Sunday April 13, 2008
By TIFFANY FUMIKO TAY
SHE was the Britney Spears of the 1980s, gaining fame at the tender age of 16 as a teen pop idol who sold millions of records. But these days, Debbie Gibson, who now wants to be known as Deborah, is decidedly more low-key.
After her 1989 second album, Electric Youth, sold 16 million albums worldwide, the hits dried up and the singer known for her squeaky-clean image dropped off the radar in the early 1990s, turning her attention to Broadway musicals and indie films.
Now 37, the American will be starring in a Singaporean-produced musical by Toy Factory Productions titled Superhero Diaries in August. The script, co-written by blogger Mr Miyagi and actor Mark Richmond, is about a little girl who flees into an imaginary world to escape an abusive stepfather.
Gibson plays two roles – the evil Black Azira, a figure in 12-year-old Nora Mowwend’s (played by Singapore-based Filipina Julia Abueva) imaginary world, and Mowwend’s mother Diana in the “real” world.
When Gibson was in Singapore recently with her mother/manager Diane to promote the musical, she told local newsmen: “I like playing dual characters, good and evil. It’s kind of like my personality.”
The New York native, who currently lives in Los Angeles, said it was a “random phone call” by director Beatrice Chia-Richmond, Richmond’s wife, that sparked her interest in the musical. The director got in touch with her through Warner Music.
She said that Chia-Richmond flew to Los Angeles to meet her and the director’s passion for the production swayed her. “Besides, who gets to say ‘I’m going to originate a musical in Singapore’ in my world?” she said with a laugh.
The world of Debbie Gibson could have turned out very differently. When she became a big star at the age of 16, she could have let all the fame go to her head, she said. She entered the history books as the youngest writer and producer in history for the song Foolish Beat at the age of 17, a record that has not been broken.
The third of four daughters, she said that her mother kept her sane in the music industry. “My parents were always very supportive, and they had huge adjustments to make when I first started out, but they knew I was going to do it with or without them, so they said they might as well help me,” she said.
It also helped that she approached her singing career like a “working performer, not a star”.
Why changed her name from Debbie to Deborah after all these years?
“The record company was trying to vamp me up, they came up with 18 names and I just chose Debbie because it was the closest they got to my name,” she explained.
“The second I felt like I didn’t have to have some catchy persona, I changed it back. It was never meant to be a statement, I just couldn’t keep introducing myself by a name that wasn’t mine,” she said.
Her public image also changed when she posed nude for Playboy magazine in 2005.
Gibson, who let on that Playboy had asked her five times since she was 18, said that by the time she posed for the magazine, she was 34 and had performed many sexually aggressive roles in cabaret.
She figured that it would have been hypocritical of her at that point not to do it since she was already wearing revealing clothes on stage.
Does she miss the fame and adulation? The answer was an instant no.
“I never cared about the limelight enough when I had it to notice when it was gone,” she said.
She called the entertainment scene in the United States a Catch-22 situation because “on one hand, there’s the crazy paparazzi, and on the other, there are celebrity couples who go to the Ivy to break up on a certain day so they can make it in time to be in Us Weekly”.
The Ivy is a famous restaurant in Los Angeles patronised by celebrities.
Asked what was her proudest achievement and she did not mention the hit records. Instead, Gibson, who is single, said it was “never having been in the newspapers for doing something stupid”.
“The paparazzi weren’t going to hang out at the bowling alley to watch me not drink and not do drugs.”
Her showbiz friends, she said, are people such as comedian Wayne Brady and singer Joey McIntyre, “people who do their entertaining and go home to their real lives”.
Not being famous for the sake of being famous is something she wants to teach children at her summer performing arts camp called Camp Electric Youth.
“I want to remind kids that if you’re good at your craft and work at it, it lasts a lifetime.”
And she intends to be around for a long time, if not a lifetime. Her ultimate goal is to snag a long-term singing engagement in Las Vegas.
“I’m quietly working towards my Tina Turner comeback moment. When I feel like I have that calibre of music together, I’ll go after that. Not a minute sooner.” – The Straits Times, Singapore / Asia News Network