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Debbie Gibson accentuates the positive

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When she was 16 years old, Debbie Gibson wrote, produced and recorded her first album for Atlantic Records, 'Out of the Blue,' a debut that spawned five top-40 hits and made her one of the major success stories of the '80s. One of those hits, 'Foolish Beat,' landed Gibson in the Guinness Book of World Records, when she became the youngest artist to write, produce and perform a Billboard #1 single. She retains the record for being the youngest female to do so.  

From the outside, Gibson appeared to be an overnight success, but she recalls the years of rejection that lead her to that moment. 'I was rejected from Star Search' literally 10 times. I auditioned over the course of the entire run of that show and I never made it not once,' Gibson told me in a recent phone interview.   

Gibson learned how to shake her critics from a very young age. 'From the time I was 8 years old, I was going on auditions and was told Your nose is too crooked, you talk with a little lisp' all of the things that make you unique, they want to tell you they're not going to work in this business,' she told me.

When the stars aligned and success struck in 1987, Gibson found herself the focal point of what she now calls 'the machine' a demanding beast known for chewing up and spitting out artists with less durable constitutions. 'I had my meltdowns like everybody else. I just did them in private,' Gibson said. 'I had issues with anxiety attacks. I would be as sick as a dog and they would tell me, If you don't show up at that radio station, they'll never play your records again!' They want to ring you out and use you up. I remember really feeling this immense pressure to always deliver, and you're never allowed to have a human moment or a sick day. That's very intense to keep up for a long period of time.   

'It was like that with Disney too,' she continued. 'When I was on Broadway playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast,' I did eight shows a week for nine months. When you sign on to be part of the machine, you need to keep up.'

At the height of her success, Gibson employed more than 100 people an intense responsibility for anyone, especially at such a young age. 'I see news reports of LeAnn Rimes and Demi Lovato, and I relate to what those girls are going through,' Gibson said. 'I look at somebody like Taylor Swift and see a lot of myself. Although I think she's way more together than I was at that age. It is possible to keep it together, but unfortunately, we only hear the showbiz road-kill stories.'

Gibson credits supportive parents and her enduring friendship with an industry icon for helping her navigate the demands of fame and success. 'My parents were always around always on the road with me,' she said. 'And until he passed away, Ahmet Ertegun (founder and president of Atlantic Records), was continually in my life. Ahmet was a great supporter. He would come see me on Broadway. He would listen to my new songs and give me opinions. I have very fond, nurturing memories of Atlantic Records.' 

A keen interest in acting (a role in 'Ghostbusters' in 1984 was her first film) brought Gibson to Broadway in 'Les Miserables,' 'Grease,' 'Funny Girl,' 'Chicago,' 'Cabaret' and 'Cinderella.' She later bridged the two worlds of music and acting with her one-woman show, 'Pop Goes Broadway.' 'I always fell between the cracks of being a leading lady or a character actress because I have kind of a quirkier look,' Gibson says. 'On stage, I can play with it and go either way.'

Gibson spends much of her free time working with charities (her Gibson Girl foundation awards scholarships to underprivileged children) as well as mentoring and fostering young performers with her Electric Youth summer camp.     

Last year, Gibson signed on to be Celebrity Ambassador for HooplaHa, a new website devoted to delivering only good news with daily doses of positive, uplifting content that is usually overlooked by the mainstream media.  

Gibson says that HooplaHa resonated with her from the moment she first logged on. 'I was looking for the catch,'' she said. 'Their mission is literally to make you smile. When I first checked it out, they had this video of a baby beat boxing,' and it is hysterical.  As a test, I sent it to my boyfriend who was deep in his work cave,' and when I heard him laughing, I thought, This is good!''

While she works on recording a new album, Gibson is also involved in rehearsals with the Tony Award-winning cast of 'Jersey Boys' for a benefit show in San Francisco on March 25, and she is set to perform in Detroit during the half-time show when the Pistons play the Dallas Mavericks on March 8.

Gibson says that she doesn't miss the constant pressure and demands of 'The Machine.' 'There is something really amazing about living life on your own terms,' she told me. 'I think, as you get older, you really love that. I love the fact that, at this point in my life, I'm free. I can record my music and put it out how and when I want. That's not to say that if a big machine wanted to get behind me again, and it's the right fit, that I wouldn't welcome it with open arms.' 

'The Big Morning Show with Mike Dow' can be heard each morning on Big 104 FM The Biggest Hits of the '60s, '70s & '80s - airing on 104.3,104.7and 107.7.

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