Donny Osmond discusses new album, self-titled app to go with it and more [INTERVIEW]

He’s a singer, a dancer, an actor, and a former talk show host (both on television and on the radio). He won the reality competition show Dancing with the Stars in 2009, and became a victorious race car driver in 1991 when he finished first in a pro-celebrity auto race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Calif.

He is Donny Osmond, and he added entrepreneur to his list of many trades with the June 16 launch of his online app called Donny Osmond. The app was created to go along with the upcoming release of his 60th album, entitled, “The Soundtrack of My Life.”

The app, the first of its kind in the music industry, is an interactive social media tool that will give users a sneak peak at the songs on Osmond’s album, complete with an anecdote about why each song is important to him. Fans can download the free application from iTunes and Google Play, and users can unlock more clips and stories by sharing the app with friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter.

Osmond took some time to chat with about the app, the milestone album it was made for, and other aspects of his life and career. So tell me about the app. Where did the idea come from?

Donny Osmond: Well let’s go back to concept of album first because that’s why I did the app. The album is, first of all, my 60th album and it’s more than just a bunch of music. It’s songs that really define who I am over the last 50 years, along with the significant stories behind them. For instance the first song, “My Cherie Amour” [by Stevie Wonder] was the very first record I ever bought when I was 11 years old and it began my love for Stevie Wonder’s music and I bought every album thereafter and listened to the music. And little did I know that one day I’d be able to have Stevie on a record with me myself, on an online record. So it’s so cool to be able to say Stevie’s on my version of “My Cherie Amour.”

TCC: Did you want your 60th album to be the “soundtrack of your life” or was that coincidence?

DO: I think it was a coincidence more than anything, but as number 60 was approaching, I thought, “I’ve got to make something significant, because it’s not just about this big,” —this is my 60th album, which by the way, it’s kind of interesting, I was doing an interview the other day and the guy did his research and said the only people that beat [me] in number of albums is Frank Zappa, who has 70 something, and then Elvis Presley behind him, and then me. I even beat the Rolling Stones- they have like 58 or something like that. So I did want to make something a little bit special for this number 60 rather than just another album.

And another interesting thing is nowadays, people, they want more than just music. They want an experience and the demographics of my audience is so wide and varied, so many people remember me from different things. So that’s why I chose the songs that I did. For instance, a lot of people might find it interesting that Prince was a big influence on my life. But the song “Nothing Compares to You,” everybody knows the Sinéad O’Connor version, but I went back to the original version that he did with a band that he formed called The Family and then I put a little bit more of gospel prayer onto it.

TCC: Why are people surprised to hear that Prince was a big influence on you?

DO: Well because it’s just not along the same lines as what a lot of people remember my music being. But the younger generation—a person your age would say, oh that’s fine, Prince was a big influence, but somebody in their 50s would say that’s oil and water. So it all depends on who you’re talking to in terms of generation. I’ve got a funny story, speaking of your age—I was here in Las Vegas, I think last year, and I had this meeting over at one of the hotels and I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Disney movie called Mulan, have you ever seen that? I loved being a part of that movie. So I’m walking back to the parking lot and I hear “I’ll Make a Man out of You” coming from some car and I follow the sound to this van and there are all these UCLA students, about 22, 23 years old and they’re all just hung-over and they’re just in their car from the night before, they were just partying all night and they were all half asleep in the parking lot and my song is just blasting on the stereo. So I walk up to the driver’s window and I knock on the window and he rolls it down and says what do you want? I said who are you listening to? And he says Donny Osmond, who are you? And I said, I’m Donny Osmond, and every guy in that van all the 22, 23 year old guys, they freaked out, jumped out of the car and wanted their picture with me and they said you gotta know that this is so significant in our lives because we come to Vegas, we party all night and your song is what gets us back in form.

TCC: Why do a “soundtrack to your life” at this point in time?
DO: Well a lot of people might think it’s too soon to write an autobiography with an album but let’s consider the fact, remember the fact, I’m celebrating a milestone in my career this year as well—I’m celebrating 50 years of being in the business. A lot of people do something like this at the end of their life, they say I’m 70 years old, I’m 80 years old and I’m celebrating 50 years of my business. Well, I can do that at [age] 56 and I just am celebrating that much time in my life in this business.

TCC: How did you select the songs? Was it difficult?
DO: That’s a good question. There are so many great songs that influenced me that I love but the criteria was there’s got to be a great story behind it. Like with the app, you read the story and hear the song and that’s why it’s on the album. Let’s take Elton John’s “Your Song,” that’s a classic song and here—by the way, let me just say one thing: When you’re doing these classic songs you got to be careful you don’t go too far away from the original because that’s what people love, the melody and the timing and all that kind of stuff. But if you do that, then it’s karaoke and I’m not interested in karaoke, so I really pushed the envelope as far as I possibly could as far as making these songs my own.

Anyway, back to Elton John’s “Your Song.” I went to one of his concerts in 1975 and my brother and I, my brother Jay, we got dates and we double dated and went to the concert. And I remember, he was dating a girl by the name of Debbie. And I remember when Elton sat down and started playing “Your Song,” I looked over at my brother and his date, and I remember saying to myself, I’m going to marry my brother’s date some day. Debbie and I just celebrated 30 years of marriage. Yeah but it was Elton’s “Your Song,” that moment, that I remember looking over and thinking, “hmm, I like that girl, I’m going to marry her some day.”

TCC: If you had to pick just one song to be the penultimate song of your life, which would it be–which has the most meaning?
DO: That would be tough because that’s like trying to pick a favorite child. I mean they’re all on there because they all are the makeup of my life but if you want me to pick one it’s probably the most important, no I can’t say that either. It’s got the most sentimental, well I can’t say that either. It’s an important song to me, let’s put it that way. It’s called “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel.

Making that transition from a teeny bopper to an adult singer is very difficult. I mean you look at artists like Justin Bieber, and all these teeny boppers, teen idols, it’s really hard to change from that type of career to one that’s an adult career. So through the 80s, during my 20’s—I’d never want to relive my 20’s again—that was the worst time of my life because that was my transition period. But my wife kept saying don’t give up, don’t give up. When I met up with Peter Gabriel in ’87, he said “you know what, I think you got one of the best voices in the business. Come to my studio and let’s start experimenting.” I couldn’t even get a record deal it was that bad. So I then went out and bought his album So, if you’re not familiar with it, you’ve got to get this album. It’s one of the most classic albums of all time. But as I was looking down the track list I saw the title “Don’t Give Up,” what my wife kept saying over and over again and that song got me through the 80s, and eventually I recorded this song called “Soldier of Love” and it went all the way to the top of the charts and I think some people in the industry referred to that song as the comeback of the 80s.

TCC: I read that Michael Jackson thought you needed to change your name to shed the image of being a Boy Scout or unhip… is that true, did you feel pigeonholed?
DO: Yeah. Michael was pretty prophetic when he said that. He said, “Your name is poison. You’ve got an image problem and nobody’s going to give you a chance, you’ve got to change your name.” He told me to change my name, which didn’t sit with me well. But I kept forging ahead with my music and then “Soldier of Love” came out, radio stations started playing it because they loved the music but they were embarrassed to say they were playing Donny Osmond music so they wouldn’t announce who it was. So I became the mystery artist, and so what Michael told me came true, in a different kind of way. The music spoke for itself and the radio stations were doing me a favor by not saying my name.

TCC: I have to ask, you and your siblings, the Osmonds, grew up with the Jackson 5. Was there a rivalry there?
DO: Oh yeah. Mike and I were very close friends. As a matter of fact, in the story for Michael Jackson’s song “Ben,” I disclosed the fact that my first hit record “One Bad Apple” was originally written for the Jackson 5 and “Ben,” his first number one solo record was originally written for me and that’s why I put it on the record. Mike and I, we talked to each other on the phone all the time and I remember going out to his place in Neverland and having a great time with him. It’s just a tragedy what happened to his life.

But I remember when I went out to his house, out in the valley and he said, “look I got to go to A & M Records, want to go with me? I’ve got to go talk to [producer] Quincy [Jones] about a couple of mixes he did on this album that I’m going to call Thriller.” And I said, “Sure, I’ll go with you,” so I hopped in his Rolls Royce, and he drove—he was a terrible driver—and he said, “Hey, you want to hear a couple tracks” and I said “sure.” So I was one of the first people to hear Thriller on this cassette in a Rolls Royce as we drove to A&M Records. I remember thinking this is going to be huge. This is fantastic, nobody’s going to believe this, this is amazing stuff. And I said, “Mike, how do I get back on the charts”—because [his album] Off the Wall was huge, and this was when my stuff had stalled—and that’s when he told me I had to change my name. That trip.

TCC: Are you glad you didn’t go in that direction to make a comeback?
DO: So happy that I didn’t. I did it with my music and I didn’t do it with publicity.

TCC: Going back to the app, was the idea of the anecdotal story part of your original concept?
DO: Absolutely. I mean that’s why I designed the app the way that it is—because as I mentioned before, it’s more than just music, it’s the story behind the music. And that’s the perfect way with this free app—understand the story of why I recorded it and then hear the music. Now what’s happening is that you get the first song, that’s Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” immediately. And the next week I think it is, you get the next one and every week thereafter you get an update until you get all 15 songs [from the album].

TCC: How did your record label and others around you react to the idea?
DO: They just fell over this. Matter of fact, I had a meeting with the record company and presented them the app, before it had launched obviously, and they pretty much just turned to me and said “why do you need us, you’re doing it all yourself.”

TCC: Did you actually build the app yourself?
DO: Well I designed it but I didn’t write the code. I had other people write the code for me.

TCC: Why make it free?
DO: Well that’s a good question because—I’ll give you the big answer. Back in the 50s, artists like, any band what they would do was they would get a van, put all the records in the van and pretty much just give away their music as loss leaders, as they call it in the industry, to get people to come to their concerts and then the 80s came along and there was big businesses to sell the records—and hopefully they won’t be corrupt—well it’s turned back around again where, music, though it shouldn’t be free, I disagree with that, but it’s like what it used to be. Music is a promotional tool to get people to see you live. That’s what people want, they want to see it live. And in this app, I don’t give them the whole song but I don’t give them 15 seconds, 20 seconds of it. I give them like two, two and a half minutes of the song, so it’s pretty much the entire song, but it’s just not through to the end. So you could have a pretty good feel for what this album’s all about with this app.

TCC: How do you feel about it being the first app of its kind? Have you considered the idea of being a trendsetter?
DO: Well, Lady Gaga had an app, but I think I’m the first one to do something like this for free, and I know I’m the first one to do the stories behind the songs. It’s kind of cool to be like a pioneer. It will be very interesting to see who else does this though.

TCC: How did the app do in its first week, or day?
DO: I know the first hour there was like 11 thousand downloads in the first hour, I believe. So it’s going like crazy.

TCC: There’s a social media element to it where people can share it and such. Were you someone who readily embraced all the new social media platforms as they came out or were you reluctant?
DO: Oh I’ve been, I remembered when the internet first came out, I was all over the top of that. I had my first computer, it was an old Radio Shack TRS-80 and I tore that thing apart. I can’t remember what year that was. So I’ve been a geek right from the get-go and when social media launched, I was on top of that. I realized the potential, I wish I had these kinds of tools back in the 70s, but so I had no reluctance whatsoever to be at the heart of this, because this is the way things are nowadays, Look at the television show Breaking Bad—that became a success because of social media. A lot of artists now I think, there’s a ton of artists that basically became successful because of social media. You depend on that. It is the way to go. A lot of people say the music industry is in trouble and it’s such a bad time to be in the business and I think there couldn’t be a better time to be in the business than right now. Record sales are down, but if you clamor and you utilize the tools, then you can be successful, especially with social media.

Change is always met with resistance because everybody gets locked in a certain way of doing things, a certain mindset. At this point in time, the same thing happened with the computer revolution, the industrial revolution. Everybody says no we can’t do that, if the world was built on negativity and pessimism, then—I love this story—there was a producer who shot this movie and I think it was 11 different studios turned this movie down because they said nobody’s interested in sci-fi. Until somebody produced it. It was called Star Wars. Nobody was interested but if you do it right, then everybody’s interested. So embrace the technology we have now, embrace social media, embrace the new way of thinking and that’s what you have to do. But the older mindset, they’re just stuck.

TCC: What is your hope for the success of the app?
DO: Well success is relative. Yeah you want people to buy it, but you want people to appreciate it more than to buy it. I hope that they take the time to read the stories and to realize why I did it. But then beyond that, I hope they listen to some music because a lot of time and effort went into the music. This wasn’t just sit down and spend an hour and sing a song. This has been like a year in the making. This has been, I hate to use the cliché, a labor of love but this has been a really, really in depth project that’s taken a lot of time and effort and thought. So we didn’t just slap an album together. This has been my life that I put down into music.

TCC: Will there be stories that even your biggest fans don’t know about you?
DO: Most definitely. A lot of these are very personal stories that I have never really disclosed.

TCC: You’ve kept busy over the past few years. You appeared on and won Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) in 2009 and now you have this app… are these recent things part of an intentional effort to attract a new fan base or a younger demographic?
DO: No, that’s all residual benefits. That just happened because I worked my butt off and won the thing. But a lot of people don’t realize I was doing Las Vegas five nights a week and Dancing with the Stars at the same time, so give me that trophy baby. But it did open up a whole new audience but it wasn’t a concerted effort, it was: there’s a mountain there, I’m going to climb it. It was a sexy thing to do, a risky thing to do because you know, you could come on DWTS the first, second, third week and lose, that’s embarrassing. But you get up there in the seventh, eighth, ninth and then the final tenth week and it looks like you have a chance to win, boy you talk about the endorphins kicking in and I mean you’re just, you’re pushing as hard as you can. And the fact that I won that thing is probably one of my most prized accolades in my entire career.

TCC: Is it true you were inspired to get on the show to prove you were a better dancer than your sister [Marie]?
DO: Absolutely. She came in third so I had to do better than third or she’d eat me alive, so I rubbed it in her face every night on our Vegas show.

TCC: And you found that your time on DWTS did bring you a new, younger audience fan base?
DO: Yeah, I have a lot of teenagers who follow me on Twitter right now. I love Twitter, I’m a Twitter fiend. You can follow me at @DonnyOsmond. But one story that comes to mind, right after I won DWTS, I was doing a show in Vegas and this little 10 year old kid was in the front row with his family. He was dressed to the nines, suit and bow tie and the whole thing, it was really cute. He didn’t take his eyes off me for the whole show and we have a meet and greet after every show for people to come back, take pictures, get autographs, things like that, and I saw this little 10 year old kid in the line with his mom and dad and as he got closer and closer to meeting me, he got more nervous. And finally he gets up to me, shakes my hands and he says, “I just want to meet the champion.” And then he said, “Mr. Osmond, I didn’t know you could sing too!” He thought I was just a dancer.

TCC: You sing, dance, act and more. What does it mean to you that you have such a diverse background of talents and experience?
DO: Yeah, I like to jump around a little bit, but you have to be careful not to be a jack of all trades master of none. I’m a singer. That’s my claim, that’s what I do and that’s why this album means a lot to me, because I’m getting back to really who I am. Yeah I won DWTS, I’m a race car driver, a talk show host, all these things. And I love the diversification, but at the end of the day, I’m a singer. That’s what I love to do. That’s why this album is that important to me.

TCC: About the album… are you nervous about the pressure to top this one in the future?
DO: Yeah, that’s always there. Every time you have a success you will say, well, try topping that. So that’s the nature of success. You know you have to keep moving forward. But right now my focus is on this record and making sure that people hear it and appreciate it for what it is.

TCC: What’s next for you?
DO: I think it’s going to be important to tour this album. I already have a show in my mind’s eye, it’s not just getting up there and singing a bunch of songs because this album is biographical in a way and so you know you tell stories. And the amount of visuals with multimedia that you can use with this kind of a show is just endless, the ideas are endless. I’m going to continue this gig here with Marie in Las Vegas because it’s such a great thing—by the way we just won the award for the best show in Las Vegas, third year in a row so I want to continue this thing. But I’m definitely going to find some time to tour this album.

You can follow Donny Osmond on Twitter @Donny Osmond

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