After Four Years of Training, Singer Debbie Gibson, 16, Comes Out of the Blue and Onto the Charts

updated 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Debbie Gibson ought to have a lot to say about herself. The 16-year-old senior from Calhoun High in Merrick, N.Y., has hit the number five spot on Billboard's pop chart with her hit Only In My Dreams; 10 of her own kinetic tunes are featured on her new album, Out of the Blue, and she's on tour giving concerts complete with male dancers, just like Madonna. But a conversation with pop's newest hit will produce more talk about Billy Joel than Gibson. She thinks he's terrific and wants to meet him but she's scared. "I don't know what I would say to him," says Gibson breathlessly. "I'd probably just freeze up!"

Relax, kid: The two of you have more in common than just Long Island. The pop phenom with perfect pitch has been writing songs since she was 5, when she scored a ditty called Make Sure You Know Your Classroom. "I've always had my hand in songwriting," Gibson says. "It's a lot of work, but I took everything one step at a time." The biggest step came in 1983 when her mother, Diane, asked a then 27-year-old entertainment lawyer named Doug Breitbart to copyright a song Debbie wrote when she was 9. "Here was a kid who could write songs," Breitbart recalls, "but she was going in all the wrong directions." Under his tutelage, Debbie took dancing and voice and was coached by recording professionals. Three years ago he even persuaded her parents to convert their garage into a 12-track recording studio.

These days her family devotes much of its time to her career. Her mom is a constant companion on the road, sister Karen, 21, mixes the lights and sound for many of her shows, and Michele, 20, is her seamstress. (Her dad, a TWA customer service rep, confines himself to cheering.) An honors student, Debbie says she's determined not to go showbiz. "I want to project myself," she says, "as a clean-cut, funky teenager." Still, it gets weird sometimes. "When guys come up to me for an autograph, they get intimidated at first, but then we start talking on a normal-person level," she says.

Which isn't to say she lacks ambition. "I want to win a Grammy in two years," Gibson says. "It's funny. Billy Joel doesn't like the Grammys. He once said they were like getting a best Dad award." The new kid on the Hot 100 concludes, "I don't agree."

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