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EXCLUSIVE: ’80s Pop Icon Taylor Dayne, 61, Gets Real About Her Rise to Fame, Journey with Surrogacy, Cancer Battle & Finding Joy

The "Tell It To My Heart" singer opens her own heart about some of the best and worst moments of her life

At 61 years young, singer Taylor Dayne is on top of the world. Her newest single, a cover of Ed Sheeran‘s “Thinking Out Loud,” recently dropped, and November marks her one-year anniversary of being free of colon cancer. On top of all that, this year is the 35th anniversary of her hit song, “Tell It To My Heart” (one of the ultimate ’80s anthems) and she’s touring all over the US through June 2024.

In an exclusive FIRST for Women interview, Dayne shares her deep gratitude for where she is today. Happy, upbeat and full of energy, she’s willing to dish on all the good, the bad and the ugly sides of life as a pop diva.

Taylor Dayne onstage, 2023
Taylor Dayne in 2023Slaven Vlasic/Getty

Taylor Dayne “Tell it to My Heart”

Born Leslie Wunderman in New York City, Dayne describes her childhood home as a place where her dad was very aggressive to her brother and mom. As a teenager, Dayne developed severe anxiety and became bulimic.

Dayne’s voice was her gift and her way out of hard times. She sang wherever she had the opportunity, as music always brought her joy. She always knew she wanted to get into the music business, and got her shot when her breakthrough single “Tell It To My Heart,” soared to the top of the music charts in Europe upon its 1987 release there.

Not long after the catchy song exploded on the airwaves and throughout dance clubs in Europe, Dayne recalls driving home in New York one fateful night when a local DJ introduced “Tell It To My Heart” and said her name out loud on the radio.

“I had to pull over,” Dayne tells FIRST for Women, “I was screaming, ‘OH MY GOODNESS!’ at the top of my lungs. My heart was racing, I was freaking out I was so excited and could not believe what was happening.”

Portrait of Taylor Dane, 1987
Taylor Dane in 1987 — you gotta love that big ’80s hair!Sherry Rayn Barnett/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

“Tell It To My Heart” remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for 25 weeks but what happened during that time still gets Dayne tongue-tied.

“The next thing I knew,” Dayne says, “I’m standing on a stage in front of 50,000 people getting ready to open for Michael Jackson on his Bad tour.” Dayne was in her 20s at the time and laughs as she recalls, “I wasn’t able to comprehend that I was opening for the King of Pop. It was such an overwhelming feeling and I had so many butterflies in my stomach, I thought I was going to get sick in front of that large audience.”

Michael Jackson and Taylor Dayne in 1988
Michael Jackson and Taylor Dayne in 1988@therealtaylordayne/Instagram

Becoming an overnight sensation, as Dayne describes it, didn’t leave her any time to learn how to handle her fame.

“I got so big so quickly, it was like a whirlwind,” Dayne says. “It was exhilarating on one level. Frightening on another. Figuring out how to pivot mentally and emotionally took some getting used to. While it was incredible to achieve my dream and see firsthand the power a great song can have juggling it wasn’t always easy,” Dayne notes. “And this was all before the Internet and iPhones!” 

During the late ’80s and early ’90s Dayne had six more US top-ten singles, including “Love Will Lead You Back“, “With Every Beat of My Heart,” “Prove Your Love” and “I’ll Always Love You,” and earned three Grammy nominations and an American Music Award.

Taylor Dayne in the '80s
Taylor Dayne shows off her bad-girl style in the ’80sTim Roney/Getty

Reconsidering fame

While Dayne enjoyed many of the perks that came with pop stardom, she was also determined to stay grounded for fear of losing herself. Reminiscing on entering her 30s, she constantly asked herself, “Is this worth it?,” as she felt she was competing against not only other singers, but also her own successes.

Related: From Debbie Gibson to Sheena Easton to Jody Watley — See Your Favorite 80s Female Pop Singers Then and Now

Taylor Dayne onstage in 1990
Taylor Dayne onstage in 1990Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty

Dayne says, “When it comes to the limelight and staying on top, you get sucked into a vortex. At one point, I started questioning myself: ‘Why do I sing? Why am I still doing this?’” In her soul-searching, Dayne always found the answer: Music was her happy place and a universal way to bring people together. But around this same time, she was approaching her 40s and also began to yearn to be a mom.

Long before surrogacy was common and openly talked about in Hollywood the way it is today, Dayne decided she was going to be one of the first celebrities to go that route and have a child via surrogate, since she was not in a committed relationship and she felt her “biological clock was ticking.” Much to Dayne’s surprise, one baby turned into two and in 2003 Dayne’s twins, Astaria and Levi, were born. 

Taylor Dane with her children Astaria and Levi, 2004
Taylor Dane with her children, Astaria and Levi, in 2004Amanda Edwards/Getty

“Being a performer is great, but I also wanted to be a mother because there is more to life just yourself,” Dayne shares. “When you are a star everything you think about is you, you, you, and I wanted to take on the responsibilities and share these accolades with somebody.”

Asked about the challenges of being a single mom, Dayne responds, “I didn’t have a partner and I didn’t want to be controlled and in a relationship where I lost my voice. That was my reality.”

While Dayne does not use the words “easy” and “motherhood” in the same sentence, she labels the job as the greatest thrill in her life and in terms of the path she took, she wouldn’t have done it any other way. “My kids are 21 now and they bring me such fulfillment,” Dayne says. “We have great stories as a family. We have built our lives together and we laugh and talk about everything.”

Taylor Dayne a true fighter

Considering that she’s sold 75 million albums and been rated one of the top female artists of all time by Billboard, Dayne could rest on her laurels, but instead she keeps reinventing herself. In 2019, when she released her memoir, Tell It To My Heart: How I Lost My S#*t, Conquered My Fear and Found My Voice, she took a deep dive in rediscovering who she is and what she overcame. 

Taylor Dayne, 2019
Taylor Dayne in 2019Paul Archuleta/Getty

In her interview with FIRST for Women, the tone of Dayne’s voice drastically shifts when she recounts a frightful moment in July 2022, when one phone call changed everything, and her world came crashing down. After finishing a performance at Disney World, Dayne’s doctor reached out to say a polyp from a recent colonoscopy was cancerous and she had two weeks to make a decision on how to treat it.

Dayne recounts the horror she felt: “My body went numb from hearing, ‘you have cancer,’ and in that moment I could not process what was happening. I felt everything turned to black and shut down, but I also knew I had to quickly figure out what to do because I was facing a life-or-death situation.”

A long road to recovery

Dayne spent three months in the hospital, and during that time she endured a number of life-threatening and painful complications such as breaking a blood vessel, developing a bad infection and becoming too weak to move.

After building back her strength and undergoing therapy for PTSD, which Dayne said came from surgery to remove the cancer and undergoing treatment, she has a whole new outlook on life. “Never take your health for granted,” Dayne says. “Health is the greatest gift we are given and by this, I mean your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing too.”

Taylor Dayne performs onstage, 2023
Taylor Dayne onstage in 2023Slaven Vlasic/Getty

Instead of putting off doctor appointments, Dayne now prioritizes getting a colonoscopy every six months, and maintains a healthy lifestyle. Now Dayne says she has never felt or looked better and she feels centered and confident in her choices.

Today, Dayne is thrilled to be back on tour and she is also the spokesperson for Wacoal’s Fit for the Cure® campaign, posing alongside her daughter to raise awareness about breast cancer, and she has no plans for slowing down anytime soon. “Being onstage saved my life,” she reveals about getting back out there and doing what she loves.

Taylor Dayne poses for Wacoal’s Fit for the Cure campaign, 2023Wacoal

In fact, Dayne has a whole to-do list she intends to accomplish, including releasing new music, traveling and one day, getting married. If her past 30-plus years of fame are any indicator, we’re certain she’ll achieve her dreams!

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