed singing in a way that makes me go “I could warm up my entire life and never sound that good!” SO, when the adrenaline comes and the crowd helps lift the voice out of me and I feel that freedom, which quite often happens a few songs into a show after I free up a bit, it is a feeling like no other.
Do you a have a process in your songwriting? Any advice?
Listen and don’t overthink. Songwriting is visceral. At least the initial inspiration to me should be free flowing. It is why I love Eminem and Lisa Lisa and artists who remind me of the late great Robin Williams. All of these artists don’t allow their logical minds to get in the way of free flowing poetry. I do that more melodically and with the chords. Some lyrics drop in initially and in my newer music, which you have yet to hear, I have gotten way pickier about lyrics. I don’t just accept the first rhyme that comes to me. It is so profound to have the opportunity to speak to so many people so I want to say things in the purest, clearest way or in a way that that they have never heard before. To me, there is a beauty in honesty and simplicity but mixed with something fresh and new.
You are very active in mentoring new talent. What is that like for you?
It’s interesting Before “The Voice”, before mentor was a catch phrase with kids I was doing boot camps with kids. I have always felt that performers who are like out there who have had longevity in the business are the best to impart things to the younger generation. I love working with young songwriters and young talent in general. Working with young songwriters in very exciting for me. Usually their ideas are great and they maybe just need some help with structure. And they just need encouragement really. They need someone to bounce it off of.
What if anything do you miss from the 80’s?
If I never saw another shoulder pad again I would be ok. (Laughs) But, it is heartbreaking how many 80’s icons we have lost. I would give anything to have them back. The power of music is that they live on whenever we play their music. But, I am still as devastated, as all music fans are, that we can’t go see Michael, Whitney, David, George, and others in concert in decades to come. Losing my dear friend Tommy Page this past year was particularly difficult. Life is full of so many challenges and we must really make an effort to lift people up.
Sadly, our interview had reached its end. The clock was working against us and the club was closing. She was hurrying off with excitement and a huge smile to meet and greet her adoring fans. Before she jetted off she gave me a humbled thank you, a heart felt hug and a kiss on my cheek. Debbie Gibson is truly an entertainer of the highest caliber. She is blessed with a warm soul and a voice that lifts up your spirit. I was taken a back by her commitment to her craft. The electric youth of MTV has worked hard to become a nuclear woman in show business. The world is grateful for it.
Find more info on Debbie and get her music at – debbiegibsonofficial.com
Photo Credit – Jen Cray