Chances were that Tiffany Darwisch was going to do what most 15-year-olds do during the summer--go to the malls. So, when offered an expenses-paid trip to malls from coast to coast, she could not say "yes" fast enough.
Shopping, however, is not on her itinerary.
The slender, brown-eyed Norwalk teen-ager will be singing in those malls: from the Thruway Mall in upstate New York to Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, Iowa. The songstress, who goes by one name, Tiffany, will be singing to prerecorded music tracks to promote a new album and generate a following.
The Tiffany Shopping Mall Tour '87; Her manager is betting that this marketing spin will be a hit.
"We wanted to take her to where her peer group hangs out all summer long--shopping malls," Brad Schmidt said excitedly. "If 'Tif is going to make it, she's going to do it first among 12- to 18-year-olds, and what better place to expose her than in America's playgrounds, the malls."
It could be a new Top 40 marketing move or a flop.
Although Tiffany likes the idea, she has some reservations about the tour which began last weekend in Paramus, N.J.
"I'm a little nervous about people's reaction, particularly since they don't know me," she said, curled up in a big easy chair sipping a cola at a North Hollywood studio where she rehearses. " . . . I mean, I go to a mall to shop, and I'm not sure I'd stop and listen."
She has caught the ear of several executives at MCA Records, which signed her last year to a recording contract and has given her "priority status" among the company's new artists, Schmidt said. MCA is financing the mall tour to push her first album, simply titled "Tiffany," a 10-song package that will be released this month. A single from the disc, "Danny," already is out in some markets around the country.
Most of the tunes are originals, written for Tiffany, and the album has a decided pop sound to it, although the twang of her early years as a country-Western singer slips through. It took 10 months and countless hours commuting between Norwalk and the North Hollywood studio to finish the album.
She has been gearing for the fast track of a recording career since age 9 when she first hopped up on a trailer bed and sang the country music standard "Delta Dawn" at a Norwalk street party. She so impressed the band, the Country Hoe Downers, that they offered her a job performing at special events and county fairs. Encouraged by her parents, who are now divorced, she spent weekends and summers as the group's lead singer.
By age 11, she was a frequent performer at school assemblies, although her country repertoire received mixed reviews from friends more accustomed to the power and pitch of rock music. Tiffany, too, grew restless with the sudsy ballads and three-part harmonies of country, and went electric for a time. But the little-rocker role was not the ticket, either.
"I was 13, and wearing tight, little black jeans and teasing my hair wasn't going to make it," Tiffany recalled. She abandoned the act soon after, and hooked up with producer George Tobin, who along with Schmidt has shaped her upbeat, mainstream sound. And they have urged Tiffany to be herself--no sequin-studded mini-skirts or wild hairdos. So far she is following the script.
"It's perfect, it's me," she said, curling a strand of long red hair with her finger. She was wearing an oversized black T-shirt and baggy green trousers that gathered tight just above the ankles. A pair of simple, black pumps completed the outfit. Looking like a typical teen from the suburbs, she added:
"Take Madonna. She came out with a different look. But it was something anyone could do by going to a thrift store or K mart and buying bows for your hair. It's an affordable image, and that's important. If it's all silky dresses and sequins the kids will say, 'Gee, that's nice, but I can't afford it.' I want to be believable."
This spring she toured with the popular black pop music act, the Jets, and Schmidt said the response to Tiffany was overwhelming. "High school boys," he said, "were tearing the collars and sleeves off their shirts and tossing them on stage. . . . "
All the fuss is a bit unsettling for Tiffany, who still prefers living with her mother and two sisters in the family's small Norwalk apartment to a suitcase and the grind of airports and hotels.
"It's nice when they applaud," she said, blushing slightly. "But I'm basically shy. I get embarrassed. It's kind of new to me."
For the teen-ager who lists rock singer Stevie Nicks, actress Cher and the multi-talented Bette Midler as her idols, nothing is the same anymore. She doubts that she will return for her junior year at Leffingwell Christian High School in Norwalk. Instead, she probably will continue her education with a tutor as her career permits.
Tiffany contends that she is the same "normal kid who talks too much on the phone," but her mother said her daughter is hardly average for her age.
"Tiffany has grown up much faster because of all of this," Janie Williams said. "She's much more mature than most 15-year-olds. But I would hate to see her 15 and not mature, what with all the pressures facing teens today. . . . She's always wanted to sing, and God bless her, that's what she's going to do."
Robbing Tiffany of her youth by plunging her headlong into show business is a "valid concern," Schmidt said. "But it's a bigger crime not to utilize her talent."
As for Tiffany, who says she eventually wants it all, "to sing, to act, to dance and to produce records," the price she pays for pursuing a career so young is worth it.
"In this business you can't be a normal 15-year-old, but that goes with the territory," she said. "I've worked with a lot of young stars, and they have egos as big as this room. Every day I pray, 'Lord, please whatever happens, don't let me get like that.' "