Even though he was a star by the time he was five years old, Donny Osmond was always considered too clean and wholesome for many rock critics. Yet along with his brothers and sister Marie, Osmond has managed to stay relevant in pop culture for nearly five decades. Donny and Marie's show in Las Vegas has been enormously successful for several years and now the duo bring their Christmas-themed show to our area for the first time in ages.
From his home in Provo, Utah, and in anticipation of Wednesday's show at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie, Osmond spoke with DC9 about his busy work schedule and the pros and cons of being a former teen idol.
How long has it been since you have played the Dallas area?
I was there not too long ago, but it was for a business meeting. But for a show, I have no idea. It's been a long time. We are looking forward to coming to Dallas. It has been a really long time.
Have you seen the Broadway production of The Book of Mormon?
No, I haven't. I know that there is a reference to me in there, but I haven't seen it.
In a bio, you are listed as a singer, musician, actor, radio personality, former teen idol, talk show host and game show host. What else is left to do?
Journalist. I don't know. I have done quite a few things, haven't I?
Your radio show was highly rated. How long have you been working in radio?
Well, I've actually stopped because life got a little too hectic. I did my radio show for like three years. I decided to record my 60th album. There wasn't enough blood in the veins to keep doing the radio show. I loved doing it, but I didn't want to take any more time away from my family.
You've been critical of artists such as Lady Gaga for being overly vulgar. Is profanity too pervasive today?
I'm afraid it is. I think it has gone a little too far and I am sure you will agree with me on that. Everybody does. I was talking with people in the industry about this, people who pretty much put Miley Cyrus on the map. The shock factor seems to be unnecessary. It is an element that seems to be becoming more popular. It is that need to be more shocking, get their face in the headlines and on the cover of magazines. People figure the way to do it is through shock value. It's shock value versus pure talent. Sometimes, the industry and the public at large don't go for pure talent.
We've all become quite numb to it. I get it. I'm not stupid. I wasn't born yesterday. To remain relevant in the music industry for 50 years, you can't be stupid. I was given an option of being busted for drugs so that I could be back in the headlines. And it would have worked. It really would have worked. But the aftermath of dealing with something like that would not have been worth the short term benefit. I don't pick on Gaga specifically. I think Stephanie is very talented. She's proven that with her piano playing and vocal abilities. She paid her dues working in bars and doing everything around New York City. It's just that there is a lot of shock factor going on to be popular. I just admire artists who will go out there and just sing and show musicianship.
Is the tour coming to our area going to be similar to the show you do in Vegas with Marie?
We're bringing some of the elements of the show in Vegas. We want to. We won the award for the best show in Vegas, so why not bring that show to Dallas? It won't just be the Vegas show. There will obviously be Christmas music involved. But you can't have wall to wall Christmas music at a Donny and Marie gig. You might as well pass out insulin shots.
How do you attribute your music being immediately successful in the 70's and how has it been successful for so long?
I don't know. I wish I could give you a simple answer to that. It might have something to do with us [my brothers and I] working really, really hard. We've been the butt of many jokes because I started out as a teeny-bopper. I am not stupid. I know what the guys were saying about me when I released "Puppy Love." The girls were loving it. It sound like I am bragging, but when we won the award for best show in Vegas, there was a lot of cynicism. When Marie and I went in there in 2008 with a six week contract, we wondered if Vegas was ready for a Donny and Marie show. I think it is the tortoise and hare scenario. If you give the people good variety and good songs, you come out right in the end. You may not be on top of the wave, but it is good, solid entertainment. We've proven, here we are going into our sixth year, that good variety, good solid entertainment and hard work pays off.Would you say "clean" entertainment? People were looking for that option in the 60's and some seem to still be looking for it today?
There are a lot of people my age looking for this kind of entertainment. We've been labeled goody-goody and that is one of those terms that I have come to loathe over the years. But then I started thinking about what it means. What does good, clean entertainment represent? Getting out there with super white teeth and sugary, saccharine smiles? No, it is a lot more than that. People have said so after they come out to the shows. I love the response from the guys. Their wives and girlfriends drag them there. I look down at the audience and the guys are sitting there with their arms crossed. They are saying, "entertain me because I really don't want to be here." By the end of the show, they are the first ones on their feet. It is a lot more than just "Puppy Love." It's a lot more than the image of the Donny and Marie show back in the 70's. There is so much more going on than that.
Have you seen that vicious SNL parody of the Donny and Marie show?
I love it. I think it is the funniest thing. I saw it again the other day. It was so funny.
Can you talk about you working with Peter Gabriel and Dweezil Zappa?
Those kinds of individuals look way beyond the obvious. I was doing a charity show in New York that Peter was attending. He came back stage and asked what was going on with my career. He said he thought I had one of the greatest voices in music. I told him how difficult it was that record companies wouldn't give me a deal. He said he believed in me. He asked me to go over to his studio in England and cut some stuff. Just the mere fact that Peter said he liked me, as opposed to all these people who thought they were cool. Many had to do an about-face and start listening to me. Life is just so funny. It's absolutely hysterical how image rules over music sometimes. Then Frank Zappa called me and we spent hours and hours together just talking and philosophizing. He acknowledged the fact that I had an amazing voice. Then Dweezil told me that I just had to sing on his album. That came out of left field. Then I did the video with Jeff Beck.
Like with Ricky Nelson, is having been a teen idol a blessing and a curse?
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Absolutely, I won't deny that at all. There were moments in my life where I just couldn't stand it. I am at a place in my life now, turning 56, it doesn't bug me anymore. I am who I am. You can't erase history. I was the kid who wore purple socks. I was the kid who sang "Puppy Love." I am kind of proud of it because I survived it. Not a lot of teen idols can say that. I guess I am going to pat myself on the back for pulling myself through that vicious tunnel. I won't say that I came through unscathed. It was an emotional journey that left a lot of scars. I was able to survive it and now I sing "Puppy Love" in the Christmas show. I enjoy every minute of it. You can look back and embrace the whole thing. I went through a time when I hated it. I just grew up. I will tell you a story. I did a show in the 80's when I hated the old stuff. I got onstage and just ripped "Puppy Love" apart. I really, really ruined the song and made fun of it. After the show, I was going out the stage door and this lady stopped me. When I was getting on the bus, she asked me why I had made fun of "Puppy Love." I told her, sarcastically, that it was my song and I could do what I wanted to with it. And then she said something that changed my whole life. She said, "You may have had a hit with it, but that song was a big part of my childhood memories and you have no right to mess with my memories." It was like, wow, that was pretty heavy. From that point on, it changed me.