There is a lot to be said for the impact of a career when, at the mention of a name, their face, or voice, or song appears in your head. This is exactly how it is with Debbie Gibson…or is it Deborah? Popdose caught up with Ms. Gibson on the eve of her latest venture, as judge on the ABC competition series Sing Your Face Off premiering Saturday, May 31.
Something else that hasn’t changed is Deborah’s attitude which remains as upbeat and positive as her 1980s pop hits, even in the face of an unexpected illness (which she’ll explain in a mere matter of moments if you read on).
We have seen so many seasons of other celeb based shows and usually they have to show one skill set. This show challenges performers to sing, dance, act, transform ….I did not envy the task they had. The talent blew me away !
What makes a good judge, in your opinion. For years the criteria has bounced between harsh honesty verging on meanness, to encouragement that sometimes feels less than 100% honest. What has your approach been so far?
There’s no need to be harsh, but constructive, yes. On one hand no one is trying to win their career on this show. On the other hand they are my peers and professionals and deserve honest feedback that will move them forward to the next week.
I noticed, specifically from your website, that you’re going (in part) out as Debbie Gibson again. Was it difficult to make the change the first time around and now kind of move back toward it?
Going to Debbie at 16 was the biggest challenge ! I was always Deborah. The Deborah shift was organic. Not “Ohhhhh I’m sophisticated now”. Once I realized I built a brand and tore it down and confused people I embraced Debbie in a new way. Yes I’m me onstage but there’s also a persona and it didn’t have to be congruent with the me that cooks dinner ! There’s a divide between personal life and the stage. Friends call me Deb or Deborah but “Debbie Gibson” is catchier. How narcissistic do I sound right now ? (Lol!)
You have a solid catalog of music to pull from when you perform. What are the songs you once thought would be difficult to revisit, but perhaps you’ve found a new way into them?
I lowered the key of Electric Youth slightly. It now comes from a place of empowerment and perspective rather than “Rah rah youth rule!” It’s about always being vital and “electric” with no thought of age. We are all “eternally electric”!
No! I see them all fresh and new and tweak the arrangements accordingly, and even songs with trite lyrics I fill in with my life experience and they become new and fresh.
You recently let your fans know that you are dealing with (or recovering from) Lyme’s Disease. How did you come to find out you had it? I imagine there was an obvious level of discomfort that you had no idea why it was there….
Yes. Anyone who is trying to solve the mystery of knowing something is wrong but not knowing what knows the feeling. It’s daunting. The diagnosis came as a relief because at least I had a path to go down. A sole test that no one thought of until seven months in told the tale.
How are you now?
I’m doing great. I’ve put back on 16 lbs since my lowest weight. I don’t feel fragile. There is still stuff to deal with ….ups and downs…. But If I can compare it to a roller coaster, I’m now on the one at a kiddie park. Not the cyclone !
Have you learned things from your experience that you’re trying to share with others? The unfortunate part about Lyme’s is that you contract it from deer ticks, so you very well might pick it up from outdoor activities you engage in for your health, not to impede it…
Exactly. I feel the universe chose me because I am strong and always endure and now can act as a voice to enlighten others. Since revealing it many folks have gone to my doctors and gotten help. Many have healed thanks to the beautiful upbeat piece Access Hollywood did in which they allowed me to have guidelines to promote healing and not do a tabloid fodder story. This changed the landscape of those sorts of shows. Anyone sitting home with a death sentence or lost hope heard me say “You cannot believe anyone who says you have a week to live or a year and half of meds ahead.” No one can put a timeline on your healing !
I have been slowly cultivating the songs. If it ain’t on the page there’s no use wasting studio time. I’m in a real life empowered woman chapter of life that I’m drawing on. The music is visceral. When it is ready it will come out and not a moment sooner !
I am also putting the finishing touches on a musical I wrote with Jimmy Van Patten called The Flunky or possibly Flunky Town. To see snippets from our workshop check out TheFlunkyThemusical.com!
One of the things that served you very well in the 1980s was that you were actively a writer of your material, versus being a singer that has songs brought to them. Has that helped in the long run because you know those songs better than, perhaps, your peers of the time did with theirs?
I think there are great vocalists that are able to make a song their own. I recently saw Garth Brooks perform and he spoke of feeling like “The Dance” was his song, and it is. So however a song makes its way to the public is fabulous! I get a kick out of remembering where I was when the song “dropped in” on me. It didn’t come from me so much as through me and that’s a gift and a whole lotta fun !
The music industry seems so different than it used to be. From my perspective, it seems like it is in complete control of the superstar producer/songwriter and the singer that actually writes their songs is the anomaly. If you were asked by some of these new artists to be a mentor in that respect, what would you say to them?
I was told by Gary Bowen, a music publisher, that what I did will never happen again. I see it in country but not so much in pop with the exception of Richard Marx and a few others. Now the guy who goes “Uhh uhh yea yea” in a session is a co-writer! I work with kids and empower them to trust their instincts but at the same time be open to collaboration. There are gifts in both. The song is the star. Not the people involved.
Your early music was decidedly “pop.” Was there any sort of music at that time you wished you could have ventured into, but didn’t because you felt the audience wouldn’t accept it?
Nah. I was unapologetically into pop!
What is the weirdest, “un-Debbie-Gibson-like” recording in your collection that you love — the one that would shock people?
Hmmmm. Maybe a song called “Losin’ Myself” which I wrote and produced with Sturken and Rogers. I performed it recently in Chile and in a way….for the first time. Half my lifetime later I finally grew into it.
Everyone, I’ll bet, has asked about the Circle Jerks performance. So I guess I’m guilty of asking questions that are not sparkling with originality….how did that come about?
Niko Bolas was mixing their album and mine, mentioned me to them, they got a kick out of the idea of me coming in and singing on “I Wanna Destroy You” as did I and the rest is punk pop history !
An idol of yours calls up and says, “I’m recording a record of duets. Come sing with me.” Who is it and what song would it be?
Billy Joel. “Only The Good Die Young”. Or “Vienna”. I was Virginia in high school and that over ambitious girl in a hurry in high school !
I always do live shows, gay prides being my favorites, and I have two films in the pipeline…..one indie feature and one for the Up! network ! I’ve only ever done kitchy roles except on Broadway….Cabaret being grounded….I cannot wait to bring that to the screen!
To find out more about Debbie Gibson today, visit her website at: http://debbiegibsonofficial.com
Special thanks to Michelle Sisco at MichelleSiscoPR for facilitating this interview.