Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tiffany doesn’t regret her pop past, embraces her country future

By Steve Wildsmith

Over the past several years, Tiffany has gone from ’80s pop icon to something of a darling of the gay community.

She’s embraced that part of her fanbase and has been more than happy to take part in any number of Gay Pride events, including headlining this weekend’s PrideFest in downtown Knoxville. However, she can’t help but thinking that, in some small way, she might be letting a few of her gay fans down.

“I think my gay fans definitely want me to be a little more diva than I am!” she said with a laugh during a recent phone interview with The Daily Times. “I love sequins and feathers, and I can get put together very nicely, but I’m definitely not that kind of person. I can clean up pretty good and handle it for 45 minutes, but after that, the shoes come off and I want to jump around act a fool.”

That down-to-the-earth mentality will no doubt serve her well as she focuses on the next phase of her career – breaking into the mainstream country market. It’s not a gimmick or a lark; in fact, Tiffany — born Tiffany Renee Darwish — got her start in country music. She just happened to get a little sidelined along the way with selling a few million records.

A native of California, she got her start singing country in local nightclubs and restaurants when she was 10; a few years later, she was “discovered” by country artist/songwriter Hoyt Axton and his mother, Mae. Mae Axton took Tiffany to Nashville, where she appeared on the “Ralph Emery Show” and began a career as a professional performer.

The next few years were a whirlwind. In 1984, she signed a recording contract; a year later, she placed second on “Star Search”; in 1986, she recorded her debut album with MCA; and in 1987, she embarked on a tour of shopping malls around the country that would make her a teen sensation. The second single from her self-titled debut, a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now,” rocketed to No. 1.

In those early days of MTV, she was an instant star, becoming every little girl’s idol and a cover girl for a variety of teen publications. Another No. 1 (“Could’ve Been”) followed, along with several other hits that propelled the album to sell more than 4 million copies. She toured with New Kids on the Block, found herself embroiled in a legal battle between her parents and manager and capitalized on her success with a 1988 follow-up.

Although less successful than “Tiffany,” “Hold an Old Friend’s Hand” still managed to sell more than 1 million copies. The limelight faded quickly, however, as changing tastes led to the grunge explosion of the early 1990s. Tiffany and her counterpart, fellow teen sensation Debbie Gibson, were cast aside (along with so many other ’80s acts) as sugary confections that had gone stale and lost their appeal.

She never vanished completely, however, the mid-1990s she announced her intentions to launch a career in country. It would take her another 16 years to do so, however, with the release this year of “Rose Tattoo.”

“With this album, there’s no time like the present,” she said. “I moved to Nashville four years ago, and I’ve been wanting to go back to country music. I’m so thankful to my fans, because they can tell when something is in my heart. As long as it’s good music, even though it’s a different genre, I know my fans, what their standards are and what they expect me to bring. I’m really encouraged and feel so thankful when I get a true pop fan in the audience who says, ‘Hey, I like this country!’”

For “Rose Tattoo,” she went back to her roots — the traditional country she started singing as a child on the California family circuit – and threw in the blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan and the gossamer-pop of Stevie Nicks, two influences she cites on her contemporary work. The album itself sounds natural — not forced, and most definitely not like a desperate attempt by a washed-up singer to grab onto any fanbase she can.

In fact, she said, there’s no regret at all for her meteoric rise and fall. If anything, her journey has afforded her particular brand of country more authenticity.

“I love music, and I’ve always felt grateful to have my career, from being a little girl tooling around in my bedroom saying I want to be singer to traveling around the world with hits and massive success,” she said. “It was bigger than I could have ever imagined. I love the music industry and where it’s taken me. All of the pop stuff I’ve done allows me to go out and do ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ and reminisce. I’ve never been afraid to do that.

“The ’80s music, it was fun and a great time. But if I can hold their attention and say, ‘By the way, I have a new album out; let me take you through that journey,’ then that’s even better. I’ve got ballads that are just as good as ‘Could Have Been’ and other songs that aren’t jams like ‘I Think We’re Alone Now,’ but they make you want to get up and dance just the same.

“And being a mom, a wife, having gone through divorce and hardship — people can identify,” she added. “People who know my story say, ‘Oh my gosh, you are a country song!’ I’ve been living it; now I just need to get out and sing it.”

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