Deborah Gibson inspired a whole generation of electric youth when she emerged as a Princess Bee among the teen pop set in the 80’s, by showing her minions what she was accomplishing need not be only in their dreams. At age 16, Gibson, then known as Debbie, was a force to be reckoned with, not only was singing a slew of Top 10 hits of her debut album, “Out of The Blue,” she was also the mastermind that brought them to life behind the scenes as well.
Gibson still holds a distinction in The Guinness Book of World Records; she is the youngest person to write, produce and perform a #1 single with “Foolish Beat.” Her sophomore album, “Electric Youth,” which yielded the #1 ballad, “Lost In Your Eyes,” debuted on the Billboard charts top spot.
Rather than end up a casualty of the “where are they now” set, Gibson supplanted her initial teen stardom with a string of Broadway performances, while continuing to put out her own music. Then came a Playboy pictorial and going by the more grown up moniker of Deborah.
Now, in her 30’s, Gibson is not one to rest on her laurels; she has long range career goals to keep her in the public consciousness for years to come. She’s currently working on a musical, “The Flunky,” that she’s co-written with Jimmy Van Patten, a gay themed movie, Coffee Date, not one, but two reality shows in the works, a scripted television show, all the while fielding offers to appear on stage. She has also performed a duet with former NKOTB, Jordan Knight, which is slated to be his first single off his upcoming CD. And, of course, we’ll be seeing her performing at Pride this Saturday at 9:00.
Gibson is fine with the kitsch factor of her place in the annals of pop stardom, as she explained during her chat with The Gay & Lesbian Times, as we caught up about the then and now.
Gay & Lesbian Times: How did you go about starting your career at such a young age?
Deborah Gibson: I was one of those show biz kids who took all the lessons and went on all of the auditions. I always wrote songs…I won a song writing contest when I was 12 years old and I won one thousand dollars. And, part of the contest was the song got played on the radio, and I think that’s when I got the radio bug; because I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that I wrote a song, and it was being played, and all these people were basically sitting home being forced to listen to it! (laughs)
But, my career really started with a club single, which was the 12” remix of “Only In My Dreams” that Little Louie Vega did. And, my whole career really started in the clubs, and it really started with me performing live. I did three shows a night, four nights a week and I would usually play a teen club, a straight club, a gay club. And, I think that’s why I have a connection, to this day, to the gay audience I have. I was 16, and I was performing in gay clubs, in lesbian clubs and for a 16 year old from Long Island, that was definitely culture shock in a way; but at the same time I felt really at home.
GLT: How personally satisfying was it to be performing songs that you had also written and produced?
DG: To me that was the entire thing, that was where the gratification came from. I would have never been as satisfied singing other people’s songs. And, even to this day if I perform live, which I do pretty often, the sax solo comes on in “Foolish Beat,” and I can remember the exact night we recorded that. So, it feels great to create something and have people respond to it.
GLT: Granted, it was the 80’s…But, is there any specific fashion moment that you wish you could take back?
DG: (laughs) Well, I look at pictures, and I am amazed that I feel like I look more youthful now than I did then; because the styles back then were so serious with the big Joan Collins shoulder pads. Looking like I was off of “Dynasty” I might take back.
GLT: How does performing on Broadway differ from touring?
DG: You have to be in a much more grounded place to do theatre. I just been offered a couple of shows coming up, and I’m kind of taking a deep breath going, ok am I ready to live in that bubble again for a few months. Because you do have to live in a bubble and you have to be willing to realize that people think you’re kind of eccentric and freaky, because you have to be disciplined like an Olympic athlete.
When you do Pop, you can just burn out adrenaline and energy, it’s a different energy. The thing about me is that I am really pretty schizophrenic, so doing both for me, and flip flopping between the two has served me so well.
GLT: What do you think of the “electric youth” of today-any younger performers that you admire?
DG: You know it’s funny, I had contacted Hayley Duff to do the reading of my musical, and I had this really weird feeling that she should be doing theatre. I kind of felt like this mentor/mogul type person when I found out two weeks later that they had offered her “Hairspray.” (laughs) But, I like her because she gets less attention than her sister, but I feel like she’s got this groundedness about her, and I feel like she has more talent than people know about.
GLT: What’s the penalty if someone accidentally calls you Debbie?
DG: It’s no penalty to me, I always tell people this. It’s nothing bad to me, but it makes the person sound like a stranger to me.
GLT: I’ve read that you have a new CD in the works – what musical direction will you be taking?
DG: That’s the question of the day, because what I’ve been doing lately is just working on a lot new music and seeing where it lives. My schizophrenia or I should say my versatility, which serves me really well in theatre, doesn’t serve me in Pop. Pop wants you to be in a niche, and I am not a niche type person. I’ve just really been experimenting; I have songs that are more Pop/Rock/Sheryl Crow. I have songs that are more Dance/Pop/Madonna. I’m trying to just naturally work on music, and see what direction it takes, rather than shaping it.
GLT: Do you get frustrated at being labeled “a former teen queen” when you’ve done so much since your formative years?
DG: You know I go back and forth. I had breakfast a couple of days ago with a friend of mine who came to see me at Factory last week; and she took her boss to see me. And, he was kind of laughing, like “Oh, this will be fun and kitschy and it will take me back.” And she kept saying, “No, you don’t understand. She’s a real performer.” (laughs)
It is funny, because I feel like I’m performing all the time, so you’re constantly having to prove yourself to people. I realize that you can’t live your life to make people get it, they’re either going to get it or they’re not. On one hand it’s frustrating, and on another hand I play it up when it’s appropriate as well; ’cause I get the joke of it, and I get the kitsch factor of it, too. I know who I am, and what I am capable of doing.
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Article first published on July 27, 2006.