Born 1970 in Merrick, Long Island, N.Y.; daughter of Joseph and Diane Gibson; Education: Graduated (with honors) from Calhoun High School, Merrick, Long Island, N.Y., 1988. Addresses: Home --Merrick, Long Island, N.Y. Office --c/o Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10023.
At first glance, Debbie Gibson's career looks like a case of Cinderella-like overnight success. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Gibson possesses persistence, native talent, and a love of music that began in her infancy. The pop music phenomenon of 1987-88, Gibson writes, scores, and sings her own material--tunes that Los Angeles Times contributor Dennis Hunt described as "mostly bubbly confections, much like the ones Connie Francis used to sing."
Gibson is not the first teenager to become a pop star, but she is unique in her degree of involvement with the business and creative sides of her output. As Richard Harrington explained in the Washington Post, even seasoned professionals have been taken aback by Gibson's level of engineering and songwriting expertise. The result, writes Harrington, is that Gibson has become "not just a singer--the classic role offered women in music--or writer, but also a musician and producer, a total pop package." Amazingly, this "total pop package" has not become sophisticated beyond her years. Gibson's producer Doug Brietbart described her in Newsday as "a hundred percent quintessential all-American teenager."
Debbie Gibson was born and raised on Long Island, in the community of Merrick. According to her parents, she was fascinated by music from the time she could walk and talk. She asked for a guitar at age two, but had to settle for a ukelele because it fit into her hands. She was able to pick out tunes on the piano before she went to kindergarten, and she wrote her first song, "Make Sure You Know Your Classroom," about her first experience in school. She was five. Gibson's parents enrolled her in acting, dancing, and piano lessons, all of which she relished.
Gibson's ambitions crystallized at the ripe age of seven, when she saw the Broadway production of Annie. "She was seven or eight when 'Annie' hit," Gibson's mother told the Washington Post. "That was it; that was when she decided that this was going to be her life. She was going to be Annie one way or another. And she had tremendous determination. She would go to interviews and auditions that would last 10 or 12 hours; she wouldn't care."
Gibson's parents became concerned about her level of ambition, but they decided to support rather than discourage her. "I knew that one way or another, with or without us, she would wind up in the music business and be successful," her mother said. "It was a matter of, do you want to see her stumble and make mistakes, or do you want to offer guidance and encouragement and hopefully see it go the right way?"
Gibson's parents offered not only encouragement, but an impressive array of musical equipment as well. In effect, they turned the Gibson garage into a miniature production studio, complete with drum machines, microphones, keyboards, mixers, and recorders--all state-of-the-art. As Gibson entered her teens, she began to write and compose songs at an almost incredible rate. She has claimed that most of her tunes take less than a half hour to write, and she rarely revises. A song she wrote at twelve, "I Come from America," won $1,000 in a writing contest sponsored by a local radio station. Then, at thirteen, she represented the state of New York in a national music competition sponsored by the PTA.
Gibson was only fourteen when her parents solicited the help of producer Breitbart, an entertainment lawyer who began to manage and instruct her. Breitbart told Newsday that his young protege was "a hundred percent self-motivated.... She was eating through people that were in the business fifteen to twenty years longer than she was." Gibson had to endure the usual round of rejections from record companies, and even the television show Star Search, but eventually she signed with Atlantic. Her first single, "Only in My Dreams," began as a regional and dance club hit, then slowly climbed the national charts. By the time her first album, Out of the Blue, hit the racks, Debbie Gibson was a known entity. The album has sold in excess of two million copies and is still doing business. It was on the charts when Gibson graduated with honors from Calhoun High School in Merrick.
Gibson's music makes no claims to depth of meaning or universal significance. It is pop music pure and simple, with a catchy beat and predominantly cheerful lyrics. A Newsday reviewer describes the songs as "the dance-oriented, 1980s extension of the pre-Beatles female pop of the 1960s. Structurally, her songs recall the anxious anthems of the Shangri-Las and Lesley Gore, but the lyrics are bereft of self-doubt.... Gibson's teen tunes combine optimism and self-confidence with a walloping rhythmic assault." Hunt assessed Gibson's voice: "While not a budding Streisand, Gibson isn't a bad singer. Her voice has a perky, endearing, little-girl quality, but may yet ripen into one that's full-bodied. But for now it's full of teen-age yearning."
When asked to comment on her music, Gibson told the Washington Post: "It's just honest and spontaneous, simple and fun. That's the whole idea of pop music. I don't like to get into, like, social issues, political things.... I never want to be writing from some weird point of view." Gibson's many young fans seem perfectly satisfied with her buoyant perspective; their parents appreciate Gibson's clean-cut, family-oriented lifestyle. "There are plenty of Debbiewannabes," notes Harrington. "Like their inspiration, they are clean, wholesome, earnest."
Fame in pop music is notoriously fleeting, especially for teen stars. Gibson's chance for longevity rests in the same forces that brought her to the limelight in the first place: creativity, determination, level-headed business acumen, and a healthy perspective on the pleasures and pitfalls of stardom. According to Harrington, Gibson is the "Steffi Graf of pop music: a prodigious talent identified early, nurtured by family and coaches, developed through years of practice in community theater, commercials, choruses and the like, until finally it's time for center court at Wimbledon, or in this case, the Billboard charts and the concert arenas of the world." Frankie Blue, one of the radio executives who did the most to promote Gibson's "Only in My Dreams," feels that the young star is on her way to a lengthy and lucrative career. "She's with a good record label," Blue told Newsday. "I don't think she'll get lost or fade away."
by Anne Janette Johnson
Debbie Gibson's Career
Songwriter, c. 1975--; recording artist, 1987--. Has performed in television commercials for Commodore computers and Wendy's restaurants. Former member of Metropolitian Opera Children's Chorus.
Debbie Gibson's Awards
Won $1,000 in songwriting contest sponsored by local radio station in Long Island area for song "I Come From America," c., 1982.
- Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1987.
- Newsday, June 29, 1987; July 7, 1988.
- Washington Post, July 10, 1988.