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 13, 2018

Children of the 80s, Tiffany is calling.

The former pop princess doesn't play malls anymore, and three decades after her I Think We're Alone Now success, she's 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 We're Alone Now (a must-watch) about obsessive fans.

How many times a week does someone ask you if you think we're alone now?

If I'm on the road, maybe once a week. Reporters like to throw it out there. I laugh like I've never heard it before. I don't really get tired of it. I think it's really funny.

In the same vein, how fast CAN you run?

Pretty fast, depending on what I'm 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 — who was your Tiffany?

My first concert was Patti LaBelle. My cousin took me. Before that I was listening to country music, because that's 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 doesn't really hurt her throat. Totally changed me, and her performance on stage really impacted me.

What's your favorite song?

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

I've got this crystal-clear memory of the energy and excitement of your show back then. What's 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 — and letting everybody know that I could really sing — that I didn't 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 it's fitting into my life now without taking away from the fun.

I love my ballads, my Could've Been and All this Time. You're 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 — and that's the premise of the show. I don't want people to buy a ticket and then that's it, they come back to the next show and it's the same thing. It's ever revolving.

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

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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. There's a little cheese factor there I have a hard time with.

I've 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 what's going to happen, but I'm very open to people. I think that's the key for me. I enjoy my fans and I enjoy spending time with them and hearing their stories. I've never gotten burned out on people. I look at them as an extended family. And I love hearing the stories! I mean, sometimes it's a little too much information, but we laugh and have a good time. I don't 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 it's a shame. Really, malls were destinations. Yes, online shopping is really convenient, and I'm all for small business. I've 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 couldn't afford or to just laugh at. Go look at hot guys and play at the arcade and go to the music store.

But they've 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 don't really take the time anymore to go old-school. We're missing out on some of those activities that were just fun and connected people.

I'm hitting 40 this year, Tiffany. Is it a good decade?

Yeah! You feel more comfortable in your own skin. I've never really been one for an age thing, I just don't really look at life that way. Everyone wants to be happy, but happy comes and goes, you know. But if you're grounded and you have great people around you, you're 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 don't 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, she's one of my dearest friends. The rivalry thing was never really from us, but we've 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. We've learned to really get to know each other and respect each other.

We are totally different, I'm much more the edgy one who's a bit more free spirit, Deb's thing is a bit more arranging and pre-planned, doesn't really live on the fly too much. But that's okay!

We've learned to really respect each other's working form. And as friends, we talk as girls. We don't have a problem.

I think it's really cool that we learned to become friends since everyone had us as this kind of rivalry, and we were like, "we don't 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. We'll never know.)