LISTEN: Donny Osmond speaks with GPB's Kristi York Wooten about what it takes to succeed in an industry where careers are often cut short — and why the music keeps him going.

Donny Osmond is touring the U.S. this summer with the entire cast and crew of his Las Vegas show.

Donny Osmond is touring the U.S. this summer with the entire cast and crew of his Las Vegas show.

Credit: Christie Goodwin

Everyone knows Donny Osmond.

He has performed since he was a small child and achieved worldwide fame in the 1970s. Now his face — and voice — are recognizable to multiple generations.

So, it's not unusual to see social media posts of Donny hugging Public Enemy's Flavor Flav backstage at a taping of celebrity Family Feud, singing with his idol Stevie Wonder, reminiscing about Little Richard and Tina Turner on the Donny and Marie TV show or sharing a songwriting credit with Ne-Yo (on Donny's latest album, Start Again).

Osmond married his sweetheart at 20, has five kids and many grandkids, performed 2,000 shows in the Andrew Lloyd Webber production, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, released 65 albums, voiced a Disney character, won Dancing with the Stars, was the Peacock on The Masked Singer and became the face of electronic greeting cards.

He's currently in the midst of a summer concert tour, in which he recreates the full production of his ongoing residency at Harrah's Las Vegas. And he's bringing the show to Atlanta's Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on June 25.

Beyond his list of accolades, Donny Osmond is a musician and artist who refuses to give up on his craft.

He chatted with GPB's Kristi York Wooten about memories of past performances and life lessons from his incredible 60 years in show business.



Kristi York Wooten: Welcome, Donny Osmond.

Donny Osmond: Thank you, Kristi. Nice to see you.

Kristi York Wooten: So glad you're here. I want to talk to you about the tour, where you're taking your Vegas show to cities around the country, so we're going to start there. You describe the show as 60 years of entertaining in two hours. And so let's go back at least 50 of those years. You first performed in Atlanta in 1971 at the Municipal Auditorium when you were 13 years old, I believe, and then came back.

Donny Osmond: That was like, what, 20 years ago? [laughs]

Kristi York Wooten: That's about 20. Yeah, that would be… [laughing]

Donny Osmond: 20, maybe 25.

Kristi York Wooten: Yeah. Then you came back to [Georgia] several times, obviously with your brothers. I think you guys played at the Braves' stadium maybe in 1975 and also in Macon, Ga., in 1977, the home of the Allman Brothers. And then another thing that's Georgia-related — I want you to tell me about some of those tours in a second — But you also performed at an official dinner in Washington, D.C. in 1979, when Georgia's very own Jimmy Carter was president [according to]. So, I don't know if you have memories of any of those things?

Donny Osmond: Oh my goodness.

Kristi York Wooten: You could start in ‘71 and lead us back with any of the memories you might have of Atlanta and Georgia.

Donny Osmond: To be honest with you, Kristi, so much has taken place in 60 years of show business. A lot of it is great, to be honest. I do remember, playing Georgia a lot. And that's our first big tour. I think it was part of the first big tour when we went to [Atlanta’s] Municipal Auditorium in 1971. And, I mean, I'm 13 years old, as you said, put yourself in my shoes and you're hearing all these massive screams and it's like, "What is happening to my life?" I was having the time of my life with all these girls screaming my name. In fact, I just did an interview with somebody, in Ohio [where I reminisced about the 1971 tour], and it was just before we came to Georgia, and it was one of the “test” concerts, as it were. And I remember vividly we would enter the stage in a blackout and the lights went out. We run on stage and all these flashbulbs were going off in the in the audience and massive amounts of screams. Now, what I'm telling you happened in like nanoseconds. All the screams are taking place, and I look out into the audience. Of course, we were in the dark, and I thought somebody was hurt because everybody was screaming. And then I realized, right in that split second, "They're screaming for us. I’ve got to do this the rest of my life. This is amazing!" And then we went on that big tour where we came to the Municipal Auditorium in Georgia, in Atlanta.

Kristi York Wooten: So one of the things I wanted to ask you about is you're known as an entertainer because you do lots of things in addition to singing, but people may not know what a huge audiophile you are and how much you actually love music and listening to music, and you're influenced by a lot of things. Growing up especially, you've talked about Motown, R&B, rock and roll. You and I both love Stevie Wonder and Peter Gabriel and folks like that. But your latest album, Start Again, came out during the pandemic, right?

Donny Osmond: Correct.

Kristi York Wooten: And you've got a track featuring Charlie Wilson from the Gap Band.

Donny Osmond: And yeah. Gap Band, yeah

Kristi York Wooten: And one of the songs, I think had a writing credit with Ne-Yo as well. So, I think a lot of people don't know this about [your tastes]. So tell us a little bit more about some of the music that you dig.

Donny Osmond: Well, one of the most important things you can do as an artist is reinvent. When people expect one thing, you gotta turn the other way. Some artists don't do that, and that's fine­ — whatever they want to do. With me, I grew up with “variety” as my middle name, and it was necessary for reinvention. Because when you hit it so big as a — as a child star, as a teeny bopper, you have to get out of that genre as you grow older. Not that I'm putting it down, because it was fantastic. “Puppy Love" years, “Go Away, Little Girl” — all those songs, they were fantastic. And the R&B stuff that I did with my brothers, “One Bad Apple,” things like that.

But then you have to progress. So yeah, I would listen to Stevie Wonder a lot. Earth, Wind and Fire. I loved P-Funk — Philadelphia funk and — of course. But back in the early days, my roots were all about singing. I was surrounded by one of the greatest singers of all time, Andy Williams, and listening to his control and the way he approached the song gave me that foundation. Then I went to the Stevie Wonders of the world and then — which, you know, he doesn't sing "correctly," but he sings amazingly. But when you get the training of Andy Williams with the combination of Stevie Wonder [Donny imitates Stevie Wonder], you can still control the sound and still have the soul, the control of Andy Williams and the soul of Stevie Wonder. That was my training.

Kristi York Wooten: That makes sense. So let's talk a little bit about ...

Donny Osmond: Sorry, I broke into some songs there! [Laughs.]

Kristi York Wooten: That's fine with us. That's fine with us.

Donny Osmond: Yeah. That's what I've been doing for 60 years. So whatever. [Laughs.]

Kristi York Wooten: There's some Georgia artists we could talk about, too. I know you have a couple of Ray Charles stories, but I also want to know if you have any Gladys Knight stories or any stories about any other Georgia artists. I know that Gladys was on the reincarnated Donny and Marie show one time, at least.

Donny Osmond: Oh, no. We're going to do one better than that.

Kristi York Wooten: OK. Who we got?

Donny Osmond: One better than that. No, it's Gladys, but when I was the very first artist to start [the Fox TV singing competition where performers dress in disguises] The Masked Singer, I was the Peacock and Gladys was on that show with me. But none of us knew who we were competing against. It was all secret. So it got down to T-Pain, who won, me and Gladys. We were the final three. And obviously Gladys’ voice is so unique and it's so recognizable. So we're standing there during a commercial or during a downtime in the wings, and I'm standing next to the Bee, which is Gladys, and she's standing next to the Peacock, which is me, and we're not supposed to talk to each other. And I just said, “Hi, Gladys.” And I heard this sweet little laugh. She said, “Hi, Donny.”

Kristi York Wooten: She recognized your voice!

Donny Osmond: Yeah, she recognized me, and I recognized hers. But I didn't know it was T-Pain. And Gladys came in third, I came in second. And T-Pain won the first [season].

Kristi York Wooten: What a trio.

Donny Osmond: Yeah.

So, a minute ago you mentioned vocal control, which a lot of your favorite singers have, but you are known and respected in the industry for that, as well as your range and dynamics, but especially that vocal control. So I want to know if you're bringing in the full Vegas crew on tour and you guys are doing these shows, how are you taking care of your voice and your stage stamina and stuff like that when you're on the road?

Donny Osmond: It's no different than going to the gym. Your voice is a muscle and that's why it's quite interesting we had the conversation about Andy Williams. He taught me how to take care of your instrument. And a lot of artists get out there and they just scream their heads off. Yes, I can do that. But boy, you have to be careful, because particularly on [this tour], it's grueling. And so, there are ways to protect it. There's a way to scream, there are ways to do that. But then you have to just be very careful because, it's my instrument. And I lost it twice in my — in my career. I had to have surgery, the whole bit. Same guy who operated on me in Boston operated on Adele. He got Adele back on stage and so many, different artists. But it takes a lot of stamina. But that's what we do. That's what I do.

Kristi York Wooten: Forever young, as they say.

Donny Osmond: “Forever young” [Donny sings], as Rod Stewart would sing.

Kristi York Wooten: So what are you most excited to share with audiences on this tour? A lot of folks probably have made the trip to Vegas, but for those who haven't, I know there's an audience portion where you ask what song people want to hear. I'm going to go ahead and get my requests in now. I love “C’mon, Marianne.” I love “Seasons of Love, your version of [the theme song from Rent, the 1996 Pulitzer-winning Broadway musical about the AIDS epidemic]. There's a million. But how does that work? You know, I know that you have a set list. Do you change it up each night?

Donny Osmond: Well, there's a segment, like you just mentioned, the request segment, and we go maybe 20 minutes, however long we want to go every night. And I put all 65 albums on the big screen behind me, and the audience can pick any song from any album. So that's what keeps the show fresh and fun for me and for the band, is that it's a different show every night, according to what the audience wants to hear.

Yeah. You know, “Puppy Love” — well, “Puppy Love” is in the set already. But “Go Away, Little Girl” comes up a lot. “Seasons of Love”– it's quite interesting you should mention that song. That surprisingly comes up quite a bit. The groove on “Seasons of Love” that we came up with [Donny beatboxes] on the drums and it's all live. There's nothing sequenced at all on that song. And so that comes up every once in a while. But people will see a unique show, whichever show they come to.

There's another segment. I don't know if you know anything about it but I do a rap on the on the show. It is a 10-minute rap of the entire six decades of pretty much everything I've done. And it's not just a rap. You don't just hear the words. You actually see everything I'm talking about on the screens. And it's become a fan favorite because in Vegas, every time I start to introduce it, you hear this rumbling in the audience. "Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes." And for 10 minutes it's nothing but data overload of pretty much everything I've done.

Kristi York Wooten: Talk about stamina. You've got to really have that together to do 10 minutes in a row — that’s tough.

Donny Osmond: Oh yeah. But it is so much fun.

Kristi York Wooten: Do you ever forget any parts?

Donny Osmond: It's happened in the past. But because it's so fast, when you get derailed, good luck getting back on the rails. So, I mean, my mind is so focused during those 10 minutes. Well, it is throughout the show, but those 10 minutes, you can't be thinking of anything else other than the rap because it is so fast.

Kristi York Wooten: So, I really want to know: No artist wants to say they have a favorite song or favorite few songs, because they always claim the songs are their children or you know, they can't pick one. But what really brings you alive on stage during the show? I mean, there's got to be — it may change, but let's hear a specific moment. It may be from Vegas, since the tour hasn't started yet, but where you just, you know, where the music just took over.

Donny Osmond: Well, very good question. It depends on, when you say “the music takes over” — every song, the music takes over. But I love the fact that the way Raj Kapoor, my director, and I put this show together, there's such an arc to it. And within that arc, there's such wonderful contrasts of up and down. You can't just barrage the audience with eye candy all the time. People get tired. And so right after this crazy number that we do, where we toss these, these balls that light up into the audience, like 24 of them — and that's just absolute chaos for five minutes — I shut everything off. And then I sit down at the piano and I sing “Start Again,” the title track to the new album. And at times ... you could just look out in the audience, and they're just focused in on the lyrics because the whole concept of that song is that we all make mistakes. We're all going though hard times. We're having hard times right now. But it's OK to start again. Everybody makes mistakes, but everybody can start again. And probably, one of my — musically, one of my favorite moments is when I just sit at the piano and sing that song.

Kristi York Wooten: Isn’t “Start Again” kind of the theme of your career, though? I mean, when you get down to it, that song, I mean — and I have spent a lot of time with that song in particular, you know, prepping and listening to the album — but it really does encapsulate, you know, whether you go back to your appearances in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, you know, by Andrew Lloyd Webber. You know, you were doing that for several years, what, 2,000 performances of that?

Donny Osmond: Correct.

Kristi York Wooten: Some younger audiences may know you from [TV’s] Dancing with the Stars or things more recent. But it's this, you know, "Get up and go. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off" kind of thing. And you are great at that. And I think that's why you do have 60 years under your belt of performing. But tell me how you channeled that for that song that’s on this new record.

Donny Osmond: Thank you for the nice compliments, Kristi. But yes, it takes a lot of stamina and a lot of — fortitude, I guess would be a good word to use? — and a lot of work to reinvent yourself. Because if you go back and analyze the artists that you've followed over the years — and there are exceptions to this rule that I'm about to say — but by and large, everyone has about a three- to five-year career and that's it.

And but then there are other artists — and I'd like to put myself in this category — [that are] not satisfied with five years, because you do have to reinvent yourself. Because the audience, they'll grow up with you, but then they'll get tired. They want something new. It's human nature. Well, then give them something new. But that's hard. It's very difficult. You just mentioned Dancing with the Stars. You mentioned Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. So that's what this show is all about. It shows all the different incarnations of my … I did an interview not too long ago, and this guy said something that kind of shocked me. He said, “I counted 'em up, Donny. And I think you're on your seventh career.” And we started chatting and I came up with a few more than seven. But it's seven major careers.

Kristi York Wooten: And still going.

Donny Osmond: And Kristi, that's why I'm taking the show on the road. I went against my better judgment and against the judgment of my business manager. He said, “Donny, you're not going to make a lot of money on this tour. Because you're taking the whole production out on the road.” And I said, “I don't care, because I want people to see why it's an award-winning show. And I'm not going to take up a portion of an award-winning show and say, this is the award-winning show when it's only a portion of it. So I'm bringing everything.”

Kristi York Wooten: Let me ask you something. I asked, you know, because a lot of people do know you from one of those seven careers or nine careers, or however many they may be, and that's the Donny Osmond that they know. And they know Marie Osmond, your sister, from, you know, she's had similar things and ventures and things like that. But I asked you this same question in 2001, I believe it was, when we were talking about when, you know, you performed at the Fox Theatre here in Atlanta. That was also, a big show, a stage production. But I asked you this question and you gave the most thoughtful answer, which, you know, I won't tell you now what it is. I may come back in and overdub for our audience what it is. But I want to ask you this question, and it was pretty simple because I asked you, “Do nice guys finish first or last?” And 20 years ago, I would venture to think that your answer might even be the same as it is now. But in an industry that just eats people alive, I mean, do nice guys finish first or last? So that's the question.

Donny Osmond: Well, you’ve got to be careful how you answer that, because you can come across very narcissistic or boastful. But I'm still here.

Kristi York Wooten: That's a very succinct answer that I wasn't expecting. It's quite in contrast to what you told me before. So, I'll tell you what you told me before, which was, as you kind of explained, the transitions between those careers. And maybe there were only five of them at that point, maybe not 7 or 8 or more. And how that — that being able to. I don't think you said “swim like a shark,” but you said being able to transition between those rough times into these times of really big successes is what kept you going. And that —

Donny Osmond: You know that sparks an idea. Maybe I should write a song called “Start Again.” Oh, wait, I did! [Laughs.]

Kristi York Wooten: You did! Donny, you're always on-theme.

Donny Osmond: It's always about, “Just keep trying.” I mean, if you love what you do, then apply yourself to it. I mean, my dad ... would always tell me, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Otherwise, don't do it.” So, I could have gotten out of show business so many times. I had so many invitations to leave. I was a has-been at 8. And a complete has-been at 20 and people said, “You've had a career. It's time to find another line of work.” No, I'm a musician. I've been singing since I was 4. Why would I want to quit what I love to do? Yes. It's hard. 

A lot of people in this business, Kristi, get in it for the wrong reasons. “I want to be a star,” [they’d say]. No, no, no. That'll come when you've dedicated yourself to being an artist. Then you become a star. And “But I want to be popular.” No, no, no, no, no. Dedicate yourself to being a musician. And then that will come, if you're good. And if you apply yourself. And if you approach every show as the first and last. Because when people come to see me in Atlanta, it might be the last time they'll see me. It might be the first time they've seen me, so treat it as such. Dedicate yourself as an artist. As a musician. Show them why this show is award-winning in Las Vegas. Show them why you're still singing after six decades. If you love the business that much, show them. Prove it. I’ve had to do it all my life.

Kristi York Wooten: Well, I think you just sold your show out with that comment there. We'll see. Well, thank you so much for the time today, Donny. The show is at Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta on June 25. We'll see you there.

Donny Osmond performs at Atlanta's Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center on June 25.