The opening scene of Debbie Gibson’s new Hallmark movie, Summer of Dreams, proves right away that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. It shows her character — a pop singer whose story is close to Gibson’s own as a former teen idol — prepping for a concert in what appears to be a dressing room backstage somewhere. She’s talking to her manager and looking herself over in the mirror. Finally, she steps out and begins performing … for a handful of distracted customers at a mattress store.
“I love that scene,” Gibson tells Yahoo Celebrity. “The writers came up with that after I told them that there was one album [1995’s Think With Your Heart] that I promoted in Borders Books and Music, which actually was amazing, because the store was always packed with, like, a thousand fans. But you’re still in the middle of a mall in a Borders, and you’re at a piano. There were moments where I would think, ‘Wow, I’ve headlined Madison Square Garden for 20,000 people, and now I’m in a Borders Books for a thousand people’ and, you know, five years later, you’re back at the Garden again.”
Gibson, now 45, plays Debbie Taylor, a pop star who goes to a small town to live with her sister when her glamorous life isn’t going so well, personally or professionally. It’s an idea that Gibson herself brought to the network, and fans will see references to her own life sprinkled throughout the flick. There’s the character’s last name — a nod to her longtime boyfriend, Dr. Rutledge Taylor — and there’s a scene where she reluctantly gives up a memento from Bill Joel, who’s one of Gibson’s own musical inspirations.
If you weren’t around back in 1987, Gibson — who was writing her own songs before Taylor Swift was born — became a star that year with the release of her debut album, Out of the Blue. Her ballad “Foolish Beat” made her the youngest artist ever to write, produce and perform a No. 1 song. By 1989, she was on the cover of every teen magazine and, before many other people were doing it, she had her own fragrance, named after her second album, Electric Youth. It’s a scent she still recognizes.
“If you really want to laugh,” she says, “my boyfriend found a bottle of it, my only bottle of Electric Youth perfume that’s in the house, and he put it on one day and said, ‘Hey, do you recognize this?’ And I instantly did. I laughed so hard.”
Of course, she was still a fan.
“I, first of all, think it smells like Justin Bieber’s first female perfume that he put out … which I think is great. Because my whole theory behind that at the time was, ‘Young girls should not smell like they raided their grandmother’s perfume cabinet, but they should smell more fruity and floral and young.’ So that’s what it smells like to me.”
“But I still love the packaging, and I feel really great about the fact that I was able to do that before, really before anybody else did it,” she says. “Now, female artists, I joke that they’re handed their perfume deal with their record deal, and by the time the second album is out, they have 20 fragrances out. So I feel like it was very special and unique and of that time. I felt kind of like a pioneer woman. I’m very proud of that little pink bottle with the electric coil in it!”
After Gibson’s future albums weren’t as commercially successful as the first two, she performed on and off Broadway, appeared on TV’s Celebrity Apprentice, and with fellow ’80s teen queen Tiffany, starred in the Syfy channel movie Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. She also still gives concerts regularly.
Although she’s busy, her life slowed down enough in the years following her first taste of mainstream success so that she could do some of the normal stuff celebs don’t often do for themselves — for instance, grocery shopping, which Gibson’s character in Summer of Dreams attempts in one funny scene.
“I didn’t learn how to do laundry probably until I was 30, and grocery shopping really came in my late 30s,” Gibson reveals. “And, you know, it just always felt like any of that stuff was a waste of time and it was taking me away from my work and, at this point in my life, much like the character in the movie, you can’t get me out of Ralph’s or Whole Foods for like an hour, because it’s so therapeutic to me.”
When she’s not working, Gibson says she now enjoys cooking, too.
But the singer has to be extra careful about not wearing herself out because she’s still suffering from the lingering effects of her bout with Lyme disease. She revealed her diagnosis in a 2014 blog post and has been candid about her struggles with it.
“It’s not always the Lyme disease itself at this point, because, technically, on the most fantastic lab tests in the world, it shows it’s gone, it’s clear,” she says. “But when your body is dealing with an infectious disease for three years, the rebuilding process is definitely humbling.”
She worked with a health practitioner throughout the filming of Summer of Dreams and came out of it feeling stronger, as well as 5 to 7 pounds heavier, which Gibson considers a sign of good health. This is a positive considering she’ll be needing some serious energy with her many projects in the works, including finishing a musical she’s co-writing and another that she’s producing. And don’t even get her started on music.
“There’s so much new music that I’ve written in the last five to eight years that no one’s heard that is really special to me,” she says. “The health thing really pushed back my plans for that. I joke that I was the youngest person to do a bunch of stuff and maybe I’ll be the oldest person to do a bunch of stuff.”
Gibson, who turns 46 on Aug. 31, is looking forward to this next era of her career.
“I look at someone like Tina Turner, who had her biggest musical chapter in her late 40s — I mean, that was the start of her biggest chapter — I feel like that will be me with this new music when I’m ready, when I’m really ready to dig into it,” she says.
In other words, don’t look for her to be performing at your local mattress store.
Summer of Dreams premieres Saturday, Aug. 27, at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on the Hallmark Channel.