When Donny Osmond takes the stage of Reno’s Silver Legacy Resort Casino's Grande Exposition Hall on Jan. 29, all bets are off as to what he might play.
The performer has more than 50 years of hits from which to draw, and he’ll increase the permutations by encouraging audience members to call out requests, obliging them as often as he can.
Making sure crowds come away not just satisfied but delighted is part of his modus operandi, and it’s key to his career longevity.
“I’m pretty fortunate I’m still relevant and still doing what I love to do,” Osmond, 58, said. “A lot of wonderful performers have only 15 minutes of fame.”
The musician’s five-plus decades of fame began early. He made his TV debut at age 5, singing on “The Andy Williams Show” where his four older brothers were show regulars.
It soon became apparent that Donny, with his 10000-watt smile and precocious vocal agility, was the breakout star of the Osmonds. He often took the lead on their songs, including the group’s first chart-topping hit, 1970’s “One Bad Apple,” released when he was 13.
He next went solo, covering hits like “Go Away Little Girl” and “Puppy Love” and becoming a certifiable teen idol, gracing centerfold in magazines like “Tiger Beat.” Osmond’s popularity continued apace when, from 1976 to 1979, he and his sister Marie hosted the “Donny and Marie” variety show.
To this day, the most popular song performed by the button-cute duo is the playful “I’m a Little Bit Country, I’m a Little Bit Rock and Roll.”
Donny’s side of the story still holds true. He’s a die-hard Def Leppard fan and, when asked what music he’s recently been impressed with, points to the operatic sounds of a contemporary rock group. “Muse is an amazing band,” he said. “I like the fact that Muse is even better live than on the record.”
And while Osmond doesn’t cotton much to the lyrical content, he’s recently been drawing songwriting inspiration from the music of Drake. It’s unlikely the performer is waiting for any “Hotline Bling,” though, given he’s been married to his wife Debbie since he was 21.
Wedded bliss and family came early to Osmond, who has five sons, five grandsons and one granddaughter. “She’s a princess and she knows it,” Osmond says of little Emy.
When it came to career, however, he would have to wait for another moment in the sun. As the ‘70s ended in a cultural wash of disco and drugs, the appeal of the wholesome Osmonds and their sweet pop sensibility waned.
Osmond returned to the airwaves in 1989 with “Soldier of Love,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, followed by the Top 20 hit “Sacred Emotion.”
Shortly after the comeback, he shared some surprising news, given his very public life: he had been struggling with near-crippling social anxiety disorder.
While he has since overcome the issue, his admission has provided an opening for many a person, including celebrities, to tell him they also battle anxiety. “You’d be surprised at some of the people. I wish I was at liberty to tell you,” he said.
Throughout career highs and lulls and through confidence and fear, Osmond has always been able to depend on longstanding fans to turn out for his live performances. He has also gained new audiences through an array of projects showcasing his versatility.
In 1992, Osmond got positively biblical, taking on the role of Joseph in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” He toured the country with the production for six years and was selected by Webber to star in the 1999 film version of “Joseph.” While Osmond says reprising the role is “not in the cards,” he’s working on a project he hopes will eventually turn into a touring musical.
In 1998, he provided the voice for Shang in the Disney movie “Mulan,” promising the incognito female title character “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” And in 2009, Osmond showed he was as fast on his feet as he is at home at the mic when he won the ninth season of “Dancing with the Stars.”
Osmond can now qualify for a senior discount at IHOP, but he is still in possession of the boyish good looks that have spawned many a swoon. Clean living and those famous Osmond genes can account for some of his age-defying ways, but the performer also chalks his fitness up to a couple of stops on his winding career path.
“I had to wear a loincloth for ‘Joseph,’ so that got me to the gym,” Osmond said. “And when I was on Dancing with the Stars, that kept me in shape. It was tough. It took a lot of work. The show is so hard, it brings athletes to their knees and in tears.”
It’s inevitable. Someone reading this article is saying, “I used to have the biggest crush on Donny Osmond.” The performer hears it all the time, especially while he is engaging with fans on social media.
“That’s what’s so cool. These people want to hear the songs they grew up with,” he said. “I’ll give them ‘Puppy Love.’”
In fact, fans got a treat a couple years ago when Osmond and Paul Anka, who penned the original 1960 song, both happened to be at Mandalay Bay for a David Foster show. Foster called Osmond and Anka up and cajoled them into performing a duet of “Puppy Love,” truly a once-in-a-lifetime moment for the crowd.
Osmond takes in live shows as often as possible, not just to scope out the competition but because he is first and foremost a music aficionado. In January 2015, he hand-picked and engineered 14 tracks for his 60th album, which he called “Soundtrack of My Life.”
On the record, he performs songs he’s found especially meaningful, ranging from Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” the first record he ever bought, to Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” which Osmond’s wife used to play for him when he needed encouragement.
“It was a difficult decision to make, doing an album of songs that influenced my life,” he explained. “I started with a list of at least 200 songs, then narrowed it down. It was a challenge, because these are pretty sacred songs. Also, I didn’t want to just do a copy—that’s like plagiarism—but you can’t go too far.”
How long did it take him to come up with the playlist?
“About 50 years,” he joked.