Call Answered: Debbie Gibson: Summer of Dreams
From "Only In My Dreams" to reality, I truly believe "Anything Is Possible" as I get to interview one of my idols, the one and only Debbie Gibson. Ever since Debbie burst onto the music scene in 1986, her music has inspired me, guided me, celebrated me and comforted me. With over 16 million albums sold worldwide, Debbie Gibson has been writing and recording music for almost 30 years now while expanding her career into film, television, Broadway, and mentoring. She still holds the world record for being the youngest female to write, produce, and sing a number one single.
With the premiere of her new TV movie, Summer of Dreams fast approaching, Debbie and I sat down to talk about the film (including her sexy co-star Robert Gant, from Showtime's Queer As Folk), the new original song "Wonderland," Debbie penned for the movie as well as career highlights, improving her life by one percent better everyday, and through some of my favorite Debbie Gibson songs, we find out things about Debbie we never knew.
Summer of Dreams will debut on The Hallmark Channel on Saturday, August 27 at 9pm! In addition to the film, Debbie will be performing at the All-American Concert Series on Fox & Friends, August 26, and touring the UK this October!
1. On August 27 your new TV movie, Summer of Dreams, will debut on The Hallmark Channel. The film is about a fading pop star who finds her footing again teaching music to a talented group of misfit kids, who in turn, help her realize that fame isn't everything. In addition to starring in the film and writing a new original song ("Wonderland") for it, how involved were you in the creative process of making this film? As you may be able to tell from the plot, this initial story idea was my brainstorm about six years ago and came about after I started doing music mentoring programs with kids. I am also an executive producer, though Shelley Hack and Kim Arnott are the seasoned gals who executive produce back-to-back movies so I learned a lot from them! Creatively, there were times I deferred to the department heads and the Hallmark execs because it is a collaborative effort. I am not quite Ben Affleck who can be in front of the camera and behind the camera so I did rely on the expertise of others quite a bit, but stood up for my creative vision where I felt strongly.
2. In Summer of Dreams, you play the fading pop star, "Debbie Taylor." How is "Debbie Taylor" most like you and what is one characteristic of "Debbie Taylor" you wish you had? What's so funny is how she's "least" like me comes to mind! She is much more of a victim. I am like the whack a mole. Hit me on the head and I will find another hole to pop up out of. I don't wallow for long! (laughs)
The sense of humor and arrested development traits are very similar! I wish I could go grocery shopping in fabulous heels, but alas - I am only glamorous onstage! I kind of admire people who get dolled up to do ordinary things. It always makes one feel better! I remember staying with Alan and Suzanne Osmond at their cabin in Utah and that woman would roll out of bed looking fabulous! I always have this image of this effortlessly glamorous woman serving waffles to the boys and me. Southern women are like that too. Us New Yorkers throw the sneakers in the bag and off come the heels the minute we leave a meeting! (laughs)
3. One of your co-stars in Summer of Dreams is Robert Gant, whom I loved on Showtime's Queer AS Folk. What was the best part about working with him? What was the funniest or one of the funniest moments between you and Robert that happened during filming? Yes! Robert is a consummate actor and I was so thrilled to hear his name come up for the part. I knew it was a right fit! He and I had met ten years ago at a benefit for Project Angel Food produced by our mutual acting teacher Howard Fine. I'm not sure about the funniest, but the most fun day was shooting a scene on a swing set, which I believe is now only in the International version. It was just non-stop running and jumping and laughing! I had not been on a swing set in quite some time. It made me think that adults should go to playgrounds instead of gyms.
4. You wrote an original song for Summer of Dreams called "Wonderland." You've described the song being about learning that life is what happens when you stop making plans and accept that you have no idea what's going to happen next. Looking back over your career, when did you learn this lesson for yourself? Great question! Only recently, actually…Meaning, in the last five to six years or so. I was the girl who always had to have the next year of life mapped out on an itinerary. But it is hard to be inspired on command. So now I'm like quick! I am in live show mode. Any venues I can play? Or, I want to be doing movies and so on. It is so hard to know what you're going to be in the mood to be doing a year out. I usually am in the mood to perform live and if I am not feeling my best well, that's where being a professional comes in and you just do it. Thank God it is not digging ditches! My worst moments are someone else's best. That is not wasted on me. But yeah, it is sometimes scary - or as my therapist would have me say - "daunting" to now know. But thinking you know when you really don't, that is scarier. Hence the saying "A SENSE of security."
5. It's been almost 30 years since the release your number one single, "Foolish Beat," for which you still hold the world record for being the youngest female to write, produce, and sing a number one single. What did it mean to you back then to hold this title and what does it mean to you now? It means I am slacking as a mentor! (laughs) I was certain some little girl would have broken it by now, though my ego is happy every time I hear an announcer say it. I ain't gonna lie! But seriously, it means that me and my mama - who fought for my creative rights - succeeded in breaking ground. It also means that that particular song got the right musical treatment. I was always objective about picking producers, myself included. I knew what that song was supposed to sound like and I knew how to communicate it to the musicians and engineers so there was no need to bring anyone else in. In the case of "Only in My Dreams" for instance, I knew I had the makings of a great arrangement and a bit of the flavor of the production demoed but I knew that Fred Zarr would take it to the next level. And, he did! I am all about serving the music, not myself.
6. In addition to your music, I have been fortunate enough to see some of your theatrical endeavors: Cabaret, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (when it came through Boston), and Beauty and the Beast. What do you love about performing in theatre? Do you have plans to write a musical of your own? If I may pitch an idea to you, I think your album Think With Your Heart would make a great musical. It's a beautiful love story and with so much despair happening in our society today, this would definitely lift people's spirits). Oh, that makes me so happy to hear! Before people were posting bootleg videos, theatre was an experience only had by the relatively small number of people who were there in the room at the time. Cabaret was a shining moment for me...I was LIVING for it! (laughs) I love that theatre is pure. There are no smoke and mirrors. I love knowing the framework of what I am doing every night because when you know your lines, blocking, choreography, and music like the back of your hand, it is actually the ultimate freedom. It is never the same thing twice. Much like life. You can play and bring whatever happened in your day to the show that night. I love the community and the discipline and the openness of all the people involved. I love that it is not all on my shoulders. It is a team effort! There IS an understudy so the show WILL go on if you are not there. That is humbling and freeing coming from headlining tours as a teenager!
I have collaborated on a couple of musicals, yes! Flunky Town - previously called The Flunky (TheFlunkyTheMusical.com) is a project that is really Jimmy Van Patten's baby. He brought me on as composer and co-lyricist. Musicals take forever to launch but we are inching it along. It is really unique and quirky yet traditional. It can run in a small black box theater or hit it on Broadway depending on a few minor tweaks. Skirts started as a film written by Hilary Carlip and Katie Ford. I was cast in the lead at 18 years old and I screen tested with the likes of Marissa Tomei, Rosie Perez and Juliette Lewis. Kenny Ortega was slated to direct. It went into turnaround and I later turned it into a musical. All these years later we are just dusting it off again because we feel its time has come. It is about life in The Bronx in 1964, the year of The World's Fair, and the different groups of girl "gangs" who were divided by ethnic background and who battled through dance. It is a truthful, non-caricaturist depiction of life at that time. I think it is a classic waiting to happen!
Interesting idea about Think With Your Heart!
7. I have so many favorite songs of yours and for this next part, I'm going to use them to ask my questions:
When did something happen "Out of the Blue" that you didn't expect to happen? Ha! That is so funny! Well, my car almost got towed 30 minutes ago for no good reason! Wasn't expecting that today and luckily I walked up right before it was too late.
How have you held on to your "Electric Youth" spirit? Well, knowing I am going to be singing that song helps. I better walk the walk! And not succumb to people's perception of age. And, how dare magazines print ages next to entertainer's names. I mean, what difference does that make? Last I checked life is about being you and having fun. Never lose your sense of whimsy people!
What is something that comes "Naturally" to you that people might not know about? Playing piano by ear. I am a much better pianist than singer!
Who do you think of when you sing "Wishing You Were Here"? When did you get hurt or betrayed by someone only to see them sometime in the future and you thought "Dontcha Want Me Now"? Ohhhhhh no you didn't Adam! Now I will be thinking of you when I sing those songs! (laughs)
8. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I could have more patience. I am NOT into waiting or boredom! In fact, you just inspired me to stop and take a five-minute meditation break before going onto the next thing in my day! Five minutes equals 1% yeah? Sounds good to me!
More on Debbie:
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, Debbie 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 theatre and starred in 17 musicals in 17 years. Debbie 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." Debbie 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, Debbie bridged the gap between pop music and Broadway with her one-woman show Pop Goes Broadway. During her sold out summer run in 2008 at The Concert Venue at Harrah’s, critics agreed it was "the best show Atlantic City has seen in quite some time…it’s totally entertaining." Phil Roura of the New York Daily News said, "she has mastered her craft to the point where she just doesn’t perform a song – she embraces it and delivers it with her own special stamp of approval." To fill her passion of mentoring and fostering young performers and songwriters, she also created Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth, a series of performing arts camps and music boot camps.
Debbie 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. Debbie 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, Debbie 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.
Debbie 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. She starred in the 2015 UP original movie, The Music In Me, featuring a new, original song "Promises," wrote a new song, "Angel," for the debut album of Nickelodeon star Isabela Moner, co-wrote and is featured on Big Black Delta’s electro-pop song "RCVR," and honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from Rockers on Broadway. She’s currently collaborating with Jimmy Van Patten on an original Broadway musical, The Flunky, starting pre-production on a new album of original pop songs and touring the world. From No. 1 hits and platinum albums to starring roles on Broadway, film and TV, Debbie Gibson is a true entertainer with timeless talent and charisma.