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Seasons Change

Pop stars are always putting on a show. They've got their down moments, sure, but if lights are flashing, cameras are rolling, or a reporter is in the room, then a diva will always act like a diva. Not necessarily a bad thing — just a simple fact of life.

So I should have known where spending time with former pop star Gioia Bruno of Exposé would lead, but somehow I was unprepared.

We first met a week ago during a video shoot as the petite, picturesque, and scantily dressed Bruno was shooting a scene for her new single, "Higher," inside Fort Lauderdale's Voodoo Lounge. The club was closed that night, the house lights were up, and Dred Scott wasn't in the best of moods. Music video shoots are all about women wearing next to nothing, bright lights, free food, lots of lip-synching, and the typical industrial fan or high-powered blow dryer in the background to make whoever's on stage look like Marilyn Monroe walking over a manhole. All right, it sounds exciting. But, in truth, video sets are rather boring. With all the delays for technical adjustments and the ongoing commotion associated with this particular shoot, there was one saving grace to the scene: Bruno's personality, which seemed to keep the room illuminated. She worked the crowd of 50 or so crew members, extras, and hangers-on like a diva deluxe. Forget that she hasn't had a hit in more than 15 years — since Exposé was a dance-pop sensation, cranking out Top 40 ballads with precision. Forget that she's a divorced single mom who's — dare I say it — 44 years old and looking good. This was her night, her video, her comeback, and even Diana Ross couldn't have been more fabulous.

We met and chatted, she posed for a couple of photos, and then I left — just as impressed with her danceable remix of Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" as I was with the appreciative resolve of Bruno — currently a Fort Lauderdale resident who has overcome a mountain of industry hurdles throughout her career yet still has love for the music.

Twenty years ago, Exposé was one of the biggest girl groups ever to hit the dance and pop charts. The group had a long list of Top 40 hits like "Point of No Return," "Let Me Be the One," and "Seasons Change," to name a few, and it was without question the hottest female group of the late '80s. Group members had crossover appeal, sex appeal, and a knack for singing sappy ballads that America ate up with fervor. Their biggest-selling album, Exposure, released in 1987, went triple platinum. The success should have equated to dollars, but as Bruno told me after we met again early last week, that wasn't exactly the case.

"We used to do eight, nine shows a week and get paid 200 bucks a show," she says, "but we were making 50 grand a show and didn't know it! We didn't get paid our first royalty check for 20 years. I just got my first royalty check last year. Basically, we signed a bad deal, and it took that long to come out of the red."

It's an industry horror story to rival all horror stories, but rather than harp on it, the girls sang on. As if that weren't enough, in 1992, Bruno developed a tumor on her vocal cords and had to quit the group just as she should have been plotting her solo career. She had the name (Joy-ah), the chops, and the sass to leave Tiffany and Debbie Wilson in the dust. But instead: "Doctors told me I'd never sing or possibly even talk again," Bruno says. "It was terrible. I lost my voice, and for four years, I couldn't sing at all."

Despite all this bad news — seeing her career sacked and not being able to pursue the craft she loved — Bruno's still able to retell every moment of it with a smile. She's a classic — the reemerging pop star who won't let anything get the best of her. We're sitting on her front porch in her Las Olas neighborhood, and she's flaunting her well-toned physique, wearing lingerie and a smile, sporting little more than a bra, panties, and a see-through top. This isn't a come-on. It's just Gioia being Gioia — never afraid to take risks or to shock and awe for the sake of being herself.

Today, her music is much different from the poppy '80s tunes that should have made her a millionaire several times over. Instead, she's writing and composing music that's more dance chill-out (think Café Del Mar and the Buddha Bar CDs), tailor-made for club DJs or lounge discs. It's a different market but one that sees Bruno making the music that's truest to her soul.

"Since I got my voice back, I been doing the solo thing all along, but nobody really knew about it because it was an underground club thing. Maybe the underground club people knew about it, but that's it."

She's serious about her comeback as well, which is twofold. Exposé got back together last year after a 15-year hiatus. The group is booking gigs around the country, coinciding with the solo album Bruno is working on.

"Everyone wants to hear those Exposé songs, so I really need a hit... I don't have that much time left," she says laughing. "Let's be real! This is my time, and if I don't make the best of it, it's only my fault."

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Jonathan Cunningham