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Pop Singer Damian: Is There Life Beyond the Soap Opera?

July 18, 1989|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

Remember Rick Springfield?

How about Jack Wagner?

Most pop fans know that they're in the celebrity graveyard reserved for daytime soap-opera stars who double as pop singers.

And cynics are already setting aside a plot for Michael Damian.

The handsome, 27-year-old star of "The Young and the Restless" is the latest daytime soap star to have a hit single. His remake of David Essex's 1974 hit "Rock On" went to No. 1 recently and his new single, "Cover of Love," is moving briskly up the charts.

"I know people like me who make records aren't what you'd call highly regarded in this business," said Damian with a laugh, when asked about the low credibility of most pop-soap stars.

"Some people are opportunists who are just trying to cash in on their TV popularity."

One thing that works against pop-soap stars is that they are often perceived as merely pretty faces with limited talent--in acting or singing.

So they are considered, at best, fodder for the teen-idol machinery--artists who may be good for a few hits before the fickle young fans move on to the next hero.

Rick Springfield ran into the problem even though he was a singer long before he gained stardom on "General Hospital" in the early '80s. He had even registered a Top 20 hit in 1972: "Speak to the Sky."

But Springfield's pop career sagged after that hit and most people thought he was new on the scene when he burst back, thanks to the "General Hospital" exposure, with "Jessie's Girl" and "Don't Talk to Strangers."

He thus became lumped into the pop-soap tradition--along with Jack Wagner, also of "General Hospital," whose "All I Need" went to No. 2 in 1985.

Kylie Minogue is also an unofficial member of the pop-soap club. Minogue, who had a big hit late last year with a remake of "The Loco-Motion," is a soap star--but in her native Australia, where the exposure helped make the song a hit. Its success there spilled over to the United States.

While it's too early to tell if Minogue and Damian will be able to follow up on their initial success, they know they're bucking the system.

Gary Gersh, an artists-and-repertoire executive at Geffen Records, signed Minogue and feels she has the talent to escape the pop-soap stigma. But he acknowledged that the stigma is so strong that labels are often reluctant to get involved with soap actors or actresses, even if they have some singing background.

"Record companies are in the business of building careers," he said. "So why sign an artist you think will last through a few singles and that's it?

"Generally, they're not taken seriously. If a tape came to me from a soap star, I'd be hesitant to listen to it."

That skepticism even sticks with soap artists after they've had a hit.

"We give everyone a fair shake, but being on a soap probably operates against the artist on a lot of stations," said Gwen Roberts, assistant program director at KIIS-FM. "It's a problem of credibility. It's hard for soap stars to prove themselves as artists."

Can Damian, currently on a 60-city concert tour, overcome the skepticism?

Damian's pop career is a case of art imitating life.

For eight years, the San Diego native has been playing struggling rocker Danny Romalotti on his TV series. Now that the actor is finally having musical success, so will Romalotti. To explain Damian's absence from the show while he tours for the next few months, his character will suddenly make it big and go on tour.

Damian considers himself a singer first and an actor second. Before going solo in the early '80s, the outgoing singer was part of the Weirz, a band consisting of most of his eight brothers and sisters. (The family's name is Weir.) The group attracted some attention in Los Angeles clubs with its energetic pop-rock show but never landed a major record deal.

Though Damian scored a minor hit, "She Did It," on tiny Leg Records in 1981, his real break came when he appeared on "American Bandstand" to perform the song and was spotted by talent scouts who signed him for "The Young & the Restless." He has been a regular on the show ever since.

While he pursued singing and actually recorded two albums for CBS in Canada, he still couldn't get a U.S. deal--at least a serious deal. One company, he said, did offer him a contract, but it was purely an attempt to capitalize on his soap-opera popularity.

"They wanted me to record five old songs that everybody knows and then go out on a shopping-mall tour to reach that TV audience," he said. "Part of me wanted to take that deal, but I decided to wait for something better."

About 10 months ago, Damian heard Essex's "Rock On" on the car radio and decided to record an updated version in his home studio. He sent demo tapes of the song and several others to various record companies. Mark Rocco, director of the movie "Dream a Little Dream," heard the tape and arranged to use "Rock On" in the film and on the sound-track album, which was released by Cypress.

The movie died this spring, but the single caught on with radio programmers. The record's success led to a series of offers, Damian said, but he decided to stick with Cypress, which this spring released his solo album, "Where Do We Go From Here?"

As he tries to establish his pop credibility, Damian is also weighing his future in soaps.

"I'd love to stay on the show, but music is my first love," he said. "If I can really make it in music, that's all I want."

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