Laurieann Gibson is on a mission: to help undiscovered talents find a pathway to their dreams without having their hope shattered at every turn.
She knows all too well what that feels like. Now the creative director for Lady Gaga who’s also been tasked with guiding the visual roll-out of all Interscope Records developing artists, Gibson, a lifelong dancer and choreographer that got her start as a “Fly Girl” on In Living Color, saw her share of stumbles in a career that spans nearly two decades. And like the dancers she’ll mentor and judge on the new Ryan Seacrest-produced E! series The Dance Scene (premiering April 10), she had to fight her way there, whether that meant sparring with P. Diddy on Making the Band (the Danity Kane era) or proving to an executive or artist that she can executive their vision.
Some of her ascent was chronicled in the 2003 movie Honey, starring Jessica Alba, which was partly inspired by Gibson’s own experiences, but even after working with the biggest names in pop and R&B -- including Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys and Usher, to name a few -- it’s safe to say that Gibson’s time is very much now as she prepares for her biggest professional undertaking yet: directing the video to Gaga’s forthcoming single “Judas.” Gibson sat down with THR.
The Hollywood Reporter: You've been involved in several reality shows including Making the Band, Skating with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, what have those TV experiences taught you?
Laurieann Gibson: When Puff called me and said, 'I want you to do a show for me and make a girl group,’ I didn't understand the power of television. I never thought about it as a TV show, I just said, 'What's my mission? Make a number one band.' And that's what I did. Then after watching [Making the Band], I saw how they spun me and they made me this one-dimensional tyrant. I still didn't care, but now that I have a show, it's like a sense of victory because it shows who I really am.
THR: How would you describe your TV self on The Dance Scene?
Gibson: I'm a tough coach, but on the other side of that is me telling them to go all out, “because you're great, because I don't want you to fail, because you were born to do this and you have a dream.”
THR: Did you have that kind of support coming up or was your experience more adversarial?
Gibson: It was way more adversarial -- devastatingly so at times. It caused a multitude of insecurities. At times, I don't know how I pulled myself out of it. People were being so mean as a result of my ability -- a gift, really. So I think that's what makes me fight harder to provide an option to aspiring kids or artists. I wouldn't want anyone to go through what I went through… to see a little girl or a little dancer experience such unnecessary rejection. But I believe in giving back because when it was really dark, my heart made a way for me.
THR: You began working with Gaga before she was signed to Interscope Records, what were your first conversations with her like?
Gibson: In the beginning, it was just me teaching her. I listened to the music and the lyrics, where she breaths and I showed her how to use the microphone, how to look out into the crowd, how to stay in the zone. These are things she had to learn, but she was so fearless.
THR: You’ll be co-directing the video for “Judas,” is it safe to assume that the clip will have a religious theme?
Gibson: It went through several changes and late-night debates because at one point, there were two completely different views and I was like, 'Listen, I don't want lightning to strike me! I believe in the gospel and I'm not going there.' And it was amazing because to have that conversation about salvation, peace and the search for the truth in a room of non-believers and believers, to me, that was saying God is active in a big way. And the place that it came to is surreal. We don't touch on things that we have no right touching upon, but the inspiration and the soul and idea that out of your oppression, your darkness, your Judas, you can come into the marvelous light. So it's about the inspiration and to never give up… We've created a new Jerusalem.
THR: If the final treatment didn’t sit well with you, would you have walked away from the video?
Gibson: Absolutely. I do believe God inspired and worked on everyone's heart, but yes. I would have been like, “Good bye, I ain't doing it. No way.” But the place it came to is really magical. And she's dancing her face off.
THR: Tell us about your creative director title at Interscope …
Gibson: Artist development is something that I've been passionate about from my days at Uptown and Motown Records. Back in the early days like for the Temptations, Supremes and Four Tops, artist development was alive in record companies. Every artist had a moment to develop the record visually. When the web took over and camera phones, it stripped the artists of the power to figure it out. So there's a need to bridge that gap and that’s my job. [And] I’m getting points, like A&R.
THR: Can you explain how the points deal came about?
Gibson: Because now that you can get records for free, it’s actually the visual producer that’s delivering the brand and maintaining the fanbase. It’s not just the album [artwork], it’s the concert and the entire experience. I basically worked for Gaga for free for a year because it was so much a part of me. It takes a lot. So that's why we did that deal.
THR: How did you come to know Ryan Seacrest?
Gibson: I was doing Puffy on American Idol – well, I was pretending to be Puffy while working out his staging, and I saw Ryan out of the corner of my eye. He said something like, 'Wow, you're a really good Puffy’ and he just watched and understood that there was something different going on with me and the way the artists were responding. So he had E! actually follow me and they began to understand that there was something that went beyond just choreographer and coach. Ryan was just really intrigued and he said, “I think the world needs to see this inspiration.”
THR: There are so many dance shows on TV right now, is dance here to stay or is this a fad not unlike what we experienced in the eighties?
Gibson: I think in the eighties it had a certain texture and power. Saturday Night Fever, Paula Abdul, Fame, Debbie Allen… all affected me and the generation before me. But I think it's here to stay. You can't really stop such an amazing art form.