In today’s realty-show-based, people-are-famous-for-doing-nothing culture, it’s hard to define any real skills that separate success from failure. Absent of answer, the armchair quarterbacks of the celebrity set use the esoteric, means-absolutely-nothing term “ they have “it”’ to describe someone who makes it.
“It” is terribly overused. It’s a go-to term that requires no thought or creativity. “It” comes in handy when you don’t want to say the truth, which is, “these people are rich and famous for no other reason that pure luck, and yes, that’s how ridiculous the celebrity industry we’re working in can be.”
There’s “it” and then there’s actual talent. Occasionally the two collide to produce a can’t-miss star. If you’re in your 30s today, you will remember the “it” quality of Debbie Gibson. Gibson was a pop music phenom destined to rewrite the record books in album sales. In the late 80s, the teenaged Gibson blasted onto the scene with two albums with titles reflecting her meteoric rise—Out of the Blue and Electric Youth. In 1988, when she was 17, her song “Foolish Beat” went to number one on the Billboard charts, making her (still) the youngest female artist to write, record, and perform a No. 1 single. She cranked out a bunch of other hits. Out of the Blue went triple platinum, Electric Youth went double platinum, and by 1990 it looked like Gibson was set for a decade of domination.
Except she never produced another hit. She tried. But “it” was gone. But what about the actual talent? How can someone to have such obvious skill at a young age, but then fail to deliver the results as an adult?
Sadly, not even Playboy could bring her back.
My deepest thoughts come from reading intellectual, insightful non-fiction, such as the short trivia blurbs on my TV’s Music Choice channels. Yesterday, they played an old Debbie Gibson hit, which got me to thinking. Deeply. Hey, Gibson sure had the total package. By the late 80s, you knew she would own the 1990s. But it just didn’t work out. Isn’t that the same deal with Damon Bradshaw?
At 17, Bradshaw was battling for wins and a title in the 250 supercross class. Not the 125 class, the 250s! He won the Anaheim opener in 1990 opener at age 17. That’s the equivalent of Justin Barcia going out and winning Anaheim 1 last year on a 450 against Villopoto, Stewart, Dungey and Reed last year. Except Barcia was already 18 by then!
It’s hard to realize just how good, how soon, Bradshaw was. We’ve seen a lot of fast kids rip straight from the amateur ranks, but none of them were block passing and beating the fastest riders in the world in the most prestigious class a year after they left Loretta’s. Only Bradshaw was that good. And hey, a generation after Gibson, teen superstars like Brittney Spears and Christina Aguleria blasted up the charts, but even they couldn’t match her hit maker writing/producing/performing chops at age 17. She was a damned prodigy!
But Gibson ended up peaking as a star before she ever turned 20. So did Bradshaw. His best year was 1992, and by ’93, the 21-year-old Bradshaw was already burned out and eclipsed by Jeremy McGrath, one year older but still just a rookie on a 250. Bradshaw retired, and numerous comeback attempts fell short on his old standards. Whatever “it” was for Bradshaw at 17, it was gone three years later. Same for Gibson.
Sometimes the young, talented set loses their way due to distractions or lazyness. Butlack of ambition didn’t ruined these two. The Electric Youth and the Beast from the East still tried. Gibson churned out one non-hit album after another, before finally going the Broadway route with some success. Bradshaw attempted comebacks in supercross before finally trying Arenacross with some success. A broken leg ended Bradshaw’s AX run, while Gibson was, well, just breaking a leg onstage, I suppose. Eventually, both ended up doing things they would have never considered in their prime. Bradshaw took up monster truck driving. Gibson posed nude for Playboy. And in a fit of irony, she didn’t even make the cover. A non-nude photo of the ultimate famous-for-no-reason debutant, Paris Hilton, took the cover of that issue. Gibson’s pictorial didn’t seem to do much to revive her career. In fact, if you hadn’t read it for the articles, you wouldn’t even have noticed it was there.
Sadly, a 97 CR250 couldn't bring him back either.
At one point, Bradshaw stooped to playing along with old rival Jeff Matiasevich. They raced in the U.S. Open legends race one year, and when Matiasevich appeared unprepared, Bradshaw did his best to carry the show—even letting Chicken pass him at one point to keep it interesting. And Bradshaw hated Chicken!
When Gibson was hot, she had to endure comparisons to another teen star named Tiffany (and only Tiffany. The real name was Tiffany Darwish, but somehow in music you can just conveniently leave your last name out if it doesn’t sound cool. Or just because you don’t feel like saying it. Why doesn’t anyone call Beyonce “Beyonce Knowles” anymore? Or Beyonce Z? ). Tiffany and “Debbie” were once pitted as teen queen rivals, but there’s no doubt Gibson was the superior talent. No doubt she hated the comparisons. Fast forward 20 years, and the duo ended up touring together and starring in a made-for-TV movie on the Syfy network. Ouch.
Sports and celebrity are obsessed with youth and talent. We respect the 30-something veteran that grinds it out, but the potent “it” label is only applied to the young. And when someone combines the esoteric “it” with tangible talent, there should be no stopping them.