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Reclaiming My Inner Donny 

by Ann M. colford


Confession is good for the soul, I hear, so I stand before you, brothers and sisters, to reveal that when I was 11 years old, I had several full-color glossy photographs of Donny Osmond - ripped from the pages of Tiger Beat magazine - taped to my wall. Oh, how those soulful brown eyes made my little preteen heart go thump! How I loved to sing along with the 45 of "Go Away Little Girl!"


Soon, though, the teen years hit and -- except for a brief dalliance with David Cassidy -- I was through with teen idols. My musical tastes matured beyond bubble-gum pop; I bought albums by Simon & amp; Garfunkel and Jim Croce and Janis Ian. (Since I'm confessing here, I suppose I should tell you about that Barry Manilow album I bought, too, but that still makes me blush.) I put away my childish things and tried to forget all about them, denying my former affections in an effort to prove that I was grown up.


Well, teen idols grow up, too, and it's not always easy to break free of an image that evokes embarrassment in your former fans. Osmond, who's now 47 - just like me - had some rough years in the 1980s following the end of the first Donny & amp; Marie musical variety show (1976-79). His squeaky-clean teen heartthrob image was an easy target for derision and he spent a fair amount of energy trying to break free of his past.


But despite the earlier hype, there's a lot of truth in that image. He was raised a good Mormon boy and has stayed true to his faith even though it wasn't considered cool. He married at age 20 and has raised five boys with his wife, Debbie, through all the stress of a show business career. He makes his home in Provo, Utah -- far from show-biz central, and keeps his family time largely private. And at last, he seems to have come to terms with his past.


"It got to the point where I figured, you know, stop fighting the image, because I'll be known as the guy who sang 'Puppy Love' for the rest of my life, to a certain generation," he told Salon.com two years ago. "I've embraced it with a whole different perspective."


The public side of Osmond's metamorphosis began in 1992, when he landed the title role in a revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Critics were kind, audiences loved him, and he rode that wave for six years, even fighting through a debilitating case of panic attacks and social anxiety disorder. After his musical theater success, he released an album of contemporary Broadway show tunes and then reprised some hit love songs of the '80s. In between, he appeared on the first celebrity Fear Factor, raced cars, hosted a talk show with sister Marie for a couple of years, wrote a memoir and took over for Dick Clark on the game show Pyramid. The road to self-acceptance holds many turns.


His newest album, What I Meant To Say, represents yet another turn, this time as a songwriter. After 42 years in show business and 53 prior albums, even he admits it's about time he started singing his own lyrics. He collaborated with several other writers and co-produced the album as well. The result is a breezy collection of both ballads and up-tempo tunes, all done in a pop R & amp; B style that fits well on smooth jazz stations. In fact, the single, "Breeze on By," inspired by George Benson's 1980s hit, "Breezin'," just cracked the Top Ten on the smooth jazz charts.


On the current tour, it's just Osmond and four musicians in a presentation that's described as "intimate." There's heavy emphasis on his newest material, but he also gives a nod to his theater work and a few of the oldies. To show how far he's come in embracing his past, he even does a jazz-inflected rendition of his old nemesis, "Puppy Love."


Even though he's about to become a grandfather - yes, really - Osmond still has those boyish good looks and soulful brown eyes. Embracing the past has done him a world of good. Maybe it's time I took a cue from him and acknowledged my own history - with a sense of wistful fondness for that 11-year-old I used to be and with the openness to see something new in a familiar name.

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