It can't be easy for former teen star Tiffany Darwish, known to most simply as Tiffany. After scoring a monster hit in 1987 with a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now," from the equally successful self-titled debut album released that same year, Tiffany was known worldwide as the spunky, denim-clad pop-teen who would show up in malls and sing to the screaming masses.
But that was three decades ago, and she's not that same Tiffany anymore. 2016's A Million Miles was her ninth studio album in total, pointing to the fact that she's never really gone away, and yet people still closely associate her with that beaming teen singing "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Could've Been" to people standing all-too-close to a Cinnabon vendor. That fact frustrates her, but she's also pragmatic.
"It does frustrate me," Darwish says. "But in a perfect world, if somebody wanted to sign me and put me on the radio today, it would depend what they want anyway. I know who I am at this point, and I know what's believable for me. If they wanted me to do straight pop, urban dance, I would probably say no. I'm on a rock-based path."
Yeah, Tiffany has tried her luck with a variety of genres over the years, dabbling in R&B and even electronic dance-pop. A Million Miles was more in the singer-songwriter vein but, with the forthcoming album that she's working on right now, she's moving back towards a pop-rock vibe.
"I've always been a rocker, and I always thought that's what I'd be doing," Darwish says. "I loved Stevie Nicks, Heart and Led Zeppelin. I wanted to be a rock-country girl, and it's taken me a long time to get back to that platform. After being on the road, it feels like the natural thing to do. It's about being on the road, living in hotels, drinking a bottle of wine and making music."
Darwish sees all of her albums as her babies, including those in the '90s and 2000s that hardly receive any attention at all. But she's got the bit between her teeth now, she's determined to show a cynical world what she can do, and that drive has helped her to power through a phobia.
"With this album, I want to start traveling overseas again," she says. "I didn't fly for many years—my life got very tiny. I really struggled with flying, which stopped me from taking my music around the world. But doors have started to open, and we've been living and doing music for about a year now, which of course led to songwriting, which led to doing a new album. It's been great. I've recorded in Nashville, London and L.A."
It's wonderful to hear Tiffany sounding so enthusiastic about her music; it certainly hasn't always been that way. While she's gifted with a strong rock wail and a Joan Jett swagger, her teen-pop past has seen her pigeon-holed for decades, and the industry just hasn't allowed her to move on. As a result, a solid and critically-applauded album like 2000's The Color of Silence wasn't given a chance with the public.
"We had such high hopes for that album and we were getting such high praise," she says. "But it was so hard to get radio, and it was so hard for people to wrap their heads around the fact that this is Tiffany and I'm not the mall girl anymore. That's why I ended up doing Playboy. But for it to go nowhere was a heartbreaker for me. That's why I stopped doing records and videos for a minute."
Oh yes, Playboy. It was in April 2002 that Tiffany posed nude in Heff's magazine—what turned out to be a semi-successful attempt to turn the spotlight back in her direction, at least temporarily.
"I was trying to book lots of TV, but nobody gave me the time of day," she says. "Then I did Playboy and I couldn't stop the phone. So it gave me the opportunity to talk about my music, which was a weird avenue. I will look back at Playboy at some point and think it's cool."
Staying outside of music for a minute, Darwish has also done a lot of TV and movie work, including the television shows Celebrity Fit Club and the Australian version of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, and frankly stunning Sci-Fi Channel movies such as Mega Piranha, and the magnificent Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid, the latter with fellow former teen pop star Debbie Gibson.
"We had a blast, and that's where Deb and I bonded the most," Darwish says. "I still love vampires and werewolves. To do anything sci-fi is right up my alley. I'm not working on any acting at this moment in time, I'd love to—I'd love to do it all. But right now, with touring, it's hard to keep my house in order. I come home, I unpack my bag, I see my family and I'm out the door again. My son's 25 and my husband is at work and he knows what he got involved with."
Her focus is on her music right now, and that's great. It's in a live setting that she believes she excels—that's where she feels most at home to this day. Hey, this is a woman who was paraded around shopping malls to perform when she was a teen. She can certainly hold her own in clubs and theaters in her 40s.
"I'm definitely a live performer—that's where I shine most," she says. "I have great musicians I play with. It's just a lot of fun. It's a blast on stage. We'll always do retro at all of my shows. I make people get involved. I tell people to come in with energy. I won't be debuting new music yet."
Darwish says that she loves performing in Arizona, and has been coming here since she was in her mid-teens. She's honestly psyched about everything right now, just delighted that she still gets to sing in front of a still-adoring crowd.
"I feel like everything I've done is coming together right now," she says. "I'm very excited." ■