80s pop queen Tiffany dishes on malls and Debbie Gibson ahead of Tampa show

Tiffany, the 80s pop star, performs at the Jaeb Theater at the Straz on March 18. Photos courtesy of the Straz Center
Tiffany, the 80s pop star, performs at the Jaeb Theater at the Straz on March 18. Photos courtesy of the Straz Center
Published March 14

Children of the 80s, Tiffany is calling.

The former pop princess doesnít play malls anymore, and three decades after her I Think Weíre Alone Now success, sheís refined her act to an energetic mix of past and present. Expect less of a Casio backbeat, a bit more of a country take on her classic hits and some of her new material.

Ahead of her Sunday show at the intimate Jaeb Theater at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Tiffany took the time to answer some questions by phone. We talked about the death of malls, Debbie Gibson and a 2008 documentary I Think Weíre Alone Now (a must-watch) about obsessive fans.

How many times a week does someone ask you if you think weíre alone now?

If Iím on the road, maybe once a week. Reporters like to throw it out there. I laugh like Iíve never heard it before. I donít really get tired of it. I think itís really funny.

In the same vein, how fast CAN you run?

Pretty fast, depending on what Iím trying to get away from!

So you were my second live concert in Pittsburgh in 1988, when I was 9. Had I been doing the choosing, you probably would have been my first. Who was your first concert ó who was your Tiffany?

My first concert was Patti LaBelle. My cousin took me. Before that I was listening to country music, because thatís what was played in my home. It totally changed my life as a vocalist, I think, because I was more of a chesty, deep belcher. Patty LaBelle has this great range where she doesnít really hurt her throat. Totally changed me, and her performance on stage really impacted me.

Whatís your favorite song?

I have a lot of them, but I would probably say Landslide by Stevie Nicks.

Iíve got this crystal-clear memory of the energy and excitement of your show back then. Whatís the Tiffany concert experience now?

Probably still more high energy. For me, back then, I always loved what I was doing, but I was so worried about being perfect with the vocals ó and letting everybody know that I could really sing ó that I didnít talk a lot. Now I can really engage more with the audience, which I love.

We do old-school retro, with a little twist and a flair. Not so much a modern take on it, but just some guitar sounds and the like so that itís fitting into my life now without taking away from the fun.

I love my ballads, my Couldíve Been and All this Time. Youíre going to get a blend of a great night of music, the new and the old.

The set list on the show is always changing. Keeps you on your toes ó and thatís the premise of the show. I donít want people to buy a ticket and then thatís it, they come back to the next show and itís the same thing. Itís ever revolving.

I put on your first album and was shocked by how it took me back. Does that happen for you?

Every once in a while I will put on the albums. Listen to Spanish Eyes or Ruthless. I never liked Mr. Mambo, still hate it now. But I have to be sensitive to the fact that my fans do like it. Some of the songs were way too happy for me, even then. Thereís a little cheese factor there I have a hard time with.

Iíve seen the documentary and how you handle awkward fan encounters with grace. Are the fan meetings still fun for you after all that?

You never know whatís going to happen, but Iím very open to people. I think thatís the key for me. I enjoy my fans and I enjoy spending time with them and hearing their stories. Iíve never gotten burned out on people. I look at them as an extended family. And I love hearing the stories! I mean, sometimes itís a little too much information, but we laugh and have a good time. I donít let the awkward or strange events keep me from opening up to somebody else. I come into the moment with eyes wide open.

So you launched your career with the mall tour. Does the death of the American shopping mall feel a little personal?

It does, actually. I think itís a shame. Really, malls were destinations. Yes, online shopping is really convenient, and Iím all for small business. Iíve had my own boutiques in Nashville. But there was something magical about the mall. Everybody went there on a Saturday and you met your girlfriends for lunch. For young kids, it was an opportunity to look at things that you probably couldnít afford or to just laugh at. Go look at hot guys and play at the arcade and go to the music store.

But theyíve taken a lot of those things out. People now just go to run in and get their packages and go. Our lifestyles are really fast-paced. I think we donít really take the time anymore to go old-school. Weíre missing out on some of those activities that were just fun and connected people.

Iím hitting 40 this year, Tiffany. Is it a good decade?

Yeah! You feel more comfortable in your own skin. Iíve never really been one for an age thing, I just donít really look at life that way. Everyone wants to be happy, but happy comes and goes, you know. But if youíre grounded and you have great people around you, youíre healthy. I look at every birthday and every year as an extension of my life. What am I going to get up to this year? I get compliments were people are like, "You donít really look your age or act your age." And I say, "Thank you!"

My friends keep comparing you and Debbie Gibson to Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Did you know this was still a thing?

Well, I would never sabotage Deb, put it that way! I love her, sheís one of my dearest friends. The rivalry thing was never really from us, but weíve had fun with it over the years. We are definitely really different. Our common denominator is our childhood and that we do have so much in common with being on the road and everything. Weíve learned to really get to know each other and respect each other.

We are totally different, Iím much more the edgy one whoís a bit more free spirit, Debís thing is a bit more arranging and pre-planned, doesnít really live on the fly too much. But thatís okay!

Weíve learned to really respect each otherís working form. And as friends, we talk as girls. We donít have a problem.

I think itís really cool that we learned to become friends since everyone had us as this kind of rivalry, and we were like, "we donít really know each other." It was really the movie (Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, 2011) where we got to know each other.

Okay, one last question, and this one is for a very specific HGTV audience. Do you REALLY like that chair you bought on Flea Market Flip?

(Tiffany was on a train in London. The call dropped. Weíll never know.)