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Pop singer Debbie Gibson was recently on NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice. She is best known for her 1988 No. 1 single, “Foolish Beat.” The track, released when she was just 17, made her the youngest person to ever write, record and produce her own No. 1 single. Gibson has also done work on Broadway and runs the Gibson Girls Foundation.
TheCelebrityCafe.com: The Celebrity Apprentice is the most recent TV work that you’ve done. Do you have any favorites of your work in TV or film?
Debbie Gibson: Oh goodness...Well, this definitely ranks up there, especially in the reality world. It’s the coolest, classiest and wildest show to be a part of. I love that it really shows people out of their comfort zone, and out of what the audience is used to seeing us all do. Which is...I get it. I get why people love the show so much.
In terms of film, I loved doing the SyFy movie Mega Python vs. Gatoroid with Tiffany. That was a blast. And even to call it my film work...implies a seriousness. [laughs] Which is funny to me. I mean the great thing about doing that movie was that it was so not serious. We were trying not to be serious. We knew we weren’t going to win any Oscars. And for that reason, I just loved doing it and I loved teaming up with [Tiffany].
TCC: Going back to your singing career....In 1988, you were announced as the youngest person to ever write, produce and perform a No. 1 single with your song “Foolish Beat.” With the subsequent songs and albums you have put out, were you ever concerned with how they would be compared with “Foolish Beat” and your other early hits?
DG: In pop music, unless you stay on a path of music only, which I haven’t...I’ve gone and really my focus went to Broadway and theater for many, many years. I did like 17 musicals in 17 years, starting when I was 21. Unless you’re like Rihanna and you’re going to come out with album after album and you’re going to work with this hot producer and that hot producer, pretty much, you’re going to have that one moment that really stands out. And for me, I’m ready to have that moment again after all of these years. I finally feel like I’ve written the songs that are on par in terms of really being the best that I can do it, at this point in time. I feel like the music I’m writing now reflects the personal life that I’ve had in the last few years that I haven’t had in...ever. It’s that feeling of newness and the new music.
But yeah...I never was concerned. I always laugh when people say, ‘Oh, you haven’t had a hit since’ and I think, ‘Well, when have you ever had a hit!’ [laughs] Everyone should be so lucky to have that one moment and I felt like, ‘God, I had like eight hits at that time.’ … I’ve always embraced that pop culture moment that I had with that song and setting that record. It’s so wild to me that the record hasn’t been broken to date. That’s part of my impetus to mentor young kids and show them that they can write and produce and they can feel empowered and self-sufficient because for me, more than anything around that time...being able to write and produce and perform something, that went No. 1 after many a record executive, ‘Oh no, you’re a girl and you’re a teenager and we need these powerful producers to do this.’ That was a big ‘I told you so.’ I remember thinking, ‘God, I’d love to work with David Foster...Walter A...Baby Face...but I knew that I knew how I wanted the song to sound...So, I went on a limb and did it. That no. 1 for me had a lot of meanings.
TCC: Since it was so long ago - you were only 17 at the time - do you feel that it was almost another person that had that hit? Like an otherworldly experience?
DG: If anyone looks back on their life and flashes back to high school, we all have that feeling of ‘That was me and I was there but was I?’ It’s very surreal. I’ve lived so many chapters of my life since then and I feel like I’m on a complete second life at this point. So, yeah...I do. I look at those videos and I go ‘Oh my God, I remember shooting that,’ but that really was like another person. The beauty of music is that I can perform that song now...in a richer way. I can slow it down...I actually know what the lyrics mean. I didn’t back then. They just rhymed and they sounded like what adults were going though. [laughs] So, it’s very cool that I can actually reconnect that song now as if I didn’t write it. As if I’m a singer interpreting it. It’s a pretty cool thing.
TCC: Are you working on a new album?
DG: I’m writing and writing and writing and I can’t even say I’m writing. I can say songs are getting channeled through right now in a way that they haven’t in a really long time. I’m definitely ready to get in the studio and record. I have probably 25 new songs that I’m ready to record and it’s just going to be a matter of choosing which ones I want to do or just doing all of them. Whichever ones don’t feel right for me, I’ll just submit them to other artists. But, yeah...there’s definitely a new album being burst right now and it’s in the writing stages. But, it’ll get recorded in the summer and fall.
TCC: Do you have any particular inspiration as a singer or actor?
DG: Absolutely. My inspiration is actual life. It’s funny...I think you hear a lot of artists go through this process where they come out with their first hit and great album or two because it’s all the songs they accumulated while they were just living life. Then you hit the road and you get the songs about being on the road that nobody can relate to! For me, I’ve been sort of re-inspired because I’ve been in a great relationship for the past few years and I get inspired by everything. It could be a groove of a song that I love that’s current. That all of a sudden takes me into writing my own version of that...Or it triggers something in me or it could be be something from my own real life. It could be something from world events. I’m very tuned into writing from that place right now. I feel like this country is not in the greatest place. I see people’s pains and I feel their struggles... I’ve written some songs that are very about what can’t be taken away from you. Because I think that people right now are losing jobs, they can’t come up with money to pay for rent or whatever it is. I think it’s a time that people need to be reminded of the fact that everything they ever need is within them and cannot be taken from them. That’s a recurring theme in the stuff I’m writing. And then there’s just pure relationship-based songs which, I think, never die in any writer and in any listener. So yeah, I’m inspired by everything really.
TCC: Back to Celebrity Apprentice...You’re right across the table from Donald Trump, so, what’s it like to interact with Donald Trump and the rest of the contestants that were there?
DG: I love Donald Trump. He had great respect for all of us while we were doing the show and still does. I just gave him a call last week and said ‘Hey, can you help out with my foundation’ and he himself gets on the phone. He’s very accessible. He doesn’t do this ‘power thing’ with the celebrities. I think he has invited us all on the show because we’re all accomplished in some area or another. Some people, because they make great television, but that’s their niche...
I would say the people that came from an old school career path like Adam Carolla...Lisa [Lampanelli]...Dee [Snider]...Tia [Carrere]...Those are the people I end up communicating with most now and that I most relate to. With that said, Teresa [Giudice] and I have since kissed and made up now in an email. I don’t really have any enemies in my life and to have some weird energy out in the universe with somebody who got into low blows on a reality TV show....I was kind of like ‘That needs to be resolved’ because that’s just silly. [laughs] So, I always come from a place where I’m trying to understand where other people are coming from and [Teresa] comes from - the more she acts out on her reality show, the higher the ratings. That is what she came on the show knowing about TV. Aubrey [O’Day] too came from a place of reality television and I don’t know that a lot of people on the show have the most stable home lives or backgrounds so you come on a show that tries to throw you off-center...Some people are thrown off their center more easily than others. I mean, I did a few times too, but I tried very hard to constantly remind myself that this is TV, not real life and it’s a game. I just really wanted to be myself, do my work, have some fun and win some money for my charity. I got to do all those things.
TCC: Were you disappointed when you didn’t win?
DG: No, at a certain point of the process, I realized that to get to the end and win, you might have to compromise your moral compass and I didn’t want to do that. I don’t think that the three remaining contestants did really...I actually do think that they showed great integrity throughout. But, I was put in certain positions, like the week that I was ‘fired,’ where I knew that to stay, I would have had to say some low things that I just didn’t want to say. I would’ve had to argue about money, which I think is sort of tacky. And it turns out that I actually raised way more money than everybody else in that boardroom. But I was watching people two feet away from me who were lying and I just couldn’t partake in that. So, I felt really, really good about my stay on that show and how it was a perfectly scripted scenario and I was perfectly at peace when I [left].
TCC: It sounds like charity work is really important to you... In March, you hosted the Grand Slam Charity Jam in Milwaukee, which raises money for Hometown Heroes and other charities. Are these programs that you regularly do for other charities?
DG: Basically, if I’m approached. With that charity, I knew that the guy who heads that charity. I love the idea of community and I love like, for instance, Dee’s charity for autism, which helps a center on Long Island. I love Long Islanders giving back to Long Islanders and I love the people of Milwaukee giving back to Milwaukee. For me, yes, I feel very fortunate. I feel like I have endless energy to give and if I can give it and help people, I will always do it. For me, my charity that I’m doing an event for coming up at Oheka Castle for the Gibson Girls Charity...That’s my baby. That came from seeing a need in arts funding and having started my own camping program a few years ago and mentoring kids. There’s so many talented kids and they just don’t have the opportunities financially and they don’t have the resources. their parents are struggling. And I just felt like, ‘Oh my God, there’s no way I’m going to let the arts die for children,’ because that was my life as a kid. So, I’m very, very passionate about that stuff.