Fall from disc grace

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Pop stars never really go away. For most of them, the options following the inevitable fall from disc grace involve either going to rehab, going to Europe, or, well, going gay.

"We're up here! Get off my husband," crows Gioia, one-time Exposé girlband leader -- before, that is, Seasons Changed. "Just kidding. Get on my husband! On him and off him, on him and off him! ...

"I play a lot of gay clubs. All my friends are gay," she obviates as we wander Hard Rock Live during a sound check. "You met my husband. Isn't he cute? I married the most feminine guy I could find!" After which I reveal that, indeed, I'm gay, too! She leans in and hugs me like a sorority sister, and I'm starting to feel sick. This is all too easy.

Not so easy is Gioia's attempt at a 15-years-on career resurrection. It's not like Exposé was really ever that big, hovering around the routine purposelessness of Miami freestyle in the age of air-freshened Camaro living.

Still, the insistent blippery of "Point of No Return" and "Let Me Be the One" resonate like so many toe-tapped, co-dependence anthems of their ilk. And if it just so happened that the tape got stuck in your '87 Camaro, you might be forgiven for thinking that you're actually tuning into 95.3 Party. Some things never change. Except seasons, of course.

Turns out things weren't so rosy from the inside, either. Ann Curless, Jeanette Jurado and Gioia fought like The Supremes for the Lycra set.

"Everything was sour all along," cats Gioia. "Between the three of us, it was love/hate. It was a big bitch party! Some-times we loved each other, and sometimes we wanted to beat the shit out of each other. There was a lot of backstabbing about who wanted what single. We were aggressive females. If you wanna call that a bitch, then hey!"

OK, bitch. I love you.

Apparently, Exposé was as manufactured as it (gasp) seemed, rattling by-numbers interpretations of whatever musical wind the times would flatulate. You know, like Dianne Warren, favorite of menopause Svengali Clive Davis, late of Arista Records.

Did you ever meet rickety old Clive?

"Of course I did; he fell asleep," snitches Gioia. "He fell asleep playing me a Dianne Warren record he wanted me to perform. Is that funny? I never told anybody this story. Dianne Warren's great, and we did a lot of her stuff. But he literally started to fall over, and I thought it was pretty hysterical."

But certainly not unexpected. He did, after all, create Whitney Houston. And she's still falling over. Any advice for the current crop of created contortionists?

"The process hasn't changed; people are still getting screwed all the time," she hisses. "It sounds like people are still getting caught up, especially the lawyers. It's just history repeating itself."

Except your hair was more horizontally challenged.

"God, do we have to go there! No style!"

But sometimes style does prevail over substance (I should know), and Gioia does admit that maybe Britney isn't the devil. "Sometimes people get lucky. I never got a good vibe from any of those business people in the past. I mean, we had a Svengali producer."

That Svengali was none other than Miami Latin middle-grounder Lewis Martineé, famed for making the Pet Shop Boys sound, well, like cute Puerto Rican boys.

"I love them!" (Of course you do. They're gay.) "The reason the `Pets` used Lewis Martineé is because they loved Exposé."

Enough love, then. Let's talk pain. Following Exposé's overexposure, Gioia discovered a tumor inside of one of her vocal chords, forcing her to withdraw from her bitch party and retreat to being an acid-washed has been. Fortunately Gioia -- who I don't mean to be mean to, because I love her -- was able to survive the ordeal and try to pull it all together. Not before some heavy throat action, though. "It was a cystic tumor inside my vocal chord. I could feel it. They stick this thing down your throat ..."

At which point she starts laughing, and we're all gay again. Isn't it funny being gay?

These days Gioia's on the grassroots comeback trail, toting a handbagging gay anthem called "Free to Be" ("I wrote it for a friend of mine who just recently died of AIDS") into just about any situation that will have her. Like this one, some kid convention at Hard Rock Live to discuss violence in schools.

"I'm kind of curious. I don't know why they wanted me here," she quizzes.

Here's the situation: 1,100 kids on a field trip to hear a song written for gay people, performed by somebody their mothers used to crimp their hair to. Will any of them end up gay? Or will they just find the kid in the pink pants and beat him up?

No matter, as with most gay anthems, the themes are innocuous. Otherwise you couldn't dance to them. Everything's gonna be fine. Wait, isn't that a gay anthem? Still, humility prevails with Gioia, whose positivity is frankly inspiring. Even for me.

"Did I feel the success? I never did," she remembers. "I feel it more every day that I get to make my own choices. Even if I'm playing for three people."

She's happier than anybody I've ever annoyed.

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