The 1989 fantasy flick Teen Witch has become a cult classic in the two decades since its release. Fans of the film are not only drawn to its enchanting plot line; but also the dazzling music soundtrack. As vocalist and co-writer of the standout numbers “Never Gonna Be the Same Again” and “Finest Hour,” Cindy Valentine (aka Valentine Leone) received notable attention and carved a career for herself in film and TV scoring. Prior to that, however, she had already attained success as a recording artist—first in Canada as a rock belter, then in the U.S. and U.K. with the dance-club hit, “In Your Midnight Hour.” She talks to Justin Kantor about the good and bad experiences she’s had in the business, and why she stayed away from it for nearly a decade.
How did you get started as a performer?
As a child, I sang at weddings, baptisms, communions, and bar mitzvahs. When I was nine, I entered a contest. The prize was a trip to Italy to record at a studio with an opera singer from the conservatory in Milan. My father controlled our every move. Who knew I would win? When I did, he said, “You’re not going, over my dead body.” I decided that it was time to escape. I had a cousin who waited for me at the corner of the street where I lived. Off I went with my passport on a plane.
My aunt was waiting for me in Milan to take me in. I recorded a track while I was there, and a Canadian producer named Tony Green was in the studio. He saw talent and a look in me. From there, we started working together. I was signed to CBS immediately. I had run away from home more than once. I was still scared of my dad, and it took eight men to yank him off me at one point. I was disowned. As a result, Tony—who had become my manager—reversed my name from Valentine Cindy Leone to Cindy Valentine.
Tell me about the process of recording your 1984 debut album, Rock and Roll Heart Attack.
Tony encouraged me and taught me the process of writing. He was a great influence, and we had the best of times. But he was also looking at the process as creating something commercial; so to some degree it was creating something that I wasn’t. He wanted to direct me into what he felt was going to sell. We went in the direction of rock. I made it into Cosmopolitan. I was being compared to Joan Jett. But shortly thereafter, he decided rock wasn’t where he wanted me to be. He wanted to go in the direction of what had made him successful with France Joli, and the Madonna sound had become the big thing. We left CBS and ended up signing with Polygram two years later.
The music video from your first album for “Victim” featured a pre-Young and the Restless Michael Damian as your love interest. How did that come about?
The Vice President of Business Affairs for CBS, Paul Farberman, was good friends with Michael’s brothers, Tom and Larry Weir. When the video idea came about, it was mulled over what celebrity we could get to play my sexy older boyfriend. Out of that, I got to meet the Weir Brothers, who I ended up working with on the Teen Witch movie.
When you moved to Polydor and recorded the Secret Rendez-vous LP in 1987, how did you feel about the shift in direction from rock to dance-pop and R&B?
I’d come from the background of my brothers being in a band. So, when I did the first album and had a rock band supporting me, I felt safe. When I moved to Polydor, I found myself more comfortable vocally with the urban feel. But realizing I would now be on stage by myself was scarier.
I remember an experience I had in a New York nightclub. It was decided that my dancers weren’t going to show up. It would just be me. So, in order to come up with something that would entertain the audience, the club connected a fog machine, which was killing my throat. When they connected it, you could hear people talking, and nobody cared. Suddenly, there was an overload and the circuit broke. The music went dead, the fog machine went dead, and everybody stopped what they were doing. You could hear a pin drop. I just kept singing; and it felt like time froze. I remember certain faces looking up at me and looking around. It was as if God was watching over me, because the music came back right in the spot that I was now about to sing.
At the end of the song, there was a standing ovation. But one guy came over to me and said, “You don’t fool anybody. That was all planned.” I thought, “Wow, it must’ve been that good.” It was an out-of-body experience. Lip-synching was not done back then. We had the background vocals dubbed in, but not our lead vocal.
How would you describe the promotion and marketing of Secret Rendez-vous?
Back then, payola was big. I didn’t know anything about it, except that the heavier executive management always talked about how much money would go into the gifts—in order to bump one person’s single to get your single moving up. That disturbed me. It made me realize that it wasn’t about the artist or the song. It was about how much money you could give the radio programmers—and the magazines that charted the songs—to entice them to give your single a shot.
At that time, artists were competing with so many labels. There were more major labels, and then there were the labels under them. Each label had two or more artists with that priority. Some of the other artists, as I was later educated, were tax write-offs. In my case, the bad news was my timing. I didn’t feel in control of the situation. Being so young, I wasn’t in the driver’s seat. When I was signed to Polygram, Jerome Gasper, the Executive VP of A&R—Urban, was being weeded out. So, where could I go from there since he had signed me?
The same situation occurred when I went to Arista Records a couple of years later. Dave Jurman, who pursued me, ended up leaving to go to CBS. A lot of political stuff went on when they released my single, “Pick up the Pieces (to My Heart).” The song was at #11 on the club charts. I got a call that it was about jump to #9 when an in-house source at the label informed me that Lisa Stansfield was now the artist to be pushed. She already had a following abroad with “All Around the World,” so I got bumped. Suddenly, there was a lack of funds.
Around that same time, you played the role of “Shana the Rock Star” in Teen Witch. The movie starred Robyn Lively and was about a teenager who inherits witch powers. For this role, you also co-wrote and performed two songs from the movie: “Never Gonna Be the Same Again” and “Finest Hour.” Tell me how the role came about.
The Weir Brothers wanted a young rock star for the role. They believed I was the next big thing and took a chance on me. Subsequently, they asked me to come to L.A. and write towards the movie. I sat with Larry at the piano and came up with a melodic idea and lyrics. They had this humongous house in Encino. It was a great experience.
Had you done any acting prior to Teen Witch?
I had done a couple of other television roles. I did a movie with Frank Stallone; but it was horrific. I was in a pink bikini the entire time. Then, I played a superstar by the name of “Virgin” in a TV movie with Valerie Harper. But theatrically, Teen Witch was kind of my debut.
How do you feel about the movie’s loyal following two decades later?
It wasn’t a hit at the time. But I recently snuck into a revival event at a Soho theater. Everybody was telling me I should go to this event, where people go to watch the movie and sing along to the songs. I was curious. In the meantime, Larry Weir and I had reconnected. We had fallen out at one point. But we put our differences aside, and actually wrote another song together. He was telling me that the movie was going to be redone, and that he also wanted to bring it to Broadway. So, I decided to quietly go to this showing. I let the organizers know that I was there, in the event that there were any questions in the Q&A session that I could answer.
I sat there in the front row with everybody behind me. Out comes “Never Gonna Be the Same Again,” and everybody in the audience was singing every lyric. I cried. I felt like, “If I die tomorrow, I know that I touched somebody.” Midway through, when Shana is giving the jacket to Louise, they announced, “Ladies and gentlemen: Shana is in the audience. Welcome Cindy Valentine.” I stood up. At the end, I took pictures with everybody. They were on Twitter.
Lori Ruso also recorded a version of “Never Gonna Be the Same Again,” which was featured in the opening of the movie. What is the story behind the two different versions?
Larry had gone in and re-recorded “Never Gonna Be the Same Again” with his sister singing it instead of me. Then, they switched it to Lori Ruso, since she was about to release an album. They wanted to tie her voice in to promote the movie. I didn’t know about it until I was in the theater watching the premiere and going, “That’s not my voice!” when the opening credits came on.
To be continued in Part Two…