So EW’s Jessica Shaw calls me late last week and says, “Don’t think that I’m judging you…but I feel like you want to talk to Donny Osmond.” Luckily, Jessica speaks squeal. The next day, Donny phoned me from Vegas to chat about his new ABC reality show, The Great American Dream Vote (premieres March 27, 10 p.m., regular timeslot Wednesdays at 8); his new album, Love Songs of the ’70s (which debuted at No. 7 in the U.K. and hits Stateside April 24); and yes, his booty-shakin’ in Weird Al Yankovic’s “White & Nerdy” video (if you haven’t seen their first take, click.here.now). We pick up the conversation after my failed attempt to get him to serenade me with “Mandy.” (It’s on the album.) I choose to believe that he was saving his voice for his three-night gig at The Orleans, and not that he actually believed I was lying when I said I was named after the song. (He noted the different spelling, and after hearing that my schoolteacher mother thought it would be harder for me to learn how to write a ‘y’ than an ‘i,’ responded “Oh, come on. Come on.”) It’s true, Donny. All true…
Our interview after the jump!
Enough about me. Let’s talk about you, sir.
Okay. What do you think about me?
Please, you don’t want to know. That would be an embarrassing conversation for both of us.
[Laughs] This is the most interesting interview I’ve had today.
Good. So let’s talk about The Great American Dream Vote. The first show features eight contestants, each with a fantasy that they pitch to the audience.
During the course of the show, the studio audience narrows it down to two people. When we get down to two, they explain to America why the other person shouldn’t get their dream. Now the psychology switches, because if you get too lambastic against your opponent, the people will turn against you. At the end of the show, I turn it over to America. America votes, and the next night, March 28th, we reveal the winner.
That twist isn’t bad.
It’s so clever, the way they put this together. I think everybody has that same initial reaction I did, “Well, what’s so cool about that?” But the psychology behind this is what’s gonna really keep people tunin’ in, I think. We’ll see what happens. I was intrigued because every show’s gonna be different. Everybody’s dreams, everybody’s passions are different.
Yes, according to the press release, one contestant wants to open a “chicken theme park.” What is a chicken theme park?
You know, I have no idea. When I heard about that one, I said, “Okay, great. There’s levity involved here.” Did you hear about the bald guy?
The 22-year-old student who wants a full head of hair?
Yeah, the guy has no self-esteem. [Laughs] And he’s gonna get up on a platform and appeal to the audience and say, “Please, I want my youth back.” [Still laughing, Donny sounds like he actually slaps his hand on a desk or something. Twice.] So, there’s gonna be some funny moments. You gotta be careful not to laugh at them; you gotta laugh with them. This is their passion. This is their dream. And I can’t sway the audience one way or another.
I was on the set of Amy Grant’s show Three Wishes, and she said she had a tough time turning people away after hearing their stories. How will you handle that?
Two words for you, baby: That’s showbiz. [Laughs] That’s cold, isn’t it? That’s cold.
Well, I thought you were going to say something like “Screw you,” but you’re classy.
Well, there’s that, too. But it’s show business, and that’s the nature of the game. One person gets their dream. And then you just have to look at the other people and say, “Sorry, that’s tough.” [Laughs] I’ve gotten so cold-hearted in my old age.
But it’s kinda awesome. Let’s move on to the album. You do songs like “Let’s Stay Together,” “Sometimes When We Touch,” “You Are So Beautiful.” Was there a song that you really wanted to do but that just didn’t sound right with the Donny Osmond voice?
[The unmistakable ping of incoming e-mail]
Are you checking e-mail?
No. I’m being polite. I’m leaving my BlackBerry alone. Well, there was one song that I wanted to do so badly. I told Stevie [Wonder] that I was gonna do “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” We cut the track, and I just never put a vocal on it. I don’t know if you know how I did this album, but I was doing Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, which went until Christmas, and I had to deliver the album by January. So I converted my dressing room into a recording studio. When I wasn’t doing the show, I was up in my room recording the vocals. It was so much fun because I’d open my door and catch the cast outside listening in. Everybody knows the songs, that’s what’s so cool.
Everybody knows “White & Nerdy.”
Oh, isn’t that the best thing?
Even better than the actual video is that first take, with just you and Al.
Oh, did you see it on YouTube?
Many, many times.
Al called me up and said, “Can I get your permission to put this on?” And I said, “Well, you gotta send it to me, Al.” And so I showed my wife and my kids and we were just on the floor dying. You know, it’s one of those things, Mandi, where I’m proud and embarrassed at the same time.
Everybody loves it.
I know. It’s opened up a whole new audience. For instance, when I was doing Beauty and the Beast, I was crossing the street to walk into the theater and this teenager yells out to everybody, “Hey look, there’s that ‘White & Nerdy’ guy!” [Laughs] I thought, you know, my career has come to this. I’ve tried so hard to turn around the old Donny & Marie image and now I’m white and nerdy again. [Laughs]
The dancing, was that all your own choreography?
That was spur of the moment, baby.
That was off the top of my head.
No it was not.
It was! As a matter of fact, when Al called me, it was so funny, ’cause I’ve known him for years. He said, “Donny, I wrote this parody on ‘Ridin’ Dirty,’ and it’s called ‘White & Nerdy’ and you’re the first one I thought of.” And I said, “Thanks, Al. Appreciate it.” So I walk in the studio, and I remember thinking to myself, If I do this half-baked it’s gonna be so bad. I gotta go 110 percent on this thing. And he said, “Well, what are you gonna do?” And I said, “I don’t know. But give me 5 minutes to think about it.” So as you see, Al’s in front of me and I’m in the background and we start. And as I’m dancin’, the cameramen, the crew, the wardrobe people, everybody, their jaws drop to the floor. And I’m thinkin’ to myself, Oh, this is bad. Because nobody’s reacting. They’re just staring at me. And I said, ”No, don’t give up. Just keep going. Just keep going.” And by the end of the song, everybody just died laughing. And Al turns around and looks at me and says, ”What did you do?” [Laughs] And I said, “I don’t know.” And we watched the first take, and we were just dyin’.
It’s like you don’t think it can get any better, and then you’re doing booty slaps.
I know. That’s unbelievable.