Full name, Tiffany Renee Darwish; born October 2, 1972, in Norwalk, Calif.; daughter of Jim Darwish (a pilot) and Janie Christine Williams. Education: Attended high school in Norwalk, Calif. Addresses: Home -La Mirada, Calif. Record company -c/o MCA Records, 70 Universal City Plaza, Third Floor, Universal City, Calif. 91607. Other --c/o Winterland Fan Asylum, 13659 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys, Calif. 91401.
I don't want anyone to think I'm controlled," Tiffany Darwish declared. "I'm not. I'm the only one who can tell you when I can and can't work, what I will and will not do. There's not some drill sergeant ordering me around." Speaking to the Detroit Free Press via a cellular phone in a limousine that was taking her to the Los Angeles International Airport, the 17-year-old pop singer sighed. She was once again on The Topic, the dreaded line of questioning that dogged her throughout 1988. The question--Who's in charge of Tiffany?
It was a valid question. In 1987, seemingly out of nowhere, the young singer had popped into shopping malls, singing to the accompaniment of backing tapes to shoppers clutching bags from the Gap and Sibley's Shoes. The stench of prefab contrivance was heavy in the air. This'll never work, said the critics. But because of that mall tour, Tiffany's debut album sold more than five million copies and became the first No. 1 record by a teenager since Stevie Wonder did the same at age 13 in 1963. She also had three Top 10 singles, including remakes of Tommy James's "I Think We're Alone Now" and the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There"--songs Tiffany claims she wasn't familiar with until she recorded them.
The media world, however, doesn't give teen stars a whole lot of respect. Visions of David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, Leif Garrett, Shaun Cassidy, and all those Phil Spector-produced singers come to mind. They were young, modestly talented performers who were jerked, pulled, and hyped towards success by calculating businessmen. Tiffany certainly has the svengali quotient in manager George Tobin. A onetime Motown Records staffer, Tobin found Tiffany, at age 12, singing with a country band in Southern California. He once told Rolling Stone that "Tiffany is signed to me, 100 percent to me." And he told Life magazine that "She is the girl next door. I've done nothing to change her. My role is to make sure nothing does."
That sounded like a frightening amount of control. And things got scarier in early 1988, when Tiffany filed for emancipation from her mother's custody. "My mother was not making smart career moves," Tiffany told Rolling Stone. But there were many who felt this move was engineered by Tobin. A compromise was reached by the California courts: Tiffany controlled the finances, and her mom was still her legal guardian, though the star--who would get lump-sum payments of her previous earnings at 18, 21, and 25--continued to live with her paternal grandmother in Norwalk, Calif. "I like the way it's done," she told the Orange County Register, "because it keeps me working now." In acknowledgment of the concerns and criticism raised by the public regarding Tobin's role, she told the Free Press, "I'm fine. I'm not working too hard. I work at my own pace. George says to me, 'This is what we can do. Do you want to do this?' No one can force me to do anything."
Tiffany's career began singing before audiences at age nine, and within three years, she was appearing with country bands around the Los Angeles area. Things got rolling for her in 1981, when Tiffany agreed to sing on a demo tape by a local songwriter. The session took place in Tobin's North Hollywood studio, where he was producing a Smokey Robinson album. One of his assistants suggested that Tobin give a listen to the girl singing in the next room, and he was hooked. "I was enthralled by her voice," Tobin told Rolling Stone. "It was like taffy--you could pull it anywhere. In under 10 minutes, I decided to sign her."
Tobin kept in close contact, helping Tiffany and her mother look for a manager so that he could begin producing records for her. In 1986 Tobin got tired of searching and decided to manage Tiffany himself. He signed a seven-album exclusive production and management contract that gave him complete control of any records, videos, and performances by Tiffany during that period. "I learned a lot working at Motown," Tobin explained to Rolling Stone when asked about the possibility of excessive control.
The quarrels between Tobin and Tiffany's mother started early, according to the Rolling Stone feature. Mom wanted Tiffany to be a straight country singer; Tobin had his eye on the more lucrative pop market. "Her mother did think covering a Beatles song was sacrilegious, so we just never sent those tapes home," Tobin said. "But her mother doesn't get involved. The family has decided that I manage the act." The Tobin-Tiffany deal also meant that record companies would sign a contract with George Tobin Productions, which would, in effect, lease them the Tiffany material. The only problem was that, early on, no one was biting. "Teen acts had burned so many record companies in the past that they were afraid," Brad Schmidt, Tobin's partner, told the Free Press. "They were all saying that they didn't know how to promote her."
So Tobin played hardball. He took Tiffany to the hotel room of Arista Records chief Clive Davis so that she could perform live for him. He barged in on countless executives and badgered others with phone calls. The persistence paid off; MCA signed a $150,000 deal for Tiffany's first album in early 1987. "The main reason I went with MCA is because their offices are one mile from my office," Tobin told Rolling Stone. "If I want to get something done, I can drive down there and block their cars on their driveway with my car, which I have done, and not let them out until it's settled."
It took a while to settle Tiffany into a niche into the marketplace, however. While she went about the business of being a teenager--going to malls, talking on the phone, and watching TV, according to a Life magazine profile--Tobin and MCA mulled over marketing plans while her album sat in record stores, unable to interest buyers or radio programmers. MCA's own promotion department, in fact, told Tobin that Tiffany's record didn't have the hit song necessary to garner attention. "To market a 14 or 15-year-old to the record industry was a tough sell," Larry Solters, MCA's vice- president of artist development told Advertising Age. The "Beautiful You" shopping mall tour idea was a bolt from the blue for Solters and Tobin. It came from simple deduction. Who's likely to buy an album by a teenager? they asked. Other teenagers. Where do you find teenagers? At shopping malls! It was a novel idea for the music industry, but not for the marketing world. Manufacturers like the Campbell Soup Co., Clairol, and General Foods had staged successful promotions in which they gave away free samples. So MCA was going to give away a free sample of Tiffany. "It was the first time a record company tried it," Phil Rosenthal of the Miami-based Shopping Center Network, which set up the tour, told Advertising Age.
Tiffany wasn't an immediate smash in the malls, however. The tour, which started in July 1987, drew tiny crowds at first, and, as Tiffany told Rolling Stone, "people were laughing and giving me weird reactions." That was OK, because it was odd for her, too. "I was singing to backing tracks," she told the Detroit Free Press, "and when the guitar solo came on, I was left filling in that time. When you have a live band, people can look at the guitar player, but in that situation, all people had to look at was me." But as the tour went on, the crowds got bigger, and scores of teenagers began calling their favorite radio stations and requesting Tiffany music. By the time the tour hit Salt Lake City in September 1987, an overflow crowd of more than 4,000 packed the stagefront.
Tiffany's album soared up the charts after that, as did her single. "I Think We're Alone Now" knocked Michael Jackson out of the No. 1 spot. Tours of Europe and Japan boosted album sales there; in Japan, she even starred in a TV commercial for an M&Ms-like candy. In America her story was splashed across the pages of everything from People to Sixteen.
Her success also opened the doors of record companies to other teen artists. Following in her wake were: Debbie Gibson, an accomplished 17-year-old from Long Island who composed most of her own material; Glenn Medeiros, a 17-year-old from Hawaii who had a Top 20 hit with "Never Gonna Change My Love for You"; 14-year-old Shanice Wilson; and Tracie Spencer, the 12-year-old winner of the TV talent contest Star Search. "Kids buy kids," co-manager Schmidt told the Free Press. "The record companies are starting to be open to the possibility of there being a youth market out there. They're trying to find the best of the talent out there that will accommodate that." Added Tom Arndt, associate editor of Tiger Beat, a teen-oriented magazine, "A lot of kids are surprised to hear that Tiffany and Debbie Gibson are as young as they are."
Tiffany, meanwhile, tried to keep the perils of success at bay. She toured with a tutor--27-year-old Craig Yamek, who doubled as the drummer in her band--to keep up with her studies. She told Life that her friends still "don't care if they come over and I'm lying in bed." And, she contended, she was still able to "hang out," just like in the pre-star days. "I went to Knot's Berry Farm the other day," she told the Free Press. "Not a lot of people recognized me. Most seemed to be thinking, 'That looks like Tiffany, but why would she be here by herself, with just friends, no bodyguards or anything?' Even if they do ask for autographs, they've always been nice people."
Approaching the end of 1988, Tiffany and Tobin were already mulling over her next album. Tobin had recorded 48 songs for the first record, but they kept working up new music, including a remake of the Young Rascals' "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore," another of those oldies that was new to Tiffany. The new record, Hold An Old Friend's Hand, was released in December 1988 to unenthusiastic critical response. Reviews in both Rolling Stone and People, for instance, both referred to Tobin's overbearing influence over the album's material (he wrote two of the songs) and the young singer herself. But, as Tiffany told Advertising Age earlier, "this is my dream," adding that "I've never thought of anything else, and now that it's happening, it's almost too overwhelming, but it's great."
by Gary Graff
Began singing publicly at age nine with country-western bands in Norwalk, Calif.; signed a contract with MCA Records, 1987, and recorded her first album; has performed in concert throughout North America, Europe, and Japan; has appeared on television programs, including "The Tonight Show" and "Entertainment Tonight."
- Selective Works
- Tiffany (includes "I Think We're Alone Now," "Could've Been," and "I Saw Him Standing There"), MCA, 1987.
- Hold An Old Friend's Hand (includes "Hearts Never Lie," "I'll Be the Girl," and "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore"), MCA, 1988.
- Also featured on the soundtrack for Jetsons: The Movie.
- Advertising Age June 6, 1988.
- Detroit Free Press December 4, 1987; July 29, 1988.
- Life May, 1988.
- Los Angeles Herald Examiner July 1, 1988.
- Los Angeles Times June 12, 1988.
- Orange County Register July 1, 1988.
- People June 27, 1988; January 23, 1989.
- Rolling Stone April 21, 1988; February 9, 1989.