Music News

The Wizard Of Osmond

It's August 1972, and Tiger Beat has nailed Donny Osmond in Hawaii. This time, the teen magazine's caught him with his pants down, or at least his shirt off. His bangs hanging in decidedly ungroomed, wet mop strings over his forehead, Donny stands on the cover fresh from a dip in the Pacific. As per Tiger Beat policy, Osmond's nipples are covered by a promo teaser: "Hawaiian Special: A Date with Donny." The teen dream's forearms are bright red, making it look like the Honolulu sun has spanked Osmond painfully. And the mag hasn't bothered to hide what appears to be a rather vicious scar, perhaps a leftover from his famed appendectomy.

Nevertheless, Donny Osmond is smiling. And why not? His mug, which had virtually become a teen mush-mash mag logo up to that point, would only show up on the next five hundred and fifty-nine issues of Tiger Beat, Teen Beat, Sixteen, and every other rag catering to pimply, giggly girls.

Thanks to such incessant PR, Osmond scored twenty-eight Top 40 smasheroos in the Seventies. And from 1976 to 1979, Donny and his sister Marie thrust themselves upon millions of Americans via their TV variety show.

Then, as suddenly as it had inducted him into its wholesome apple pie family, America decided to get hip or something and ruthlessly wipe the grin off Osmond's billion-

dollar puss. ABC pulled the plug on Donny and Marie, and "One Bad Apple" became an autobiographical, entertainment-biz statement. "Puppy Love" was put to sleep. "Too Young" was too old.

It's June 1989, and Donny Osmond--or, as he calls himself at one point on his new album, Don "O" Smond--steps out of a limousine in Tempe. He looks remarkably like someone who's just earned a Ph.D. in Faust: George Michael hair, black sunglasses, black jeans, black soft-leather boots, white tee-shirt, denim button-down.

Smond has flown to Phoenix to promote his born-again career on local hot-hits heavyweight KZZP. Make that his born-again serious career. His mid-tempo bump 'n' grind disco ditty, "Soldier of Love," has just shimmied up the singles chart to No. 2, and his non-humorous eponymous LP is at No. 54 with a bullet.

Alas, "Don `O' Smond talks straight about his new life as an artiste" isn't what morning show ratings are made of. KZZP has brilliantly decided to make a circus out of this day, placing the ex-teen idol in the center ring . . . right next to multiple plastic bowls filled with corn flakes. 'ZZP has picked this morning to promote its new breakfast cereal, Kelly & Co. Morning Flakes. And they're doing it at the suburban Tempe home of listener Lisa Gurtler, who won the right to host the Smond celebration.

When the white limousine pulls up to the Gurtler house, hormonal shrieks cascade through the neighborhood. Smond lingers in the limo while old and new fans squeeze together to rubberneck. When it seems as if the tension will send the Earth out of its orbit, deejay Bruce Kelly plays chauffeur and springs Smond on the crowd. A woman snorts philosophy: "He's grown up since he was 16 years old."

It isn't long before Smond finds himself answering queries from giddy fans in the Gurtler living room. A Smondophile holds up a circa '72 photo of Smond and blurts out, "Do you remember this picture?"

"Yes, I remember that picture," Smond says patiently, being careful to flash only 16, perhaps 17, of his pearly whites.

When it's time to entertain the masses with a live version of his new single, "Sacred Emotion," Smond is obviously relieved. It's his chance to flaunt his new, no-nonsense image. While a KZZP flunkie taps out the tune on a Yamaha keyboard, Smond starts snapping like a mutant combination of Daryl Hall and George Michael, then belts out the pale soul ballad, closing his sparkling brown eyes for the meaningful part.

Still, when the song ends, Smond's newly found maturity hasn't infected everyone in the room with the hoped-for case of amnesia. Some jokester produces a beat-up teen mag with Smond on the cover and wiggles it in front of the poor 31-year-old's face. Smond is paying for Donny and Marie, "Sweet and Innocent," "Crazy Horses," "Deep Purple," and all the other nightmares he used to plague Americana with like some giant-toothed apple-cheeked Freddy.

How did mega-pube Donny Osmond become Don "O" Smond, Faustian record industry monster? Genes, genes, and more genes. That Smond has clawed his way back to the top after a decade of flopping around in the record business basement is a tribute to none other than his father, George. Smond's revived career is simply the greatest show biz comeback since, well, 1962, when George broke in the Osmonds in L.A. after being turned down by power broker Lawrence Welk.

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David Koen