Donny Osmond’s New Beginning with Las Vegas Residency, and How Justin Bieber Inspired His 65th Album

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Donny Osmond remembers hearing Justin Bieber’s 2020 single “Lonely,” and immediately feeling connected to the song. “If anybody can relate to that whole dynamic it’s me because I went through the teenybopper thing,” shares Osmond. “I get it. I understand.”

In a career spanning nearly 60 years, Osmond, now 63, has done it all—author, TV host, game show host, dancer, author, and has sold more than 100 million albums—and knows young stardom all too well, beginning his career in the 1960s performing with his brothers in The Osmonds and breaking into a solo career by the early ’70s, before pairing up with his sister as Donny & Marie. “Everybody wants a piece of you,” says Osmond. “Don’t ever let them pull you down because you’re a star. You’re a shining light. Nobody can ever take that away from you. You are a powerhouse. You’re the real deal.”

Moved by Bieber’s “survival” of fast fame, Osmond wrote “Life After Loneliness,” off his 65th album, and 19th as a solo artist, Start Again.

“Justin is making some very cool moves, getting married, finding normalcy in his life, and getting it through at the end of that tunnel,” says Osmond. “I admire him for being able to catapult himself from that teenybopper platform into what he is today. I’m sure one of these days, he’s going to go through the same same thing and embrace the past, and probably even sing ‘Baby’ again. When I get on stage, I still sing ‘Puppy Love,’ but I do it legitimately. I don’t make fun of it or anything.”

“Life After Loneliness” is one of 12 tracks on Start Again, marking a new beginning for Osmond, who co-wrote and produced the entire album, recording at his home in Utah, as well as Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and released it just as he was kicking off his solo residency at Harrah’s Las Vegas, Donny, a return to the stage after an 11-year run with sister Marie at the Flamingo, which came to an end in 2019.

Writing 40 songs since 2018, Osmond eventually filtered down the final cut of the album while working with a collection of handpicked collaborators, including featured artists Charlie Wilson and Pierre Bensusan and songwriters Ne-Yo, Jonas Myrin, Larrance Dopson, Ant Clemons, Dalton Diehl, 9 am, Jason Mater, Seth Reger, Amy Wadge, and Space Primates.

Pulsing in more funk-pop, opening, “Who” is accompanied by a video, directed by Shane Drake, with Osmond taking on different personae of himself, showcasing the shape-shifting throughout his career, while the more soulful “Don’t Stop” leaves a more empowering imprint, one inspired by his father George. “Don’t ever give up on your dreams, if you want to aspire to be something,” says Osmond of the track. “It may not be exactly what you want, or what you envisioned. My dad always said ‘Don’t ever aim for the moon. Aim for the stars. If you aim for the stars you might just hit the moon.’”

On “Let’s All Dance,” singer, songwriter, and producer Charlie Wilson is featured on the track Osmond initially produced five arrangements around before sharing the song with the Gap Band frontman. “I was like a kid in a candy store producing him [Wilson],” says Osmond. “He took the song to whole other level.”

Taking the helm as the producer of Start Again, Osmond continuously deconstructed then reconstructed many of the tracks before they were final. “I didn’t settle for this is what it is,” he says. “There are songs that I deconstructed three, four, or five times. If you pay attention to detail, then there are things that people will keep hearing. When I write lyrics, I want them to paint a picture in the mind.”

Initially, “Footprints” didn’t make the cut, until Osmond tapped French-Algerian guitarist Pierre Bensusan, whose 2001 song “Silent Passenger”—a song that kept popping up on Osmond’s playlist while driving—urged him to reach out to the composer for help with the song. “I produced it four different ways, and it just didn’t appeal to me,” says Osmond. “I was torn because the lyrics paint such an amazing picture. I needed to strip the song and make it nothing, so I called my manager and said ‘I don’t know where Pierre Bensusan is in the world, but you have to find him for me.’” 

After sending Bensusan a very stripped-down version of the song with his vocals, the musician returned a nearly finished piece to Osmond. “He sent me back the most wonderful masterpiece,” says Osmond. “The problem is that he’s a soloist, and I’m a soloist so I was trying to fit what I wanted to do and what Pierre wanted, and it came out perfectly.”

Another French friend of Osmond’s, pianist Philippe Saisse, insisted on adding strings to the orchestrated track. “In order to get the proper bass string, he would open up the pads on the piano and play the strings with his fingers,” says Osmond. “It is the most beautiful sound. It will give you chills.”

Singing Waves come and waves go. They wash away the sadness / Beauty out of ashes… Some stay and some fade. Those won’t last forever / Because yours will always be there, Osmond says the song reflects ocean waves that come in and erasing everything clean, a metaphor for one’s lasting imprint.

“True love leaves footprints in your heart and the people who you really love and make an impact in your life,” says Osmond. “Those waves don’t wash away those footprints. To me, that’s the most beautiful part of the song, because it’s such a visual. No matter what happens, your imprint, your footprint, your influence will always be there.”

Planted mostly in deeper introspection, the title track relays two messages, says Osmond. “We all make mistakes in life, and we’re all human,” he says. “I went through a horrible time in my life with anxiety, and it was all about trying to be perfect. When I would make a mistake, I would beat myself up. This song addresses that, but it also addresses the fact that our entire planet is starting again, with COVID. We all have to start over and find new ways of doing things.”

Every song is different for Osmond, but there is a continuing thread, all weaved into his storyline of starting again. “You can’t just make an album,” he says. “It’s a potpourri of a lot of different stuff. My whole entire career is nothing but variety, and when you come to a show, you don’t get one genre of music, but you can’t do a mix and match album, so there is this thread of continuity. There are stories that are personal, and philosophical.”

Today, Osmond is on his own again, following his long run with Marie. Nearly two months into his residency, his first without his sister, their partnership was a pivotal part of his success—and one he honors with a tribute in his show—but as much as his life has revolved around Donny & Marie, it has always been Donny Osmond as well. 

“It’s interesting that people say that because they think that’s all you’ve done all your life,” says Osmond of his Donny & Marie fame. “When you go back and look at the breadth of my career, I’ve had three different careers with The Osmonds, then I had a solo career at 13, 14 years old, and the Donny & Marie thing came together when I was 16, 17, so it doesn’t feel unusual because I’ve been doing solo shows all my life.”

The 90-minute show also pays homage to six decades of show business with an added tribute to Andy Williams, who featured The Osmonds as a regular on his show in the 1960s. Williams’ son Bobby shared master tapes with Osmond to use in the show for a featured duet with Andy. Osmond also incorporated every song in his career with a “request” segment. All 65 albums of his are displayed on a huge screen for audience members to choose any song for Osmond to perform. “It changes every night,” he says, “So it’s 10 to 15 minutes of nothing but improv.”

As hands-on as he was with Start Again, Osmond worked with the team in Vegas to update Harrah’s showroom for the residency down to the sound and lighting.

A chameleon entertainer throughout his career, Las Vegas and Start Again are a continuation of what Osmond always strived to do: put on a great show.

“To have a career that is long-lasting, it’s all about reinvention and you have to remain as relevant as you can in order to do that,” says Osmond. “You’ve got to reinvent yourself and stay true. If you want a long career, you have to keep one-upping yourself every time. Sammy Davis Jr. once told me ‘you’re only as good as your last performance,’ and that is so true. When somebody comes to see you, they have expectations. They want to be wowed every single time.”

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