Making the most of Donny Osmond

Jan 14, 2002  •  Post A Comment

My first sense of stardom came at the old McCormick Place in Chicago during my first live concert performance. I was 5 years old and had just made my TV debut on “The Andy Williams Show.” That night, Andy introduced me, and I ran out on stage. I began to sing despite the fact that the spotlights blinded me so much I had no idea how many people were out there. I finished and instantly there was thunderous applause and flashbulbs going off everywhere. I got scared and immediately ran off the stage.
It’s almost four decades later, and having been on the road every year since, I’ve obviously gotten better at handling audience response. Not only have I performed all over the world, I’ve literally grown up on television, recorded more than 30 albums, starred in musical theater, written an autobiography, hosted a talk show with my sister, Marie, survived screaming 15-year-old girls as a teen idol and jumbo scorpions, giant millipedes and superworms as a celebrity contestant on “Fear Factor.” So I guess such life experience qualifies me somewhat to voice some opinions about fame. But having also battled and beaten industry cynics who view “bankability” as a double-edged sword-the challenge that, as some think, if you have won success in one area it prohibits you from achieving it elsewhere-I hope I might also be able to offer some first-person insight not only into reaching stardom but also into keeping it.
There are some truly great things about stardom. Some are silly, like all the free stuff you get or being moved to the front of a really long line. And others are truly special, such as the respect you gain from people because of your accomplishments. But let’s face it: It’s a challenge. It’s one thing to build stardom-but something else to maintain it and keep it growing. Celebrities go through this all the time. When you’re known for one thing, you can be pigeonholed. It’s a long, tough struggle to break out of the mold of expectations and limitations.
In fact, the “bankable” label cuts both ways. When you launch a project, the immediate recognition and familiarity are invaluable. During the late ’80s, when I was trying to get my record career back on the charts, I couldn’t even get arrested. But my name sure opened up doors. Many executives believe being bankable only reinforces the perception that you’re a proven commodity in one specialized area or for doing the same old thing. If your goal is a lifelong career, this can bite you in the shorts.
What I have found to work in overcoming such typecasting is constant reinvention. It’s very difficult at times, because you work so hard to be successful in one area and may be respected for it, but then you have to start all over again for the prove-it-to-me cynics. The willingness to keep growing and changing your talents-and even your persona-is key to keeping not only the decision-makers surprised but the public as well.
Madonna is brilliant at this, although she needs to keep raising the bar higher and higher; when she released her “Sex” book, it placed the bar pretty high. When you’re Donny Osmond, however, and the wildest thing you’re known for is purple socks, it’s a little easier. My philosophy is not to rest on your laurels. It’s always the next record, the next show or the next television series. This is why I’m so excited about “Pyramid,” my first game show hosting role, which starts in fall 2002. It gives me a chance to try something new-something I’d actually never even considered before. And it’s something that will add a new dimension to my image. I hope that both the industry and the public will respect me for taking on this challenge.
To survive in this business, you have to stick your neck out and take on such challenges. After all, I could’ve been in a lounge somewhere singing “Puppy Love” the rest of my life. Just as the former talk show with Marie and the concert tours did for me, “Pyramid” will hopefully continue to introduce me to new generations. They’ll first meet me as a game show host, and through it they might discover everything else.
In my neighborhood at home, where I am indeed more of a neighbor than a celebrity, I do my share of carpooling to school, mowing the lawn-all the usual dad stuff. One morning, after seeing the Disney film “Mulan,” in which I sing the voice of Captain Shang, one of the neighborhood kids was walking to school and yelled out to me, “Donny! You were great in ‘Mulan!’ You should do more of that! You could be a star someday!” And that’s just the way I want it.
My hope is to see “Pyramid” run as long as “Wheel of Fortune” or “Jeopardy!”-and I plan on doing everything possible to support its success. But at the same time, I’ll continue to evolve. The other day, someone asked me if I am finally where I want to be as a performer, after experiencing such a diverse career. I replied that I’m where I want to be for 2002. But not for 2005. I’m always looking to define and climb to the next plateau.
So after living nearly my entire life in the public eye and after countless renditions of “One Bad Apple,” I’m comfortable with who I was, who I am and who I just might be down the road. And equally important, I’m comfortable with how I’m perceived.
Which reminds me of a recent trip to London. Back in the ’70s, I couldn’t even leave my hotel because of all the screaming teen idol madness. I decided to walk the same streets today to see what it’s like now. So I put on my long coat, a hat and sunglasses. Nobody recognized me. On the street, I took off the hat-nothing. Then the glasses-and stilll nothing. “Wow!” I thought, “it feels great to be a ‘normal’ person.” I walked into a sandwich shop-still nothing. Finally, I went into the Virgin Megastore to buy some CDs. I heard someone yell in my direction, “Hey, you!” At last! I turned around and was face to face with a guard who said, “You’re not allowed in here with a sandwich. Get out of here!”
Ah, stardom.#