Like many women, pop icon Debbie Gibson always imagined by the time she reached her mid-forties she would be settled down with a husband and kids. But following the whirlwind which saw her rise to fame as a teen pop star and continue to conquer every corner of showbiz today, life took a “different course.”
Now, as the 48-year-old New York native enjoys one of her biggest years yet -- recording new music, touring with New Kids on the Block, launching a radio show and working on a Christmas album and movie -- she’s candidly opening up about why she’s not fazed by the idea of potentially facing motherhood in her fifties and how her orphaned father, Joseph’s, experience inspired her to consider adoption.
“It’s funny because if you asked when I was 30, I would’ve said, ‘I’m going to be married and have six kids by the time I’m 45,’ but my life took a different course,” Gibson tells ET as she prepares for Thursday’s opening night of the Mixtape Tour with New Kids on the Block, Tiffany, Salt-N-Pepa and Naughty by Nature. “Career was on the front-burner, then with the relationship I was in, it just didn’t feel like something we would do together.”
“I’m not sitting here going, ‘I wish I had a family,’” she adds. “I’m looking at my life so grateful and it definitely didn’t follow the normal course of things, but nothing in my life has. I was employing 100 people at 17 years old and now I’m 48 and never been married, so I jokingly say I was the youngest person to do a bunch of stuff and now I’m the oldest person to do a bunch of stuff!”
Having recently come out of a decade-long relationship with Rutledge Taylor, Gibson notes that children aren’t immediately on her horizon, but a strong possibility in the future. She has given considerable thought to how she would start a family, and given health issues like suffering adrenal fatigue and being diagnosed with Lyme disease (a potentially fatal tick-borne illness) in 2013, she’s leaning toward adoption.
“Weirdly, I have thought, ‘Wow, even if I could have a kid today, would I want to have a natural-born child?’” she says. “I don’t know if my body could handle it, and I don’t know if it was ever going to handle it well, so it might have been this big blessing [to have not become pregnant.]”
Living with Lyme disease means that behind Gibson’s fun social media posts, she is frequently dealing with pain, neurological issues and food sensitivities, and has had to learn to stop “being everything to everyone,” dial back on work and social commitments, and not set out with expectations of being perfect on stage when it comes to the Mixtape Tour.
In addition to health setbacks, her father’s upbringing and the “huge problem” of children without homes in the U.S. has also made Gibson favor adoption over IVF or surrogacy.
“My dad was an orphan -- he met his dad when he was 50 -- and he turned out amazingly well, but I know his journey,” she says. “He was in a foster care home with 100 boys and wasn’t able to be adopted [because] there were religious restrictions. I’ve volunteered at foster homes and I’m amazed at how many kids need homes, so whether it’s a baby or an older child, that’s always been on my radar.”
“We focus on adoption so heavily with pets,” she continues. “People come down hard on those who don't have a rescue pet, yet the need to adopt children in this country is not front and center. Not that people shouldn’t follow the natural order of life and have natural-born children because that’s beautiful and I’m in awe of my friends and sisters who are parents. I just think for myself, that might end up being my only option if I want a family. But I’m still in a place where I’m coming out of my last relationship, going into a new chapter and unwinding my health puzzle, so it’s not on the front-burner right now.”
Although many in their late forties might feel the clock ticking when it comes to entering parenthood, Gibson isn’t fazed by the idea of contemplating starting a family while nearing 50.
“I feel much more prepared now than 10 years ago!” she admits. “Fortunately, I can look at people like Sandra Bullock who was  when she adopted her son, so it’s a whole new world. A lot of people start a second act right about now and that’s what I feel like I’m doing. I’m embarking on a whole new chapter and I’ve never pinned age on anything. When I was 16, I felt completely equipped to be running a show, and now I’m approaching 50 and if I decide to be a mother or do another pop record or anything else, age won’t prohibit me.”
Indeed, age has never been in Gibson’s way since she exploded onto the music scene at 16 with “Foolish Beat,” (from her debut album, Out of the Blue) for which she still holds the Guinness World Record for the youngest female artist to write, produce and perform a number one song. She recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of its follow-up, Electric Youth, and its number one hit, “Lost in Your Eyes.” Having since reached sales in excess of 16 million albums worldwide, Gibson has also starred in musicals like Grease, reality shows like Dancing With the Stars and films including Rock of Ages and Hallmark's Wedding of Dreams.
She continues to pursue all facets of entertainment today, working on a Christmas album and new pop music, having turned a corner with managing her health and built a studio at her Las Vegas home where she frequently gets up at 4 a.m. to lay down ideas as they strike. Thriving in that fun and spontaneous approach, she likens it to recording her first demos in her family’s garage as young as 12. Gibson, who will release a new single soon, also has another Hallmark Christmas movie in the works and has launched a biweekly radio show, Debbie’s Gibson’s Mixtape, on SiriusXM’s The Blend channel. The show, airing at 6 p.m. ET/PT on Fridays, sees her present mixes reflecting her love of different genres, from retro to country, and will frequently be recorded from the road, with possible appearances from her Mixtape Tour buddies.
Gibson says the tour lineup has felt like a reunion, even though her history with New Kids on the Block is limited to collaborating with Jordan Knight on their 2006 duet, “Say Goodbye.” “He and I are so similar,” she says. “Jon [Knight] was managing Jordan when that single was out so Jon and Jordan would show up at my house in L.A. and we’d go off to do a performance together. The guys are just great. It feels like a reunion of people who did the same thing at the same time, so it’s easy energy -- professional and grown-up, but fun.”
Fun is clearly the theme of the 53-date run kicking off in Cincinnati, Ohio, with Gibson saying Donnie Wahlberg’s goal was to focus on “what fans can see on this tour that they can’t see anywhere else.” That means every act will hit the stage to perform “80s Baby,” (the collaborative song which was one of three new tracks on New Kids on the Block’s recently released Hangin’ Tough: 30th Anniversary Edition) and attendees have been urged to arrive on time as the boy band will hit the stage first and last in what is expected to be a mixtape-style order of acts rather than each artist performing sets one after the other.
Gibson reveals that fans can also expect some “creative” pairings and a major surprise which will see her perform one of her biggest hits “in a way I’ve never done before.” Meanwhile, her wardrobe has been created by Dancing With the Stars costume designer Daniela Gschwendtner and pays homage to the '80s.
What will be going on backstage as so many iconic acts converge in one place night after night?
Doggy daycare! Gibson shares that her entourage includes a dog walker. “There’s going to be a lot of dogs backstage!” she says. “I’m taking two and I found this kid who’s a dog walker, so I’m like, ‘Do you want to come on the road?’ One of my dogs, Trouper, is a recent rescue and still has behavioral issues, so if I know he has extra hands-on love then I’m free to do whatever I need to do. He's doing so well. I’m taking a dog wrangler over taking a hair and makeup person because I love doing my own hair and makeup!”
Gibson will also be cooking her own meals on tour, one of the tour secrets which helps her maintain the fantastic figure which she showcased in New Kids on the Block’s “Boys in the Band” video. “I travel with a hot plate, a little pan and spatula,” she dishes. “I’m waiting for a hotel housekeeper to rat me out, but I’m very careful and tend to bring my own healthy foods with me and do that.”
“My body is the shape it is from 25 years of working out,” she continues. “I walk, swim and play hardcore with my dogs which might sound ridiculous, but you start using muscles you didn’t know you had. I’m active and eat very clean -- 90% protein, vegetables, low-glycemic fruit. You don’t have to kill yourself in the gym. The gym can be more for toning and mental clarity, but if your diet is clean, you can maintain your body.”
And, if that killer body, bubbly personality and immense talent catch the eye of any bachelors on tour, potential suitors should know that Gibson is “happily single” following her split from Taylor.
“He’s a doctor, so if anyone could have handled all that, he could have,” she says. “But it absolutely impacts a relationship because you’re not exactly the person you were when you entered the relationship. I can see in Rob and Marisol that they have that committed partnership where you have to love much more about someone than, ‘Oh, they can go out on a Friday night with me.’ Maybe she can’t, and I definitely can’t, so I think people’s lifestyles have to be congruent and the depth of the relationship has to be there more so if you’re dealing with twists and turns in a health journey.”
“My mom’s dealing with a major health event right now and she’s been with her man only a year and he’s there for her in a way you would hope your partner of 50 years would be there for you,” she adds. “Ultimately, that’s what I want!”