Debbie Gibson Plays Her Trump Card

Debbie Gibson became a household name when she was only sweet 16 by shooting straight to the top of the music charts with her dynamite voice and catchy lyrics. Gibson, who hails from Long Island, went on to become the youngest person ever to write, produce and perform a number one single. After selling more than 16 million albums worldwide and appearing on Broadway in Les Miserables, Gibson is now showcasing her hidden talents in the boardroom by doing her best to impress Donald Trump on The Celebrity Apprentice. An edited version of our phone interview with her follows.

by Ilyssa Panitz • More.com Celebrity Reporter
Photograph: PRN / PR Photos

More: Why on earth would someone who is so accomplished in the entertainment industry go on The Celebrity Apprentice?
Debbie Gibson: I am still asking myself the same question. I actually turned it down a few times.

More: What made you change your mind?
DG: I would rather be in the middle of something crazy than sitting at home watching it, saying “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am big on experiences, much like when I posed for Playboy. I like doing things that are out of my comfort zone. The other reason I did it was the charity aspect. Doing this would give me the platform to put Children International on the map in a really big way and make them a lot of money.

More: Why this particular charity?
DG: I spend over $200 a month sponsoring eight kids, and it has changed their lives around, from rags to riches.

More: What's behind the interest in sponsoring children?
DG: I started doing this when I was 18 years old. Not only did I sponsor kids in the Philippines, but I got to meet them when I toured there. I got to see how real the organization was and to hear from one mother how the money completely changed their lives. When you are there you want to take all of these kids home with you. It is heartrending to see how they live. These people don’t even have running water.

More: When I was 18 years old I wanted to spend my money at the mall.
DG: My dad was essentially an orphan. I grew up knowing he didn’t have parents. He didn’t meet his biological father until he was in his fifties. Maybe that opened my eyes to children’s causes. I also used to volunteer at the boys' home that raised my dad. It was great because I got to be a big sister who could relate to what the boys were feeling.

More: So this really had an impact on you?
DG: I was just back in the Philippines a year ago and I only wish I could take these kids home with me. I even took on eight more kids, after spending a significant amount of time with them.

More: How did you hear about this organization?
DG: Not long after I got discovered, I was reading a copy of Seventeen with one of those ads. What got my attention were the words “For the price of a cup of coffee, you can feed a child.” Since I was too young to write checks, I said to my business manager, “I want to give money to this.” I have been there, and, trust me, these kids really do write those letters and the money really does go to feed them so they aren’t hungry. I mean, these people live in conditions that are so horrible.

More: You grew up very differently?

DG: Growing up, my parents didn’t have tons of money but I never wanted for anything.

More: On the subject of money, do you know how much The Celebrity Apprentice will be donating to your charity?
DG: You can raise anywhere from $20,000 to the maximum of $250,000. That's why I agreed to do this program, because I knew I had the opportunity to raise a substantial amount of money.

More: And?
DG: I am happy to say I went there and did what I needed to do.

More: Was the money well spent?
DG: Children International got food, clothing, medical attention and other supplies they needed for 5,000 children in India.

More: The people who are left standing on this show can be ruthless and vindictive in terms of wanting to claim victory. You don’t strike me as that type.
DG: Nice and strong? Yeah, you can be nice and strong. I have a moral center and I was not looking to lash out at anyone. However, if someone lashes out at me I will defend myself. To me, when you lash out, that's a sign of insecurity.

First Published March 28, 2012

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