It's a cliché, but you really never know where the road will take you. You start heading in one direction and somehow you end up where you never thought you’d be. From the time I turned 6, I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. I was going to be a microphone-wielding popstar. My plan was to entertain the whole world. There was nothing else my oversized personality (and singing voice) and truly original name was built for. Or so I thought. Having a goal and knowing what I wanted to do with my life was all well and good. The only problem was I had absolutely no idea how to get there. Unfortunately there is no “How to become a popstar for Dummies” book at the local Barnes and Noble. Even more unfortunate is you can barely find a Barnes and Noble, but I digress.
I was not blessed - or cursed, depending on your point of view - with a Momanger (i.e. Diane Gibson). Debbie (and countless others) didn’t do it on their own, of that I’m sure. I didn’t have one single industry connection. I didn’t know a soul in the music business. Clive Davis is not my uncle. Trust me, if he was this would be a very different story.
My challenge (even at 6) was: How in the world was I going to make all of my dreams come true? Somehow I knew that the only thing that was going to propel me to pop stardom was good old-fashion hard work.
OK. If that’s what it took then that’s what I was going to do.
I was a public school kid from day one, so when time came to apply to high schools, I went to town. I auditioned for “art” schools and academic high school as well. My number one choice was the High School of Performing Arts, better known as the "FAME" school. Not the recent remake but the Irene Cara, Gene Anthony Raye, Debbie Allen all-singing, all-dancing school of my dreams. When the acceptance letter came, you would have thought I had won the lottery. It was one of the most exciting moments of my entire life. I was going to the High School Of Performing Arts!
I was accepted to both the Music and Drama department. Contrary to popular belief, Performing Arts did not have a standalone vocal department. I picked Drama as my major; we were trained in method acting, dance, voice and diction, scene study and musical theater. Little did I know how fortuitous that would be! We were a close-knit student body with little interdepartmental snobbery. The dancers hung out with the actors, the actors hung out with the musicians.
I met my first musical partner at what became LaGuardia High. Mike More was an extremely talented, eccentric young guy who happened to have a recording studio in his house in Long Island. Believe me, this was unheard of at the time. So naturally we formed a band and Or-N-More was born: I being the “Or” and he being the “More”. We started writing and recording more than 300 demos. Hard work. After countless record company meetings we were signed to EMI Records. The next few years, we were living the dream. Recording sessions, video shoots, promo tours, interviews and magazine shoots. You name it, we did it. When our CD was released we were opening up for the some of the biggest artists of the day, performing to thousands of people all over the world. Our single “Everyotherday” was steadily climbing the charts and was in top 40 with a bullet on BILLBOARDS top100 as well as a top club play hit.
We were well on our way to having an out-of-the-box hit record when things took a major turn. I'll spare you the really sordid, ugly details of the series of events that came next and marred the next five or so years of my life. Let’s just say the music business is rough. If you've ever seen so much as 10 minutes of any episode of VH1's "Behind the Music", pick the worst case episodes, multiply them by 10 and that's what happened to us. Needless to say it knocked me for a loop. I was only in my mid-twenties and I didn't have a clue what to do with the rest of my life. I only knew that I still wanted to sing, perform, get in front of an audience. That’s when fate and all of the hard work stepped in.
The trend of the ‘90s for popstars was: Your videos and live shows were highly stylized, choreography-heavy, and anyone who was anyone had a troupe of dancers as part of the act. My dancers and I were very close and traveled all over the globe together. Soon after the implosion of my recording career, one of my two male lead dancers gave me a call, told me he was choreographing the Broadway-bound musical FOOTLOOSE, and would I like to audition? I had never auditioned for a Broadway musical before so it should hardly come as a surprise that I showed up in combat boots and overalls. The side glances from the "regulars" in their character shoes and proper leotards/tights ensembles is a funny memory.
The audition was lengthy, grueling and unlike anything I'd had to do before, but lo and behold, I got the gig understudying all the female leads in the show. That was my Broadway debut and it lead to a rather fruitful musical theater career on and off Broadway.
If there is a lesson, or any wisdom to impart, I'd say it's imperative to be flexible, open and willing to go places and do things that may not have been a part of the original road map. You never know, but had I said no to that one audition, be it out of pride, ego, whatever, there's no telling where I'd be right now.
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