He was a child singer turned teen idol whose musical family rivaled The Jackson 5, but did you know that he also deserves credit for launching the phenomenons of “Star Wars,” Britney Spears, Beyonce and “The Masked Singer?”
That’s the legend of Donny Osmond, who joined WTOP to reflect on his six-decade career ahead of his live performance at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on Wednesday night near the nation’s capital.
“This is pretty much the ultimate show I’ve ever put together,” Osmond told WTOP. “This is my residency show in Las Vegas. I decided that people don’t just want to come to a concert, they want an experience, so I put everything I’ve ever done in six decades in show business in one show. In fact, there’s a request segment [where] I put all 65 albums I’ve done on the screen and the audience can pick any song from any album I’ve done in my entire life.”
He also rapid-fires through his entire history of music, film and television with a special multimedia rap.
“I created this rap, it’s about 10 minutes long, and everything I say in the rap, you actually see visually,” Osmond said. “I go through six decades in 10 minutes and it’s phenomenal. It’s like data overload for 10 minutes!”
Born in Ogden, Utah in 1957, his talented older brothers formed the singing group The Osmond Brothers in 1962, later shortening the name to just The Osmonds. After Andy Williams’ father saw the brothers perform live at Disneyland, Young Donny was invited to make his TV debut on “The Andy Williams Show” at age 5.
“[In my show] I do a duet with Andy Williams on stage,” Osmond said. “His song was ‘Moon River,’ right? I’ve always done a tribute to Andy, but this time I said, ‘I want to actually sing with Andy,’ so we actually do a duet. I found the highest quality video of him singing ‘Moon River’ and we sing it together. It’s really a cool moment. Our first show of this tour, the place just stood up at the end, a standing ovation that went on and on and on. It was amazing.”
Family singing groups were wildly popular in the era of The Jackson 5, which he recalls meeting at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in 1971. The Jacksons were fresh off a string of No. 1 hits with “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There,” while The Osmonds had just reached No. 1 with “One Bad Apple.”
“I looked over to stage right and there in the wings was Michael peeking around the curtain, watching me on stage,” Osmond said. “After the show, we all went back to the hotel. There was Joe and Katherine on the sofa with my mom and dad; Marlon, Tito and Jackie were with my brothers Alan, Wayne and Merrill; but Donny and Michael were nowhere to be found. We’re in the other room playing with toys … all we wanted to do was just be kids.”
Soon, The Jackson 5 launched the Saturday morning cartoon series “The Jackson 5ive” on ABC from 1971 to 1972, while The Osmonds voiced their own Saturday morning cartoon on ABC called “The Osmonds” in 1972. Both were produced by Rankin/Bass Productions, the animation studio behind “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964).
“I do one ‘One Bad Apple’ in my show and … we all dress up in the ’70s outfits, but we actually show the cartoon on the screen behind us while we’re doing ‘One Bad Apple,” Osmond said. “It’s actually so funny, but it takes everybody back to 1971 when the cartoons were on, ‘Bad Apple’ became No. 1 and the whole thing started.”
He quickly became a teen idol in “16” magazine, while recording solo pop hits covering Roy Orbison’s “Sweet and Innocent,” Steve Lawrence’s “Go Away Little Girl,” and Paul Anka’s “Puppy Love.” He also found huge success as a singing duo with his sister, Marie, to the point of hosting the TV variety show “Donny & Marie” (1976-1979).
“The ‘Donny & Marie’ show, I think our highest was a 32 share — that’s Super Bowl numbers,” Osmond said. “More people saw one episode of the ‘Donny & Marie’ show than the entire sales of the movie ‘Jaws’ in just one week. In fact, when George Lucas came out with ‘Star Wars’ … it hit the box office, did great numbers, but started petering off around summer. George saw our numbers and allowed us to debut Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2D2 and C3PO.”
When WTOP tried to downplay Osmond’s claims of credit, Osmond was jokingly defiant.
“I am gonna take credit!” Osmond said. “You look at the trajectory of sales … the success of ‘Star Wars’ really took off after the ‘Donny & Marie’ show aired because it captured all of the young kids … George attributes the ‘Donny & Marie’ show for a lot of that success … but as great as the ‘Donny & Marie’ show was, it really left me with this cutesy, goodie-goodie image. I couldn’t get back on the charts because no record company would touch me.”
So, he sought the advice of his old pal Michael Jackson, who was quickly becoming the King of Pop.
“[Michael] left me in the dust,” Osmond said. “We remained friends all throughout the years. He played me ‘Thriller’ before it came out, I was one of the first to hear it, he played a cassette, riding in the car. And I said, ‘Mike, this is going to be absolutely amazing. How do I get back onto the charts? How do I do this as well?’ He said, ‘Donny, your name is poison. You’ve gotta get your music out without your name.’ It was so offensive at the time.”
Osmond quickly discovered it was true after successfully releasing “Soldier of Love” (1988) as a mystery artist.
“Guess how it became a hit? Without my name,” Osmond said. “Radio stations wanted to play it because the song was great, everybody requested the record, but they were afraid to say they were playing Donny Osmond music because my name wasn’t cool at the time … ‘Soldier of Love’ hit without my name, everybody did me a favor just by playing the song … then I make the most interesting left turn in my career and I go back to Broadway theater.”
Indeed, Osmond performed the title role in the 1993 Broadway revival of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (1992) for over 2,000 performances, followed by singing “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” for Disney’s animated film “Mulan” (1998) and performing the role of Gaston in Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast” (2006).
“‘Mulan,’ was the most important thing I ever recorded,” Osmond said. “‘Puppy Love’ and ‘One Bad Apple’ belong to a certain generation. Eventually that will just go away and it’ll be in the annals of pop music history. However, ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ is gonna belong to every generation because it’s now considered a Disney classic. It gets 2 million streams a month, that song alone. In fact, I do that in our Vegas production and I’m bringing it to MGM.”
From 1998 to 2000, he and his sister hosted the TV talk show “Donny & Marie,” earning a Daytime Emmy nod.
“We debuted Britney Spears on daytime television, Christina Aguilera, I remember introducing Beyonce when she was with Destiny’s [Child] and her career just took off,” Osmond said. “We had so many great people on that show, and we only did it for two years, but boy, what we did for those two years was very impactful.”
He earned another Daytime Emmy nomination hosting the game show “Pyramid” (2002-2004) and won Season 9 of “Dancing with the Stars (2009). More recently, he dressed as a Peacock as the very first performer on Season 1 of “The Masked Singer” (2019) where T-Pan won the gold, Osmond won silver and Gladys Knight won bronze.
“I was the very first Masked Singer — I started that franchise, dude! I’ll take credit for that one as well,” Osmond said, laughing. “T-Pain barely beat me out. I talked to the producers after the show and they said, ‘We can’t give you numbers, but let’s just suffice it to say that it was a hairline split as to who won.’ It was just so close, but T-Pain got it, and good for him because I’m sure you’ve heard him without autotune, the guy’s got an amazing voice.”
In 2019, Donny & Marie ended their 11-year residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, allowing Donny to launch his own solo residency at Harrah’s Las Vegas, which in turn inspired the tour at MGM National Harbor.
“We got the award for Best Show, Best Production, Best Headliner and, dude, I don’t throw those titles around haphazardly,” Osmond said. “It’s such a feather in my cap and I’m so appreciative … that’s why I wanted to bring this show on the road, because not everybody can come to Las Vegas, so I’m bringing Vegas to Oxon Hill.”