Reality Rocks - Archive

Donny Osmond: The Reality Rocks Interview, Pt. 2

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks


In the second installment of Dancing Wth The Stars darling Donny Osmond's epic two-part intervew, the showbiz legend talks about the "Donny & Marie" Vegas revue, his career highs (including the underground rock scene latently embracing the lost classc Osmonds album Crazy Horses) and lows (like his struggle with anxiety in the '90s), and how--unlike most entertainers who have been in the business since toddlerhood--he's managed to stay so grounded and sane.

REALITY ROCKS: Is there anything you've learned about performing from Dancing With The Stars that you're applying to your Vegas performances with Marie?

DONNY: Well, that's how we wrap up the show. We have the sibling rivalry relationship, and it runs throughout the show. So we end the show with this dance challenge! It's kind of like West Side Story, two gangs against each other. It's a killer dance--we're sweating our guts out every night. And then we end it all with this video I put together, of some of the celebrities we've been able to work with over the years, and as we're singing Alan Jackson's "Remember When," it goes from Michael Jackson to Britney Spears to Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., all these people. I love watching it every night; it's kind of impressive! Afterwards it's just like, wow. That's a history!

REALITY ROCKS: I know! You've pretty much been in the entertainment business your whole life. Do you ever have a reflective, almost out-of-body, This Is Your Life experience when you just trip out about how much you've seen and done in your career?

DONNY: Every night. During that film. It brings back so many memories of working with some of the best in the business.

REALITY ROCKS: Obviously you were born into a musical family, so it was sort of your destiny to do this. But had that not been the case--had you been born into the Joneses or the Johnsons or whatever--do you think this is still the path you would have taken in life?

DONNY: It's hard to tell. You can't rewind the clock. I never really did have any other choice, because I started at age 5. I probably would have loved to, because everyone would love to be in show business, and experience that adulation, that applause. That probably would have been titillating to me. But I just don't know what would have happened.

REALITY ROCKS: There's so much talk about "child star syndrome." Many people who start in the business as young as you did don't turn out as successful or grounded as you seem to be. You mentioned the Jacksons--you can look at what happened to Michael Jackson as an extreme example. You seem to be kind of the exception to the rule. Why do you think that is? You seem like a completely sane person, despite the fact that you've grown up in this crazy business.

DONNY: Well, first of all, thanks for the compliment! I think there's a lot of factors. I think my faith has a lot to do with it. You have to be careful about how much you talk about that because it's so personal, and everybody's belief system is different. But I have to say that's been the grounding factor for me. Family is key. I had parents that not only walked the walk, they talked the talk. They weren't hypocritical in any way. They were a great example as far as a relationship is concerned, which helps me in my marriage of 31 years.

REALITY ROCKS: Wow, 31 years. That's unheard-of in showbiz.

DONNY: Oh, it is! I'm grateful that we've been able to hang in there that long.

REALITY ROCKS: Even though you can't star in Donny Of Love...

DONNY: No, no. [laughs] Anyway, there's a lot of factors involved. There's a lot of self-sacrifice and determination that has to go into it as well, because I'll be honest with you: I'm not immune to what this business can do to you. I went through a terrible time in the '90s with anxiety, and I point directly to this business as what did that to me. It can really mess you up. I'm fortunate that I have a wife who is my rock. I know that sounds very square in certain circles, but it's my life, and it's what's kept me grounded.

REALITY ROCKS: It's hip to be square!

DONNY: Yes, as Huey Lewis once said.

REALITY ROCKS: Seriously, what would you rather be? Would you rather be "cool" and be a divorced drug addict, or would you like to be happy and at peace?

DONNY: Well, I've taken a lot of shots over the years for that sort of philosophy. But I've determined that it's better to be who I want to be than what everybody thinks I should be. I like living my lifestyle, even though I went through a lot of pain, especially during my teenage years and twenties. I would never live through my twenties again, because I was trying to get back in the business, and people would advise me, "Well, you've got to be busted for drugs!" Can you believe that? I'm serious! My publicist at the time put together a whole plan to get me busted at an airport, where in customs they'd find drugs in my bag. They had the whole plan mapped out so I could be "hip" again.

REALITY ROCKS: That's just insane.

DONNY: Well, you know what? It would have worked, for a period of time. But I would have lived with it for the rest of my life. What would my kids have said? My grandkids? My wife? It would have destroyed the respect I've tried my whole life to get. So there's ways of becoming popular, and a lot of people do it for the sake of being popular. Or you can just be an entertainer and be true to yourself.

REALITY ROCKS: Now I am wondering if other drug-bust scandals I read about with other celebrities are also faked for publicity!

DONNY: I thought about that too. It makes you wonder, works! It gets them on the cover of the tabloids and they become "popular." But it's so short-lived.

REALITY ROCKS: It takes the focus off the music, too. Like how nowadays people know about Amy Winehouse more for her troubles than for her singing.

DONNY: That's what frustrates me sometimes as an artist. It seems like you need the controversy to create the buzz, so people will listen. It's very frustrating when you know you've got great music, but you don't have the controversy, the propaganda.

REALITY ROCKS: Do you think there's sort of a Donny Osmond revival going on? Sometimes there's an artist that's considered retro or "uncool," like Neil Diamond or Paul Williams or the Carpenters or whoever, and then there comes a time when that artist is re-embraced. That seems to be happening with you now.

DONNY: Yes, and you know, it feels so good. It really does.

REALITY ROCKS: Does it feel vindicating?

DONNY: Absolutely. That's the perfect word for it. To have gone through that rollercoaster ride and have the peaks--and there's been a lot of peaks, but boy, there's been a lot of valleys. What's interesting is the valleys kind of get erased when the peaks come back. People forget that there were some lean years, when I was like, "When is it going to come back? When is the phone going to ring again?" It's kind of nice to be in that position again, with my phone ringing.

REALITY ROCKS: Was there ever a time when you retired temporarily, or considered it?

DONNY: No, but there was a moment. I'll never forget it; it was Christmas of '88. I came back from England after releasing four singles, and nothing really took off there. I said, "You know what? Even with Peter Gabriel's help, nothing is happening." So I considered finding another line of work. Something still in show business, maybe directing or whatever. And that's just exactly when "Soldier Of Love" starting taking off.

REALITY ROCKS: Well, I'm glad you didn't give up. So what are your future recording plans?

DONNY: I am sure what I record next will still have a rock edge to it, but there's a part of me that wants it to be extremely acoustic. A lot of people think that there has to be extreme continuity in an album, but if you look at my background, it's variety! I want to see some variety in an artist, I want to be entertained, I want some depth. Show me some different styles! So for me, it's hard to tell how it's going to turn out until I start painting on the canvas.

REALITY ROCKS: There are a lot of veteran acts who've revived their careers by doing modern covers albums. Glen Campbell did that recently; Johnny Cash is a great example of that; Rod Stewart did it with big-band standards. Have you ever thought about going that route?

DONNY: There's been some concepts thrown around like that, but shouldn't I be doing original stuff? I could play it safe by recording songs that are familiar, but am I expanding myself as an artist by doing covers? It's a catch-22. It's called show business: The word "business" is in it, and you've got to be a businessman. But then again, you have to be true to yourself as an artist.

REALITY ROCKS: Well, I think you should remake the Crazy Horses album, with guest appearances by all the rock musicians who say they've been inspired by it, like Metallica and KMFDM.

DONNY: Wouldn't that be cool? If they'd be willing to be a part of it...

REALITY ROCKS: Get on that! That album really does need to be more in the public consciousness.

DONNY: Well, I'm glad to hear you say that, because we're certainly proud of it. It was really frustrating for us as a band, because of the image versus the reality.

REALITY ROCKS: Perhaps that album also needed to be released with no name on it at first...

DONNY: Yeah! That should have been a White Album! [laughs] As a matter of fact, we did an album called The Plan where we did that very thing. There was some hard rock radio station in L.A., and we white-labeled the album and my brother Alan took it in. The program director was like, "This is fantastic! It sounds like the Who, Led Zeppelin...what's the name of the band?" Alan said, "Well, it's the Osmonds." And the guy was like, "Oh man, I can't play this!"

REALITY ROCKS: Do you feel in general that you have not gotten your critical due as a musician?

DONNY: I think now it's happening. It has taken a long time to get it. There are certainly disadvantages to hitting it big as a teenybopper, because that sticks with you for the rest of your life. I went through a period of time when I just resented it. But then, in my thirties, I started to embrace it. And as soon as I started embracing it, it became nostalgic to the people who resisted it and they started embracing it too. That's starting to happen in a large measure now. Vindication is pretty sweet!

REALITY ROCKS: Everything comes back in style anyway. Certainly there are a lot of '70s influences in music today.

DONNY: I think the '70s was the greatest decade for music, actually. I look at what my kids listen to, and there's so much '70s influence, and even '70s songs, that they go back to.

REALITY ROCKS: Is that the main influence you draw from when making music now--that era?

DONNY: I would say so, because that is my roots. You always draw from your roots. I'm influenced by everything I hear and see, and that includes music today, but obviously I go back to my early influences: Stevie Wonder, Parliament, Earth Wind & Fire, Ohio Players, Average White Band. Those kind of artists are what I look to. When I hear that stuff on the radio, I turn it up!

REALITY ROCKS: What new music do you like?

DONNY: Honestly, I've been in such a bubble with Dancing With The Stars, I couldn't tell you what's been on the charts the last couple of months. I've been so focused on this show. As soon as Dancing is over I'll be focused a lot more on what's out there in the marketplace, because you have to be if you're going to make an album.

REALITY ROCKS: Do you think you have a chance of winning Dancing With The Stars?

DONNY: I would love to say so. I'm certainly trying for it. I want to win that stupid trophy! I can taste it. I want it so badly.

REALITY ROCKS: It would definitely be the ultimate one-upping of your sister!

DONNY: That's for sure! If I didn't get at least third place, I'd never live it down!

REALITY ROCKS: Marie would give you a hard time?

DONNY: Of course she would!

REALITY ROCKS: Well, at least you still have your dance battles in Vegas, no matter what happens...but good luck to you, sir.

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