Debbie Allen Daily Mirror Interview 2009

You want fame? Well fame costs. And right here is where you start paying In sweat!"
Long before Simon Cowell turned acerbic putdowns into an art form, canewielding Lydia Grant had her own way of putting wannabes in their place.  Her stern words opened every episode of Fame, the 80s series spawned by an Oscar-winning film of the same name.  Debbie Allen played Lydia, the principal of the New York City High School For Performing Arts.
And now - more than two decades since the academy that made bubble perms and legwarmers seem cool shut its doors - she's picking up her cane again to star in Fame, the remake.  The latest kids from Fame will be a new generation of showbiz wannabes but the original matriarch remains, although with a different name (Angela Simms).
In the 80s series, Debbie was also the real-life choreographer with a reputation for pushing the cast to their limits. And, being a glutton for punishment, the opportunity of an audience with the formidable one is too enticing to miss.
In my finest 80s attire, I head to the film's LA set - a school gym decked out for a Halloween ball - and await Ms Allen's arrival. All around me teens, including blonde Kherington Payne, who plays Alice in the new movie, laugh and stage impromptu dance-offs.  As a successful director, producer, choreographer and principal of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, I've been told Debbie won't have much time for me. It's just as well, I am petrified.
Now 59, Debbie looks as if she's barely aged a day since the TV series ended in 1987. And her presence is just as intimidating, too. "Show me what you've got," she barks as I attempt a high jump. Her expression doesn't change, which I convince myself is better than the hysterical laughter I was expecting. Instead, she waits, impassively, to see my next mortifying manoeuvre. I decide to do a party trick never before attempted without several dozen rum daiquiris. I slide creakily to the floor and do the splits.
"That's better," She says. "But you still don't cut it. And what's with the ridiculous outfit? Did no one tell you it's 2009?"
My legwarmers aren't the only things that haven't moved on since the 80s - Debbie's dressing-downs are as cutting as ever. But taking pity on me, she agrees to an interview. Already an accomplished dancer, singer and choreographer before she was cast in Fame, the 1980 film and series propelled her into the A-list.
"I didn't realise how internationally popular Fame was until I went on a cruise with my family and my good friend Denzel Washington," she says.
"We went into a restaurant in Positano, Italy and there were all these people shouting: 'Debbie! Debbie!' They ignored the big movie star Denzel. That's when I knew how big this thing was.
"I really became a director on Fame. I learned all about the camera. After the show ended, I directed a lot of things. I did the pilot of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and discovered Jada Pinkett-Smith."
She also released two solo albums and choreographed world tours for Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey. So why return for the movie remake?
"I felt good about the idea," she says.
"The actors are different, but the storylines are pretty true to the original film - it's still very relevant.
"Kids still deal with the same issues as they did back then. Are they gonna make it? Are they suicidal? Are they gonna do the work?

Can they take it? Are they tough enough?"
Ah, the toughness.
Not one to tolerate slackers, what would she do if one of her "kids" was taking the Amy Winehouse approach to extra-curricular activities?
"I'd snatch them back and whoop their ass, call their mother, have a shakedown," she says.
"You can't let them do it. We lose so many people because they have so much anxiety and depression - over what?
Why are they taking pills?
Why are they slamming into cars and dying?
"We've lost a lot of talented people and" her voice trails off as she recalls the death of Gene Anthony Ray (aka Leroy) in 2003.
"We lost Gene and that's a tough thing to think about" she continues. "We were close."
The students of her real Dance Academy are unlikely to have any delusions of grandeur when they finally graduate.
She says: "I'm a principal who's keeping it clear, letting them know what they're in for. Like Bette Davis said, 'It's going to be a bumpy ride.' And they'll be thankful. Because it is!"
Suddenly I realise I don't quite have the stamina (or ability) for this performing arts lark.
As Debbie's alter-ego Lydia once said, "Fame costs..." and I simply can't afford it.
How 'Kids' fared:
Irene Cara (played COCO HERNANDEZ) LATIN star Irene was Coco in Alan Parker's 1980 Fame film and got a Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe for Flashdance: What a Feeling, a song she wrote and performed.
She later appeared in Clint Eastwood's movie City Heat, but the roles dried up. She now lives in Florida, fronts an all-girl R&B band Hot Caramel, and in 2005 was on the US version of comeback show Hit Me Baby One More Time.
Gene Anthony Ray (LEROY JOHNSON) EVERYONE remembers Leroy, the streetwise kid from Harlem - at the show's peak, Gene who played him was getting 17,000 fan letters a day.  But his life was rocked by scandal. His mum, three aunts and three uncles were all jailed for drug dealing in 1983, at the height of his stardom. He developed a drink and drugs habit. After Fame he appeared in a flop musical based on Stephen King's horror story Carrie. He was diagnosed HIV positive and died in 2003 after a stroke, aged 41.
Lee Currerri (BRUNO MARTELLI) LEE was one of the hunks on the show, playing Bruno - the tall and sensitive pianist with big hair. At the height of his fame in the 80s he appeared on The Muppet Show. After Fame, Lee moved to LA and composed scores for TV and films including Chicago Hope and Dangerous Minds. He has also worked on albums for Natalie Cole and Kid Creole.
Carlo Imperato (DANNY AMATULLO) THE coolest dude on the original show, Carlo's character Danny lasted through all six series. After Fame finished he went on to do some theatre work and had a small role in Friends in 1995. But his acting career has stalled ever since - apart from a part in the indie movie Crazylove in 2005.
Lori Singer (JULIE MILLER) LIKE her character in Fame, Lori was a cellist in real life. After appearing in the first two series of Fame she played Kevin Bacon's girlfriend in Footloose. Texan-born Lori also starred in Robert Altman's cult hit Short Cuts but has focused mainly on playing cello. Today she is one of the most respected musicians in her field.
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