by Ryan Meehan
For more than 25 years, Debbie Gibson has proven she’s an entertainer of immeasurable talent. From singer, songwriter and musician to actress and dancer, she embodies what it truly means to be an entertainer. A music prodigy, Gibson exploded on the Billboard Pop Charts at the tender age of 16 with the self-penned “Only In My Dreams.” The “Original Pop Princess” quickly became the youngest artist ever to write, produce and perform a No. 1 hit song, “Foolish Beat,” and entered the Guinness Book of World Records. To date, she is still the youngest female to hold that record. Gibson has sold more than 16 million albums worldwide, performed for British Royalty and hosted “The American Music Awards,” produced by friend and legend Dick Clark. After conquering the pop world with three consecutive albums and world tours, she set her sights on the theater and starred in 17 musicals in 17 years. Gibson made her mark in the Broadway production of “Les Miserables” as Eponine. She broke box office records in the London West End production of “Grease” as Sandy. She then took the stage in the U.S. Broadway tours of “Grease” as Rizzo and “Funny Girl” as Fanny Brice. Gibson also wowed critics as Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Gypsy Rose Lee in “Gypsy,” The Narrator in the national tour of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Cinderella in the national production of “Cinderella” with Eartha Kitt, Velma Kelly in “Chicago,” and, Sally Bowles in the Broadway revival of “Cabaret” with Neil Patrick Harris. Continuing to dazzle with entertainment magic, Gibson bridged the gap between pop music and Broadway with her one-woman show “Pop Goes Broadway.” Gibson made her debut in the world of orchestration for Dr. Rutledge’s documentary, now available on demand, “3 Billion and Counting,” about Malaria prevention in third world countries. She collaborated on the score and the powerful closing credits song, “Rise,” which was shortlisted for an Academy Award nomination. Gibson then released a new album, “Ms. Vocalist,” from Sony Japan that was top 10 on the Billboard charts. The first single, “I Love You,” hit No. 1 and she headlined a sold out tour. In 2011, Gibson starred with Tiffany in the SyFy hit “Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid,” which led to a joint sold out tour as well as a performance on GMA’s Summer Concert Series. She also appeared in Katy Perry’s hit music video for “Last Friday Night (TGIF).” As a spokesperson for Children International, she spent time in impoverished villages in Manila. For more than 20 years, she has been a child sponsor and advocate. In 2012, she raised more than $50,000 for Children International on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” and made a cameo in the film “Rock of Ages,” as part of Russell Brand’s Rocker Posse. Gibson starred as a celebrity judge on “Sing Your Face Off,” a music competition show that aired on ABC in the summer of 2014, and joined an esteemed list of musical performers as a 2014 inductee of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. From No. 1 hits and platinum albums to starring roles on Broadway, film and TV, Gibson is a true entertainer with timeless talent and charisma. She stars in the upcoming Hallmark Channel movie “Summer of Dreams” which premieres Saturday, August 27th at 9 EST/8 CST, and we are ecstatic to have her as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: You got your start writing songs at a very young age…How old were you when you could finally feel 100% confident in understanding the structure of a really great pop song? How important was it for you to start out not just as a performer, but a writer as well?
DG : I didn’t think too much about structure when I was starting out, which I think was a big part of the magic. I subconsciously knew what a pop song sounded like and felt like because I was such a fan! I was never interested in recording anyone else’s songs after I started writing. I always felt like a writer first and singer second! Once I proved I could write my own stuff then I became more open to taking on other people’s material. I recently went back and re-visited Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me.” I sang it and posted it for my followers and that was a song that is so organic to me it felt like I could have written it. And, I wish I had! (laughs) In that case, it is fun to cover other songs. I did a song called MYOB written by The Alessi Brothers. It was the title track of an album I did. I just thought it was so unique and I wanted to be the one to present it to the world.
RM: When did you first realize that you wanted to make acting a serious pillar of your portfolio? Was that something you tried to stay away from for the most part while you were on the top of the charts?
DG: There was just no time once things started to roll in my pop career but it was always something I knew I would do. I think all performers should be multifaceted because when music trends are doing one thing, you can go do something else!
RM: What can you tell us about “Summer of Dreams” and the character you play in that film? Other than the fact that you share the same first name, what are some of the things you have in common with Debbie Taylor; and in what ways are you nothing like her at all?
DG: It’s so funny because I try not to refer to any character I play as “her.” That is something my acting teacher Howard Fine teaches. Then, there is a disconnect between me and “the character.” And, in this case, we are truly one in the same, but in different life circumstances. Every time anyone from the creative team tried to tell me about “my character” I would say, I AM this character, I created her, she is ME, and if I wasn’t acting in this film I could have been the consultant. (laughs)
RM: At what point in this entire process did you actually finalize “Wonderland”? Did the concept for the movie come from the song, or vice versa?
DG: The hook was floating around but as a darker more ethereal dance tune. Then I started to hear it as part of “Summer of Dreams” and added that slightly more theatrical ending to the hook and created the verse to reflect my journey/Debbie Taylor’s journey of getting off the hamster wheel and finding what it means to be alive and “now.”
RM: Given that you had your hand in the production, writing, and acting facets of the film, this must have taken up a great deal of your focus for quite some time…How long would you estimate the whole project took from the inception of the idea to the actually seeing the final master after it had been edited? Who were some of the people involved that were integral in bringing the picture to fruition?
DG: The seed of the idea came to me 6 years ago after putting together my first Electric Youth camp and mentoring young people. Along the way the treatment went through several incarnations but Hallmark loved the bare bones heart of the story. Bart Fisher at Hallmark and Tippi and Neal Dobrofsky jumped in helping me flesh it out.
RM: Is this the type of project you could see yourself doing again some time in the next five years? If so, which detail of the production would you welcome as a challenge that you are genuinely looking forward to; and what would be something about making another movie that you wouldn’t consider to be enjoyable at all?
DG: Absolutely! Even though I was an executive producer, time constraints prevented me from being as hands on as I would have liked in certain areas. I opted to get the thing done and out and focus mostly on the music and acting. You may laugh at this but to me the most challenging part of making a movie is looking and sounding consistent each day. I am like 12 different people in the course of a week! I am hoarse. Then I am hitting high notes. I am 5 pounds down. I am 5 pounds up. I look tired. Then I look rested. All of it is day to day to day. If you watch a movie, realize that in the course of one scene an actor might have been shot a week or weeks later in one half of the scene. That is why someone like Julia Roberts is a movie star! I don’t know what her secret is but continuity is an art. And, a challenge!
RM: Technology set aside, what do you think is the biggest difference between the way pop music is produced and sold to the entertainment consumer today and the manner in which that was done 25 to 30 years ago?
DG: The main difference is YouTube and the Internet’s reach. I played to a hundred people at a time to get “Only in My Dreams” going. Today, you can reach countless numbers of people in a day! I love the direct to the people approach. Though there were fewer options to how to reach people years ago, which made things cleaner and clearer. The good news and the bad news is there are countless options!
RM: In all of your years singing, what would you say is the most under the weather you’ve ever been on a night when you’ve had to perform? How did you overcome that adversity and push through the evening; and what do you remember feeling after you walked off stage?
DG: WHEW! That is SUCH a great question. Funny how the fantastic nights don’t come to mind but the ones where I was under come flooding back! (laughs) I recall one, which probably accounts for why teen pop stars are in therapy today. I was doing the big Z100 show. The equivalent of Jingle Ball, only in 1989 or so when it was at The Palladium, which is a club in NYC and not Madison Square Garden. My vocal chords were “good old fashioned” enflamed and dry from overuse and travel and no sleep. I did not have any doctors on hand to give me the steroid Prednisone – which they hand out like candy to performers – so I started chewing Aspirin thinking that was the quickest most direct way to get the swelling down. I went out and sang “Lost in Your Eyes” at the piano. Hardly anything would come out. I remember putting all I had to give into it. It was literally all I had so what more could I do? I felt totally lame and disappointed. My throat was in physical pain. As a DJ passed me on the stairwell, I heard him say under his breath something sarcastic like “2 1/2 minutes with Debbie Gibson…thrilling.” It stuck with me! So mean. There are many stories like that. It sucks to be sick on stage but these days I do not take any meds or chew aspirin. I am honest with the audience and ask for their support. It is a way better way to go!
RM: What are some of the competencies which are perfected at the series of performing arts camps and music boot camps that you have created? How do these camps go about mentoring the many different skill levels of its participants; and what has been the most rewarding thing about getting to facilitate environments like that in which young performers can learn about their specific crafts?
DG: Well, in a way you can’t “teach” songwriting. Sure, there is format and blah blah blah, but ultimately it is unique and individual. I point out where something may flow better or why a certain chord feels best leading into the hook, etc. I try to validate kids’ natural instincts more than anything. I always stress it is their song and mine is only one opinion. I break the kids up into groups for skill levels. When kids expressed interest in production and engineering, I created a recording boot camp. Kanye West was recording “Love Lockdown” on the premises and all the kids sang backup for each other. It was on the job training… real life experience. My camps though were also about acting and vocal technique and dance. It pays to be well rounded!
RM: You’ll be performing on Fox & Friends on August 26th as part of their All-American Concert Series, and you’re also headed to the United Kingdom for a series of dates in October…When can we expect to hear an LP of new material; and how close are you to having your new record completed?
DG: That is the fifty million dollar question! It has been a longer journey than expected to get out of the health tunnel I was in for a few years. I also have a hard time saying no to performing live and setting aside studio time. I have more than enough songs written and will record them at the right moment is all I can say! It’s not “churn it out” type material. I could have done that 3 times already but this next album needs to be magical or, why do it?
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2016 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
DG: I’m performing as part of the All-American Concert Series on Fox & Friends August 26 and then I have two shows in the UK, but always good to checkhttp://debbiegibsonofficial.com/events/all-events/. There is an exciting project in the works involving my musical Skirts with Hilary Carlip and Katie Ford. And maybe I can finally get to that album you were just asking about!
Official Website: http://debbiegibsonofficial.com/
Link to “Summer of Dreams”: http://www.hallmarkchannel.com/summer-of-dreams
Preview of “Wonderland”: http://www.hallmarkchannel.com/summer-of-dreams/videos/music-debbie-gibson-sings-summer-of-dreams
Debbie on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DebbieGibsonOfficial
Debbie on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DebbieGibson
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