Wilson was born and raised in New York City
in the neighborhood of Ozone Park, Queens. Debra Wilson attended
the New York City High School of the Performing Arts. After
graduation, she continued her studies at Syracuse University,
working in television and radio broadcasting. Her acting debut
was on the television pilot "The Apollo Comedy Hour." Following
this success Debra became a series regular on "The Uptown Comedy
Club" and co-hosted Can We Shop? with Joan Rivers.
Debra Wilson was one of the original nine cast members of MADtv when the series aired in 1995. Unlike some of her fellow original repertory performers on MADtv, Wilson came to the show with limited sketch comedy experience and hardly any television background. However, Debra Wilson did have a well established background in stand-up comedy, which aided her ability to captivate audiences with her humor.
Debra Wilson was credited for creating some of the most outrageous characters ever to appear on MADtv. Some of her characters included the following: Melina, Tovah McQueen (Reality Check), Autumn (Stick Chicks), Rosa Marticorena (News at Six), Miss Sylvia, Hayden (Sorority Row), Alexis Dubane (Prehistoric Glamazon Huntresses), Beth (Angela), Nautica Brown (Real Mother****ing Talk), Shaquana Curtis ("That's My White Mama"), Queen of the Chinese (Rocket Revengers), Cocoa Latite (Dolemite), Thelma (Big John's Shirt and Tie Barn), Vicky the Dog Girl, Lowered Expectations Host and Ms. Not Nice (Jenny Jones). Perhaps her best known character was the fast talking "Black American Princess" Bunifa Latifah Halifa Sharifa Jackson. The character makes extensive use of the ebonic language when speaking, and quickly accuses other characters' most basic assertions as motivated by racism. An early form of this character appeared in season one, but she was more articulate and a doctor.
During Debra Wilson's time on MADtv, Debra developed a natural talent for lampooning the rich, the famous and the powerful. Some of Debra's most famous political impressions were U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Coretta Scott King, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. As for her celebrity impressions, Wilson lampooned the following celebrities on MADtv: Sheila E., Brandy, Whoopi Goldberg, Queen Latifah, Macy Gray, Chris Tucker, Miss Cleo, Beyoncé Knowles, Tisha Campbell, Pam Grier, LaToya Jackson, Jackee Harry, Alanis Morissette, Janet Jackson, Marla Gibbs, Della Reese, Dionne Warwick, Michael Michele, Lorraine Bracco, Vivica A. Fox, Jackee, Juanita Jordan, Jada Pinkett Smith, Janet Littledove, Eve and Lil Kim. She also portrayed Jacqueline Lavinia Brown as the subject of the Outkast parody, Misses Jackson. The skit featured Aries Spears as Jesse Jackson and revolved around the reverend's marital affair in 2001.
Despite the many impressions she performed, Wilson was best remembered as MADtv's Diva parody queen. During her eight year tenure, Wilson lampooned celebrity divas such as Mariah Carey, Diana Ross, Jennifer López, Oprah Winfrey (Who she went to portray in Scary Movie 4), Tina Turner and Whitney Houston. Quite often, she would portray these divas as egotistical maniacs who are completely detached from reality (as was the case with her Diana Ross, Mariah Carey and Oprah Winfrey impersonations). In other cases, Wilson would over emphasize a physical attribute (such as Jennifer López's large butt) or a character defect (such as Whitney Houston's alleged drug abuse) to gain humor. One of Wilson's most famous MADtv sketches is a parody of Mariah Carey's "Through the Rain" video. It features both Carey and Whitney Houston, entitled "I'm Not Insane". Debra Wilson provides vocals for both of the singing characters and sings lines such as "I invented Arbour Day" and "I work for the CIA". It also makes reference to Houston's alleged drug abuse and Carey's infamous appearance on TRL. The sketch also shows latest CDs of both singers (Glitter and Just Whitney) in a trash can. It ends with Houston being injected and taken off the set and Carey having a net put over her head and also taken off set.
When Nicole Sullivan left MADtv in 2001, Debra Wilson became the last original cast member on the show. For the next two years, she served as the matriarch of the MADtv family by providing a strong sense of continuity between the old era of the show and the new cast members. After eight seasons as a cast member, Debra retired in 2003 as a repertory player on the show. Debra Wilson and Nicole Sullivan were the only two cast members to be given a special recognition by the other cast members at their last show as a current cast member. At the time of her departure, Wilson held the record for the longest serving MADtv cast member. However, since her departure, both Aries Spears and Michael McDonald have tied her record eight year tenure.
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