Justin Timberlake can go ahead and bring sexyback. Donny Osmond will do the same for nerdy.
The singer, actor and TV personality, who's been in show business since he was five years old, was the featured guest in Weird Al Yankovic's 2006 video for "White & Nerdy," his parody of rapper Chamillionaire's "Ridin' ." With his kitschy dance moves, culled from his days in the Osmond Brothers and the "Donny and Marie" TV variety show with his sister, Osmond become a download sensation and learned that "a little self-deprecation never hurt anyone."
"What was funny was a whole new audinence was educated as to what Donny Osmond is," says Osmond, 49, who's now the father of five and grandfather of one and is promoting a new album, "Love Songs of the 70s." The video, he recalls, "came out around the time I started ('Beauty and the Beast') on Broadway. I was walking to the theater one day and I hear this teenager go, 'Hey everybody -- that's the white and nerdy guy!'
"This was in Times Square, right near the place where you can buy tickets at half price. So there were these massive lines of people and everybody turns around and started applauding and going, 'Yeah, white and nerdy!' And I'm thinking, 'OK, I'm proud [i]and[/i] embarrassed right now...' "
Mostly, however, Osmond is happy that he's still around and has survived the kind of career ebbs and flows that have sent many before him into early retirement.
He was an early '70s icon, scoring hits with his brothers ("One Bad Apple," "Yo-Yo," "Down By Crazy River"), on his own ("Go Away Little Girl," "Puppy Love") and with his sister ("I'm Leaving It (All) Up to You"). He became a poster boy for squeaky clean, cheesy pop, then came back with the 1989 hit "Soldier of Love" and a subsequent starring turn in the musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." He overcame a bout with Social Anxiety Disorder and has since continued to work in musical theater and on TV, co-hosting a "Donny and Marie" talk show and presiding over game shows such as "Pyramid," "The Great American Dream Vote" and, in the U.K., "Identity."
Osmond is also on tap to host a revival of "Name That Tune" for CBS next year and says an Osmond Brothers reunion is "inevitable," and possible within the year to mark the group's 50th anniversary.
"If you're in the business long enough, you're gonna get those bumps in the road. I could write a book on it -- wait a minute, I did!" cracks Osmond, who ??
Nevertheless, he feels like he's as well-positioned these days as he's ever been.
"People are starting to gravitate towards that kind of entertainment -- variety -- again," notes Osmond, whose early break came "The Andy Williams Show." "You look at 'American Idol.' That's variety. You look at 'Dancing With the Stars.' That's variety. That's been my life."
"Love Songs of the '70s," his 55th album, is an idea Osmond says he's "had in the back of my mind for along time. I wanted to pick songs that influenced me as a teenager, that I wished I could have recorded back then."
Taping his vocals in his dressing room during his run as Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast," Osmond chose a wide intepretation of love songs -- a range that includes Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," Bread's "If" and Dan Hill's "Sometimes When We Touch" as well as Ace's cheating lament "How Long" and Billy Preston's spirited "Will it Go Round in Circles."
"When I do an album, any kind of album, I want it to be a good variety of music," Osmond explains. "For me to do an album of (all) Barry Manilow songs or Bread songs, you might as well take a nap. I would rather listen to an album that has many different emotions and many different looks at an idea."
He knows that some of those looks, particularly songs originally done by Al Green or Billy Preston, run counter to the decidedly square view many have of him. But Osmond enjoys confounding people like that -- and hopes that the "Love Songs..." album might even get them to reconsider the music he made 35 or so years ago.
"My image was not completely accurate to what the individual was," he explains. "I was listening to and singing all kinds of stuff, but what was selling was the teenybopper songs.
"If you go back and analyze the type of music that I was really doing, ther was a spectrum. Yes, it was teenybopper muisc as a teenager, but the Osmonds were doing harder rock 'n' roll -- though it never really saw the light of day because my career kind of superseded it.
"There was a lot of stuff that never really had a chance to be heard; if it had, people would really view me differently, I believe. So maybe now I have a chance to make that happen."
Donny Osmond performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 6) at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway at Schoenherr, Sterling Heights. Tickets are $49 and $39 pavilion, $15 lawn. Call (586) 268-5100 or visit www.freedomhill.net.
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