TIFFANY INTERVIEWED (1988): I Think She's Alone Now

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Tiffany: I Think We're Alone Now
TIFFANY INTERVIEWED (1988): I Think She's Alone Now

It's a pretty ordinary kind of success story by American showbiz standards, nothing to get too excited about. It's your standard tale of a girl of average talent from the suburbs north of Los Angeles who, by astute management and a radio craving for the Next Big Thing, gets to sell four million copies of her debut album, earn the contempt of "serious" rock listeners and wind up in heavy litigation against her mother.

Nothing too strange in any of that when you line it up against the careers of Janis Ian, Marilyn Monroe or Judy Garland, all of whom were chewed up and spat out.

This time it's happening to a girl called Tiffany Darwish. And she's only l6.

Think about it - 16.

It's late in the afternoon and on the phone from Los Angeles Tiffany sounds very, very tired.

“Yeah . . . well,” she says slowly, “I woke up kinda early this morning and I've been rushing all day. I guess that is what you’re hearing in my voice. Yeah, I'm pretty tired so right now I'm lying on the couch before I go on."

What she is waiting to go "on” to isn’t a stage -- her live work has been very limited until recently -- but a live television broadcast to an Australian network.

Maybe she is conserving her energy for that broadcast or maybe she is too tired to respond, but her answers to questions about her career come slowly and are brief.

But it is also possible she doesn't really have all that much to say, after all it was only 10 months ago her career started to take off. All she had known until then was high school and studio work with her manager. And it was a mere three months ago she first performed live with a band on, of all places, a stage at Cinderella's Castle at Disney World, Florida.

It was an appropriate backdrop for the Cinderella story of a singer some have likened to a cartoon caricature of a pop star.

For the girl who began her career singing with backing tapes in shopping malls on a Beautiful You; Celebrating the Good Life tour in late '87, having a band was a major step.

"That was wonderful," she says with as much enthusiasm as her weariness will allow. "It's definitely different having a real live guitarist there. It's a lot of fun. I wasn't too nervous because I have a bunch of wonderful musicians who are great guys."

But she had played with bands before and it was through one of them she met her manager, George Tobin.

"I was in bands which would play at barbecues or at any kind of social gathering. I was nine and singing country songs. My parents grew up with country music and so when you hear it and you’re about five or six you don't really question it."

By the age of 12, she was singing smalltime gigs and, by chance, found her way into Tobin’s recording studio.

"At the time I was recording as a favour to one of the bands who had helped me," she says.

Tobin liked what he heard, wooed her away from country music and signed her as his exclusive property. Tiffany isn’t signed to a record company, she's signed to Tobin who delivers her albums to the record company he is signed with.

That kind of total control has led to accusations Tobin is the puppeteer and Tiffany the puppet without a voice and little say in her career.

“A lot of stories come out where it looks like George is saying everything and Tiffany can't speak for herself,” she explains. “How that came about was from different situations where a photographer wanted to take my picture with me in a lime green outfit an me saying I already have an image and I don't want to wear that.

“But it's pointless for me to have an argument with a photographer or a journalist because I walk away looking like a jerk because I wouldn't do something.

“That's when George steps in and says, 'She's not going to do it.' But people have a tendency to look at that and say, ‘Look at her, she doesn't have anything to say about it.' It's sort of like good guy, bad guy."

But when it comes to material to record, Tobin clearly does have a big say, as she admits.

"My manager gets hold of the material first, listens to it and then I listen to it and say how I feel. If I really hate a song I don't have to do it, though.”

tiffanySo far Tobin has been a good picker of material. Tiffany's cover versions of the old Tommy James hit I Think We're Alone Now and The Beatles' I Saw Her Standing There -- with the necessary gender change in the lyrics -- have thrust her to the top of charts worldwide.

And now her hectic touring schedule and television appearances have lifted her out of high school and on to the world stage. It's a gruelling schedule which sees her off to Japan shortly and leaving behind the leisure time and friends.

“I take time off when I can. When I'm on the road I have a girlfriend who comes with me. I'm flying in and out but if I have a three-day break I fly home just to be at home. Then I kind of lie around in my sweats on my couch. It's important for me to spend time with my friends and also have time to myself.

"Some of my friends have been envious of me and they’ve changed, well . . . not so much changed, but they feel there is competition. They feel they have to compete with me."

For a young girl whose career has been built on the image of the girl next door, there is an irony in that her image as the typical teenager is entirely non-competitive. "If Tiffany can do it, so can I" is how the marketing goes. And she is aware of it.

“Looking at my idols, I want to be like them, dress like them and dye my hair like them. But the average teenager doesn't have $200 to spend on a nice out outfit just to be like their role models. I look at people like Madonna -- which is not my image -- but when she started she had bows. You can get a bow for 25 cents and girls all over were wearing bows.

"So she started something kids could copy because it's affordable and that' very important. You can't have something that's real glitzy an glamorous because the kids are just going to say, 'That's beautiful but I can't afford it.' They want to copy the way you dress."

TiffanyDarwishHer image-conscious manager, who insiders say guides her career ruthlessly and decides what she will wear, has discounted any move into films, a natural career turn for most young teen stars.

"I think it would be rushing it to make a movie," she says. "People would ask, 'What does she really want to be' and say 'Just because she's successful as a singer she thinks she can be successful in films.'

“I wouldn’t do any part different to my image as a singer anyway. My image as a singer is just real casual and what I feel comfortable wearing."

So far the only kink in her phenomenal rise to stardom after the 10 shopping all appearances has been the untidy court case over control of her finances.

For the press, and rock critics in particular who have been almost unanimous in their contempt of "Tiffany the Glove Puppet," the litigation has been pounced upon.

It's a nice messy, story which can be twisted easily as the young starlet takes her mother to court.

“A lot of papers put it out like I was banned from going home and here’s a mother and daughter who hate each other so much. But it wasn't like that at all. I have a stepfather who kind of looked at this as . . . ah . . . more than something to do at weekends," she says weighing the words carefully.

“He saw it as something that could pay his rent.

“You never know how long you are going to be in this business and the main thing is to keep your head clear and keep the money you’re working for.

“I'm only 16 and I should have some of that money in a trust fund. That was my goal [in going to court] because no one was taking care of that at the time. It was resolved by a settlement."

She laughs slightly at the suggestion while her friends hang out or watch television she has grown up fast by sitting with lawyers and business people discussing finances.

"I try to handle all of that stuff, but at this time I don't really want to get into having investment advice. As far as being more mature, I think my generation has had to grow up faster and there are a lot of pressures nowadays. Even the style of clothing has changed and girls apply their make-up differently to make them look older.

"I guess I'm just lucky because I'm doing what I love to do and was able to get a career early on."

How long that career can last is another matter. Her debut album had been bled dry of singles and a new one, due in three months she says, has only had two songs recorded for it -- one of them a cover version of an old Rascals tune, Ain't Gonna Eat Up My Heart No More.

But already the media is turning the spotlight on to Debbie Gibson and Shanice Wilson, two young singers coming up more slowing and cautiously.

Tiffany has come a long way from singing in shopping malls during her summer vacation. She sang at Disney World and sold four million albums.

Sure, she’s marketed and image-conscious. Are you going to argue The Mission, Springsteen, U2 and Tina Turner aren’t?

She’s pretty ordinary and in a way her story could be kind of sad too one day. Think about it.

She's only 16.

TiffanyAfter her second album Tiffany's career stalled, shortly after her 18th birthday she left Tobin's management and her third album failed to chart.

Later she posed nude for Playboy (right).

She's out there singing again.

For a somewhat disturbing doco about two men with a Tiffany obsession go here.

A decade later I spent a day with another teen-popette, Billie, whose life also didn't quite shape out into a music career. See here.

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