As a 5-year-old on suburban Long Island, New York, dealing with “a tumultuous home environment” and a painful childhood operation, “the radio saved my life,” Taylor Dayne, 56, exclusively revealed to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “I’d just listen to singers like Stevie Wonder and Karen Carpenter and feel, ‘There’s something outside of all this.’ And every single one of those singers seemed rich, famous and happy! So I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be a rock ‘n’ roll star!’”
With her powerful voice, the star — born Leslie Joy Wunderman — did just that, selling 75 million records worldwide with songs like “Tell It to My Heart” and “Love Will Lead You Back.” While she has endured her share of ups and downs, Taylor is still performing more than 30 years later and is a happy single mom to 17-year-old twins Astaria and Levi, who were both born via surrogate.
Now she’s chronicled her journey in a new memoir with a title as honest as she is: Tell It to My Heart: How I Lost My S#*T, Conquered My Fear, and Found My Voice. “I definitely lost it along the way many times,” she told Closer. “But I’m like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I believe you brush yourself off and get back on the yellow brick road!” Scroll down to read our exclusive Q&A interview with Taylor!
Congrats on the book! What inspired you to come up with that title?
Because calling it The Songbird or The Voice wouldn’t be so authentic. What’s in the pages is my journey from a little girl to a strong, self-respecting woman in her 50s. I talk about gaining my self-respect and understanding what beauty and happiness really is.
Why did you use your first Top 10 hit, “Tell It to My Heart,” in the title? Everything about that song changed my life!
I worked at every club in NYC prior to that, and put out a couple of 12-inch singles under my real name, Leslie. My producer Ric Wake and I borrowed money from my father to record it, and I got signed to Arista. It was this tsunami, and the rest is history
What were some of the biggest changes in your life?
The song was a phenomenon in Europe, so I was asked to open for Michael Jackson on tour there. Then his manager said, “I’m going to manage you.” And being a labelmate to Whitney Houston was daunting but extraordinary. She would say to me, “God, I love you. You’re the voice.” It was an amazing feeling.
Did you get any career advice from her or any other famous divas along the way?
Oh yeah, especially Cyndi Lauper. Touring with her taught me a lot — she doesn’t hold back. Cyndi said, “Taylor, I’m out in front of the audience listening to your sound guy and he sucks! From now on you’re going to make sure about this!” So now I always do.
What was it like to make your film acting debut as a singer in Love Affair with producer/star Warren Beatty?
Insane! You get a call from an agent, who says, “Warren Beatty just called the office. He just saw you on The Tonight Show and wants to talk to you about a role,” and you don’t believe it! Then the call from him comes through, and I’m like, “Didn’t I just see you with Madonna?” His beautiful new wife, Annette Bening, [costar] Chloe Webb and I formed a real bond and a wonderful friendship.
When did you first know that you had such an incredible, powerful voice?
The moment my dad gave me a transistor radio when I was 4 or 5, I was singing along with it! I had my first solo in kindergarten, and they put me in with the glee club. So I was absolutely starving to be heard.
You wrote that at age 5, you had to undergo ureteral reimplantation surgery, a major procedure that cut the tubes leading to your kidneys in order to save your life. How did that affect you?
That was unbearable, and it led to treatment that went on until I was 18. I was battling my self-image, wanting to have a certain look. In my school, girls were bulimic or anorexic or ran 15 miles a day and ate one meal. The fears turned into panic attacks, and when I was 15, 16, I became agoraphobic. I couldn’t leave the house. I had to go to a [treatment] program.
Wow. Does the surgery still affect you?
It’s been a very physically painful part of my life. I don’t even know if I really could have carried a baby to full term. I was really considering adoption, so when the opportunity came for a surrogate, I was like, “Really? I could have my own child with my own eggs, but someone else could carry it?”
How did becoming a mother change you?
I feel responsible — and more than that, I feel capable. I just wanted one child, and God was like, “You’re getting two!” I called my brother and said, “If it’s triplets, you’re taking one!” But it was never a dull moment, and nothing ever felt more right than being their mom.
They took that … I hate to say loneliness … but before I had them I thought, Is this it? If this is all it is, then I don’t know what I worked my whole life for! I don’t know why I thought fame was going to fill the void, because it didn’t. My children have taught me how to love.
What are you like as a mom?
I am definitely very fun, but I was raised in New York with Jewish parents, and what comes first is work, studying and making sure your grades are on point. There is only one me, so I’m a drill sergeant when I have to be. But I do think they understand the tongue-in-cheek aspects of who I am.
What’s been your greatest life lesson?
Sometimes we feel that every move we make is going to be our last, but you’re going to stay creative and stay relevant. If you stand around long enough, you can have moments of sitting down and enjoying the accolades. You have to physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally stay fit.
How have you managed to withstand all of life’s challenges?
It’s been a challenge through every decade. My 30s were emotional, wanting to be a mom and to be married, then on to my 40s and now in my 50s, menopause! I can go on and on! But each decade has had different breakthroughs. I’ve never been more excited or felt better.
For more on Taylor Dayne, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!