Donny Osmond has been in show business from an age when most children are still becoming accustomed to getting on the school bus in the morning, and in a career that's spanned six decades, he's made a name for himself in nearly every field of contemporary entertainment, most notably music, but also theater, film, radio, and television, and shown that it's possible to grow and mature as a performer while holding on to the wholesome, family-friendly reputation that's always been part of his public persona.
Donald Clark Osmond was born on December 9, 1957; he was the seventh of nine children born to George and Olive Osmond, a devout Mormon couple from Ogden, Utah. George Osmond earned his living selling real estate and insurance, but he loved to sing, and when his sons developed an enthusiasm for music, he helped them form a barbershop quartet. The vocal group began performing regularly in Utah, and they landed an audition to appear on The Lawrence Welk Show. Welk turned the Osmond Brothers down, but while they were in California, George took the boys to Disneyland, and they began harmonizing with a strolling barbershop quartet during their visit. The Osmond Brothers were good enough to attract the attention of park management, and later Walt Disney himself, and were chosen to perform on a television special, Disneyland After Dark, in 1962. That appearance led to a regular spot on The Andy Williams Show, beginning later that same year. In 1963, Donny joined his older brothers Alan, Wayne, Merrill, and Jay in the singing group, and they were regulars on the Williams show until 1969; they were also frequent guests on Jerry Lewis' comedy-variety hour, which ran from 1967 to 1969.
As the Osmond Brothers grew older and the face of popular music continued to change, the boys wanted their act to have a more contemporary appeal, and they retooled themselves as a polished pop/rock combo, with the brothers playing instruments as well as singing. Mike Curb signed the group, now called the Osmonds, to MGM Records, and they went to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record with producer Rick Hall, whose credits ran the gamut from Wilson Pickett and Etta James to Tommy Row and Paul Anka. Hall's first single with the Osmonds, 1971's "One Bad Apple," became a number one hit, and it was the first in a long string of chart successes for the group. The Osmonds appeared regularly in teen magazines such as 16 and Tiger Beat, thanks to the appeal of their well-crafted records and dynamic live shows, and Donny was often singled out as teen heart-throb material for his well-scrubbed good looks. MGM wasted no time in capitalizing on this, and Donny's first solo single, "Sweet and Innocent," was released in 1971. It rose to number seven on the Billboard pop charts, and the follow-up, "Go Away, Little Girl," went all the way to number one. Donny continued to enjoy solo hits, as well as performing and recording with the Osmonds, who became more ambitious in the recording studio, dipping their toes into harder rock on 1972's Crazy Horses, and crafting a spiritually oriented concept album with 1973's The Plan. In 1973, the lone Osmond sister, Marie, made her recoding debut, scoring a hit single with a cover of "Paper Roses." By the mid-'70s, the Osmonds' popularity was beginning to fade in the notoriously fickle world of teen pop, but in 1976, Donny and his sister Marie became the hosts of a weekly television variety show, with the other Osmond siblings making frequent appearances over the course of the show's run. Donny & Marie was a hit in the ratings, and in 1978, Donny & Marie even starred in a movie, Goin' Coconuts, but viewership began to decline during the third year, and in 1979, midway through its fourth season, the series went off the air.
In the '80s, Donny's career hit a dry spell, particularly after a Broadway revival of George M. Cohen's Little Johnny Jones, with Osmond in the lead, closed after a single performance in 1982. Osmond set out to once again reshape his image into something sleeker and hipper, and he made cameo appearances in Jeff Beck's 1985 music video for "Ambitious," as well as Luis Cardenas' 1986 clip for "Runaway." In 1989, Donny recorded a new album after Peter Gabriel, who met Osmond at a charity event, offered him use of his Real World recording studio in Bath, England. The new album, simply titled Donny Osmond, was a solid, dance-friendly contemporary pop recording, but Osmond's management and record label feared his bubblegum history might work against the album, and they struck upon a novel promotional gimmick. The album's first single, "Soldier of Love," was released to radio as a new song from a "mystery artist," and it gained airplay as listeners wondered whom the singer might be. The gambit worked -- "Soldier of Love" became a major hit, and the album followed it into the upper reaches of the charts.
Osmond released another contemporary pop album, Eyes Don't Lie, in 1990 which, while not as successful as its immediate predecessor, fared well on the charts. In 1992, Osmond returned to the musical stage, starring as Joseph in the Toronto production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; the show was a critical and popular success, with Osmond racking up over 2,000 performances between 1992 and 1997, and in 1999, when Webber created a film version of the musical for television broadcast and home video release, Osmond once again played Joseph in a cast that also included Richard Attenborough and Joan Collins. In 1998, Osmond provided the singing voice of Shang in the Disney animated feature Mulan, and in the fall of the same year, he and his sister Marie returned to television, starring in a daytime talk show that ran until the spring of 2000. Donny also returned to the recording studio to cut a holiday-themed album, Christmas at Home, and in 1999, published an autobiography, Life Is Just What You Make It, in which he openly discussed the ups and downs of his career, the burden of his public image, and his struggle with panic disorder.
In 2001, Osmond released This Is the Moment, an album dominated by songs from Broadway shows, and followed it in 2002 with Somewhere in Time, a collection of love songs which featured a new version of "Puppy Love" (a hit for Donny in 1972), and "No One Has to Be Alone," which Osmond recorded for the animated feature The Land Before Time IX: Journey to Big Water. In 2002, Osmond became the new host of the long-running television game show Pyramid, and in 2004, he returned to pop music with the album What I Meant to Say, his first collection dominated by original material since Eyes Don't Lie; it included the single "Breeze on By," which rose to the Top Ten of the British pop charts. In 2006, Osmond appeared as Gaston in the Broadway production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, earning enthusiastic reviews, and in 2007, he became a guest commentator on Entertainment Tonight, just in time to cover his sister Marie's stint on the fifth season of Dancing With The Stars, in which she finished in third place. Marie's run on Dancing with the Stars prompted her and Donny to begin performing together again, and in 2008, they launched a revue at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, while Donny made a surprise return to the big screen in the Martin Lawrence comedy College Road Trip. In the fall of 2009, Donny took his own turn on Dancing with the Stars, and won the grand prize; he followed that up with an eclectic new album, 2010's The Entertainer, which included new interpretations of his earlier hits and pop standards, as well as a handful of new tunes. In 2010, Donny became the host of a syndicated radio show, The Donny Osmond Show, described as "a lifestyle-oriented music radio show," which was broadcast in both the United States and the United Kingdom. And in 2011, Donny & Marie reunited in the recording studio for their first album together since 1978, simply titled Donny & Marie. Three years later, he returned with The Soundtrack of My Life, a covers collection of songs that have meant a lot to him over the years. ~ Mark Deming