This year marks the 25th anniversary of Debbie Gibson's debut album, Out of the Blue. She was just 16 at the time but penned the entire album, and in the process she took America by storm. In addition to the title song, the album also contained the hits "Shake Your Love" and "Foolish Beat," which gave Gibson the distinction of being the youngest person to write, produce, and sing a number-one single. It's a record that still stands today.
While Gibson acknowledges her past and never disowns any of her songs that may be considered "bubblegum pop," she lives very much in the present and continues to make plans for the future. Starting Feb. 19, Gibson will showcase her savvy business skills on the new season of Celebrity Apprentice. She'll be playing for Children's International, a charity she's been involved with since 1989 that provides health and educational support to children around the world.
In addition to Children's International, Gibson also has a performing arts day camp for children and teenagers based in Hollywood, Calif. and is actively involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
At 41 Gibson shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, she jokingly says, "I'll be performing 'Electric Youth' till I'm 83 with a walking stick!"
How did you get involved with Celebrity Apprentice?
It's so odd to be talking about it because I know what happens. Basically, they approached me. I had seen the show a bit, but I really don't watch a ton of television. Initially, two things excited me about it. I liked the charity aspect of it, because if you're going to run around New York like a lunatic and lose sleep, at least there is a higher purpose.
The other thing that excited me was that as a music person and having started so young, I'm probably perceived as someone living in a bubble, to some degree. On the contrary, I'm no stranger to schlepping around Manhattan and being resourceful. I've become my own businesswoman, so to be able to use those skills excited me. I said no to [the show] a couple of times, but they kept coming back to me. So, I decided to do it.
Why were you so apprehensive at first?
I've not done anything so pop-culture-ish in really -- possibly ever. Even now, when people are tweeting about it, it makes me incredibly nervous. I've managed to keep my career going in a way that suits me. I'll perform, and then I'll go home to my actual life, and I've never been so visible. Most people crave that. For me, I like when it feeds a higher purpose -- like the charity. Also, it's a great platform for new music. It creates visibility, but I'm not a press whore.
And yet, here we are!
And here we are! So, it's a little out of my comfort zone.
What did you learn about yourself by doing this show?
I learned that my style has changed a lot in terms of how I used to be. Aubrey O'Day is on the show, and her style is a lot like my old one. She is about a decade younger than me. I used to want to be the quickest, loudest, and sharpest. I think as time has gone on, I've gotten more relaxed. If everyone was in a group brainstorming an idea, I would rather be quiet for 20 minutes until the perfect idea drops in. Usually it does if you sit back and listen. The other thing I learned was I didn't need credit for ideas. I'm pretty much a team player. I wanted the idea to come about however it was meant to, whether it came from someone else or me, and I didn't really keep track. I think when I first started in the business, I defiantly had more ego. I learned a lot about myself.
Were there any individuals you had difficulties getting along with?
I obviously can't get specific, but I will say the show is very real in the sense that they don't agitate you or create storylines. I had relationships on day one with people that completely changed. There were people I didn't get along with that I eventually became great friends with. Then there were people I started off thinking very highly of and then their true colors came out, and I would never want to socialize with those people ever again. I joke that even though the show is all done, I still don't know who to trust.
You mentioned that people may perceive you as someone who lives in a bubble. Is that the biggest misconception about you?
I don't know if people feel this way, but I think by nature that when you start off as a young pop singer, they assume that you're a bit pampered, prissy, and precious, or that you live in a bubble and not in the real world. For me that's not the case. I'm not shielded from much anymore. I remember in my younger days saying to my mom, "I don't want to hear about any of the business stuff, I just want to sing, dance, and act." Now, it's probably 75-percent business and 25-percent singing, dancing, and acting, because ultimately, I do want to know what's going on.
From a young age you were involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Where did that drive come from?
I guess being involved in theater from such a young age. At 8 or 9 years old you're not consciously aware that someone is gay or straight, but you just have a more open sense of people. I remember performing at 13, 14, and 15 at a place called Something Different, in New York. It was kind of like a kid's showcase. There was a singing waiter named Bobby Lee who would always do a song at the end of the show, and I think he was the first person I was aware of who passed of AIDS. I was very young, so that made an impact. Then, through Make a Wish and Starlight [Children's Foundation], I met a lot of young people with HIV and AIDS, and that made an impact, also.
Why do you think so many gay men gravitate toward you?
I still to this day don't fully know. I don't know what makes the relationship between a female artist and the gay community. I do know that for me, I performed in gay clubs at 16 to get my first single off the ground. I know musically and energetically as a performer, there was always a connection there. I just feel like the gay community embraced the music and didn't have preconceived notions about the fact that I was 16. People were always hung up on that.
There has been a lot in the news recently about bullying. What would you say to individuals who are struggling?
It's so hard to know this when you're at the school age and it's happening to you. I wouldn't say I was bullied per se, but I did get a lot of unwanted attention because I was musical and stood out. In school you don't want to stand out; you want to blend in. It's usually the people that are picked on who usually do great things. It's those people you think are popular and cool in school who end up not evolving.
What's the best part of getting older?
More than ever, I've really broken out of the shape I thought that my life was supposed to take. I have three sisters, and they are all married, and they all have kids, and that works for them. I used to be someone who had dreams and a picture of my life. At this point I have a pencil sketch, but minute by minute, day to day, things change. I've been open enough to allow them to change, and I'm so glad because I've not missed what my actual path in life is supposed to be.
How were you before?
I used to be a prisoner of routine -- I'm doing eight shows a week, I'm warming up my voice at 4:00, and then I'm taking a nap. I rarely have two days that are alike anymore, and that's been really freeing for me. I guess it's a sign of evolving, because that could've happened at any age, but for me it's come with getting older. I used to be a person who needed to be able to rattle off my current résumé. I always had to have something tangible in my career to talk about. I now take such great pleasure in saying I stayed in, lied on the couch with my man, and we cooked. I enjoy those simple pleasures more than ever.
Now tell us about this man, Dr. Rutledge Taylor.
He's a handsome little devil.
Yes. Now are you two going to get married?
I never think about it until I'm asked about it.
And here I'm asking...
No, it's fine. He and I are totally in a partnership. We love it. It's going on four years. We've often said we are open to the idea if it's something we decide we want or need. You're programmed as a little girl to grow up and want the white dress and the wedding. I remember growing up with my girlfriends, and they were talking about what kind of ring they'd want. I never really related to that. I always wanted the relationship. I joke with him and say, "I think if we had a wedding, and I was at the altar and saying, 'Till death do us part,' I'd want to add, 'Or if this isn't working for either of us and we weren't happy, then we shouldn't be in it!'"
Are you currently working on any new music?
I've been doing a ton of writing. It reminds me of when I first started writing at 12 years old and writing the Out of the Blue album. I've been more in the midst of real life and inspired by that as opposed to, "Oh, three years have gone by. It's time to get out another record. I'd better whip up some mediocre songs and release them."
Do you feel you've done that in the past?
Yeah, I think it was a reflection that I wanted to make music, but I wasn't really inspired by anything. Now I've not been spinning my wheels so much, and I've allowed room for songs to really come to me. To me the best songs come when you get out of your own way.
Music has changed so much since when you started. Are there any current singers you love?
Without even thinking about, every time I make an iPod mix, every third song is Rihanna. She is someone who just nails it every time. Why isn't she playing Éponine in the Les Misérables movie musical? Her voice is just a sign of the times. It's very accomplished, but it's also very raw. She's not afraid of her sensuality or her sexuality, which is great. It doesn't feel forced. It feels authentic.
And Lady Gaga. I know she gets comparisons to Madonna and Cher, but what I think is so amazing about her is: a) she disguises her vocal chops; she's not flaunting her trained voice, but it is trained; it's an amazing instrument; b) she's also not afraid to not be sexy. As much as I love Madonna and Cher, they always look like divas. I feel like Gaga is not afraid to go out on a limb and sacrifice her femininity for the sake of an amazing look. That takes a whole lot of guts.
What is next for you?
I definitely hope to be doing more Prides this spring and summer. Springtime comes, and I always say it's my high season!
Photo credit: Troy Smith
This post has been updated since its original publication.