Debbie Gibson Got the Call to Go on 'The Masked Singer' on the Anniversary of Her Mom's Death: 'Very Joyful'

"It felt very much just like the universe sent something my way that I needed for some reason," the pop star, who competed as Night Owl, tells PEOPLE

The masked singer recap
Photo: Michael Becker/FOX; getty

Debbie Gibson brought her electric youth to The Masked Singer.

The pop star, 52, unmasked as Night Owl after performing "Fernando" on ABBA Night.

"The creative team was really into 'Fernando,' they thought that would round out the episode nicely and be good for me," Gibson tells PEOPLE. "And I was like, 'Sure, yes.' I just kept saying yes, because there was no time to have a process."

Gibson agreed to go The Masked Singer with less than one day's notice.

"It was even less than 20. It was like, 16 hours' notice, something nuts," she says. "I giggled and napped and kept trying to learn the fricking words to 'Fernando,' which you don't realize you don't know until you have to sing it in public."

The masked singer recap
Michael Becker/FOX

The Long Island, New York native had always wanted to go on The Masked Singer, and doing so on the one-year anniversary of her mother's death felt "very profound" to Gibson.

"My mom managed me for 25 years, and the day I was on the plane and got the call was the year anniversary of my mom's passing," she says. "That really felt like my mom said, 'Here's a fun little gig you're going to enjoy, honey. It felt very much just like the universe sent something my way that I needed for some reason. It's a very joyful feeling."

Gibson expands on her whirlwind Masked Singer experience, why she actually wanted Medusa to move on in the competition and entering the best chapter of her life.

What made you want to go on The Masked Singer so badly that you agreed to do it on such a short timeline?

The idea of doing the show has come up several times, and the timing was never right. I was always like, "I wonder if and when I'll do it — and when I'm going to have that time. I would really want to have to prepare." Because you want to go into it prepared, unless you get called on a moment's notice and decide to do it that way. I was like, "You know what? This is too cool of an experience to pass up." I flew from New York to Vegas, where I live, because we didn't get the call 'til after I was already seated on the plane. And it didn't get confirmed until I landed. I came home, I unpacked, repacked and got driven to L.A. I got in at 10:00 at night, and was on set at 8:00 in the morning. It was nuts. But what I love is there was no time to overthink.

What made you decide on Night Owl?

Putting the costume together was a blast. I connected to all the pieces that felt kind of rock and roll and eccentric. And it was very heavy, very heavy on the upper body. My hat's off to everybody who has ever done this show because it's a very athletic experience.

debbie gibson
Debbie Gibson. Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty

Did you feel like the costume affected your voice at all?

Having done Beauty and the Beast [on Broadway], I had this very huge heavy ballgown at the end, but I always remember thinking, "Oh my God, I would never want to be Mrs. Potts. Poor Lumiere." If I thought I was going to be on the show [The Masked Singer] for a long time and I had time to collaborate on a costume properly, I would've definitely wanted to come up with something more sustainable because there was metal digging into my shoulders, and you had to shimmy down the hallway sideways to get to the stage because the wingspan was too wide. And I'm someone who usually puts a mic right up to my mouth and that's part of my style of singing is pushing the breath into the mic. It's definitely different, but I think it is because I'm a seasoned performer that I was able to do it on a moment's notice. And that was a fun reminder to me.

Are you someone who gets nervous going into a performance?

We all, as performers, have so many insecurities. I'm someone who used to be very type A, always over-prepared. I've had to change that way of thinking because I've dealt with Lyme disease and I sometimes have a limited amount of stamina, and I have to save it for the performance. I can't over warm up, I can't over-physically condition, and I have to trust that my 36 years publicly of being a performer and training are going to kick in. And this was such a great example of that. I thought, "What a great way to challenge myself again."

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Did you feel like the ABBA selection fit in with a song you'd typically choose?

It is always challenging for me to sing a song that's more laid back, lower register. I'm a little bit more comfortable, like belting aggressively and high adrenaline. So, I just took on all the things that made me nervous and did so on a moment's notice. I felt really badass. I was in awe of Medusa, and I was like, "OK, whoever that is has been preparing for ages." I really wanted her to be the one to go on. It all just felt really perfect. If people watch the show, and they're feeling not confident, they don't want to take risks, maybe this will inspire them. It's a much more fun way to live than white-knuckling things and trying to control things. This was the opposite of being in control, and that's what I loved about it.

What are some ways you continue to honor your mother?

I just got full-body chills, which means she's here in the room. I fully believe that. While I was sitting in the airport, not knowing I was going to be singing a national television the next day, I ate pizza. Now, this might sound so simple, but for someone who's dealt with health things, and I've always been into nutrition, my mom was always like, "Deb, don't overthink. Keep it simple. Eat what you enjoy." And literally to honor her, the day of her passing, I went to this cute Italian restaurant in Newark Airport, and I had pizza. And I was like, "Cheers, mom. I'm eating pizza." Then, I get a call to sing. I'm like, "Oh my God. I'm eating pizza, and I have to sing tomorrow." But I honor her in those little ways, and I do feel like she's with me. She's Italian. I'm convinced she and I were put on this earth with that shared vision of a world music domination. And we did it from nothing and nowhere.

Debbie Gibson
Bruce Glikas/Getty

Speaking of world domination, you have another leg of your tour coming up. What can fans expect?

I feel like I'm reigniting my touring world, and people are kind of rediscovering me. Because I always said, I have my diehard fans that have watched my every move and been with me for every twist and turn of 36 years. And then there's a lot of people that are not sitting around thinking, "What is Debbie Gibson up to?" I'm a realist. I feel like slowly, I've been reconnecting with a lot of people. And this tour in a word is, I love this word so much, is new-stalgic. It brings all the vibes and feels we want to have from our youth, but there's new music and there's a new energy. I really feel like my generation, 40-something-year-old, 50-something-year-old people, are experiencing a renaissance of their own. Everybody feels very vital and vibrant and wanting a new chapter.

Which songs of yours do you find fans connect with the most?

I do all the mainstream hits, so people know I'm going to do that, but people pull up deep cuts. The diehards pull up songs from albums or I'm just like, "OK, if you bring your phone up, pull up the lyrics. I will do it." Because I can't remember my whole catalog. That's like 10 albums. One of my favorite moments last year on tour was, I have a duet called "Cry Tonight," and it's kind of country-flavored. A gay, male fan of mine came up and asked if he could duet on it with me, and we turned a female duet into an LGBTQ male-female duet. This guy is not a vocalist, and he just went for it. It's moments like that that I live for in terms of live shows.

You celebrated your first album's 35-year anniversary last summer. How do you reflect on your career?

One word comes to mind, and that's grateful. I'm grateful that the audience has stuck with me, and I'm grateful that I've had the inner strength to keep going and navigating in a business that's not always kind to teen stars. I'm grateful I have my sanity, my mental health. I'm grateful my mom taught me early on to take care of my mental health. I feel like I'm really on top of the world right now and on top of my game and doing things on my terms, which is the most important for me. There's a creative freedom and a freedom in my life that I feel that I've never felt before. I'm your example that the best chapter can start in your 50s.

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The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

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