Jimmy Osmond, singer, producer, actor, business man and the youngest member of The Osmond family, talks to Kevin Cooper about ‘that record’, British Pantomimes, his love for the late Andy Williams, working with Michael Jackson and preparing for his forthcoming tour; Up Close And Personal.
As the youngest member of the world-renowned Osmond family, James Arthur ‘Jimmy’ Osmond received the first of many accolades at the age of seven; a gold record for a song recorded in Japanese called My Little Darling.
As a solo artist he has accumulated six gold records, one platinum and two gold albums and is in the Guinness Book Of Records as the youngest artist ever to have a number one record in the UK charts.
Having fallen in love with musical theatre, he has starred in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Boogie Nights, Chicago and Grease. In 2008 he made his debut in Pantomime as Buttons in Cinderella. He has also appeared on a number of reality TV shows here in the UK, including I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here, Celebrity Family Fortunes and Celebrity Come Dine With Me.
Currently, he and brothers Merrill and Jay are embarking upon the final Once In A Lifetime Tour with David Essex, Showaddywaddy, and Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers, and he is also preparing for his own UP Close And Personal Tour. In spite of this he took time out of his hectic schedule to chat with Kevin Cooper. This is what he had to say:
Hi Jimmy how are you?
Hi Kevin I’m fine, thanks for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s my pleasure. So how is life treating Jimmy Osmond?
Life is an open book Kevin (laughter) and it is really good. The other day I was heading over to France and I had a weird epiphany; I’m 51 years old and I was thinking ‘have I really done enough with my life’. You tend to really assess your life when you get to 50 years old. When I look back there are a lot of things that I would have done differently, but I am really safe in the peace of mind that I have tried to live a decent life. I have had some really cool experiences, and I don’t really have any regrets you know.
Always look forwards and never backwards.
Yes that’s right Kevin. You can always say “what if” but I think that I would be an idiot if I wasn’t anything but grateful for the past and the family that I had, and my little family that I have now. I always try to make sure that I am there for my children; just like my parents were there for me.
Are you now back to full health?
Oh yes, I haven’t really been in bad health. I had a little stint where they found out that I had a birth defect (laughter) and they informed me that I had a hole in my heart. But they repaired it and I have not had any problems since.
You are back in Nottingham in September with your brothers, Jay and Merrill, touring with your ‘Up Close And Personal Tour’. Are you looking forward to it?
Yes I am Kevin, we all are. At the moment we are performing on the Once In A Lifetime Tour playing in the big arenas. But the show in September at Nottingham is quite exciting, as it is a follow-up to a tour that we did not so long ago, which was called The Jukebox Tour. We love to pay the smaller venues; they are very intimate. And I really like being able to communicate with the audience. You can also change the set, and do the things that we want to do. Those are really my favourite kind of shows.
And what do you think to Nottingham?
I love Nottingham; I have spent a lot of time there over the years. It’s always a very nice place to visit.
You mentioned the Once In A Lifetime Tour, is this really going to be the last one?
Yes it is from what I am being told. These are not our shows, they are promoted by Tony Denton who is an excellent Promoter who always brings nostalgia back to the present day and we have done this tour four times now (laughter). Tony has told us that this is finally the time that he is going to retire the 70’s Once In A Life Time Tour. So we were really thrilled that he has included us again; it’s just such a blast. We know all of the other artists who are on the bill; we get along great with them. David Essex is fantastic, he’s been a long time friend, and then of course Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers. I think that Showaddywaddy are also on this bill but I don’t know them as well as I know the other 2 acts.
David Essex and The Bay City Rollers would have been The Osmonds main rivals over here in the UK back in the 70’s.
Yes Kevin, we were always fighting for the top slot (laughter) but now we are super friends.
Still on the subject of touring, I see that you are once again on the We Love The 70’s Butlins tour. What do you think to the whole Butlins experience?
We played a date at Butlins last year, and it was just so well received. It was just a wild time (laughter).
Was it a culture shock to you because I cannot liken Butlins to anything that you have over in the States?
Many people had told me that, but when we played there it was totally normal. The only thing that was crazy was that everybody was way over the top and into the show. Everyone was screaming and it was just like being back in the 70’s; it was kinda cool. I personally didn’t experience any negativity about playing those kinds of places. The Butlins people treated us so well, and the crowd was so massive; it was just wild to be there.
There is a stigma attached to Butlins by various members of the press over here in the UK but my view is that it opens up The Osmonds together with the rest of the people playing there, to a whole new audience.
To be honest Kevin, it was the same audience that we have known from way back in the 70’s, and they just fit like a glove. I don’t know about any negativity; they were just an amazing crowd. They were very respectful of our history; they knew all of our songs, and it was very cool you know. I know a lot of the pop groups who have played there in the past who, when they heard that we had agreed to play there, all said the same thing, “don’t do that”. But we had such a great time, we are just so happy to be doing it again.
Jimmy Osmond, director, producer, singer, actor, is there anything else left for you to achieve?
(Hysterical laughter) don’t believe everything that you read Kevin. I’m not very good at any of those but I’m trying. You must remember that old adage Kevin “Jack of all trades, Master of none” but it’s really true that I love all aspects of our business and I have been given a little taste of these different opportunities. Now that I am getting older I really don’t want it to end, but if it does, then I am grateful for what I have done. I really love appearing in musicals, and I have been in Chicago, Grease and a few things like that. I fell in love with musical theatre.
As we grow older I don’t know how many dates we as brothers are going to be able to play, so I’m kinda hoping that people will still consider me for doing these types of musical theatre opportunities. We will just have to wait and see, who knows. I might be cast as the old man in all of the plays (laughter) but it is still something that I love.
You dipped your toe into British Pantomime, how did you find that especially with the British sense of humour?
I loved it Kevin, but you have to remember that we grew up on variety television, and that is pretty much what British Pantomime is. It’s that slap-stick humour mixed together with live entertainment. I totally took to it like a duck to water but a lot of my friends back home in America can’t quite figure out what Pantomime is so I have given up trying to explain it (laughter). I just tell them to stay home while I come over here.
Not too long ago we took a Pantomime over to China and tried it there, and it went over really well. Then I took two different Pantomimes around America and performed them at the kind of Casinos where The Osmonds would usually play. I have to say Kevin that they did fairly well, but you know it’s not fun when you have to explain to the audience how they should react. In comparison with that, over here in the UK it’s just built in and everyone knows how to react and laugh at a Panto.
You mentioned that you don’t know just how long you and the brothers will be able to continue touring, are any of your children wanting to follow in dads footsteps?
Yes, they have already done a little bit of performing. Last Christmas I had my American Juke Box Show which I was doing and I made all four of my kids do it. They have all grown up in and around theatres and have all had a certain amount of stage time and therefore they all know how to perform. They hated me putting them through that but at the end of the run they all said “hey dad I will do that again if you want” so it was kinda cute (laughter). I have feelings though that they will just do a real job, and I’m ok with that, because it is a different world now from when I grew up in show business. There are a lot more pit-falls than there were back then, so I am excited to see them all go through a normal upbringing, at normal schools where they have proms; I never went to any of that. I wouldn’t give up my life but theirs is so different you know.
Following on from that, when you were growing up was it accepted that you would simply follow the rest of the family and go into the music business?
Yes, I thought that everybody did what I did (laughter). And then when I did have some success as a child star I never took it seriously Kevin. My parents were always telling me that the life that I was experiencing was not real, so I was always looking to find a real job (laughter). The next thing I knew was that some 47 years later I am still doing the thing that I love. So I have been really lucky. However I really do love being involved behind the scenes; producing tours, and helping managers with artists, because I have always thought that no one was ever going to want me.
It’s been healthy for me to look at myself as a product, and also not to take on board all of the criticism which comes your way when you are in show business. You soon learn to understand that it is not always about you, just because you have become this product and are putting yourself out there. So it has been very helpful and healthy for me to be involved in all aspects of the business; you don’t have to have a big ego but sometimes you have to be the star. Although Kevin I have to tell you that I do have a very big ego (hysterical laughter).
Being the youngest did you ever feel that you missed out on anything?
Maybe, but what I got in return for doing this job was far more than I could ever expect. Like I said earlier Kevin, if I were anything other than grateful, then that would be really bad. I got to be mentored by legends. Just look at all of the artists who have passed away and have been subsequently immortalised by the press and the media. Because of the job that I do I got to meet all of these guys as people who were actual people, who cared about me and my family. You take all of these stories about them with you, and when you share some of them nobody believes you, because the world has a way of immortalising somebody when they are gone. But for me I got to know some really amazing people together with amazing experiences, and at the end of the day that is what life is all about.
Nobody cares about how much money you have; you can have money but then nobody likes you all of a sudden. It’s just one of a tapestry of experiences which we all get out of this life. God has a way of balancing out what one guy has versus another guy. We are all going to go through the same things at the end of the day, as far as heartbreak is concerned. So my little tapestry of experiences is precious to me. I do hope that makes sense Kevin, if not just tell me (laughter).
Back in the day The Osmonds were constantly being compared to The Jackson 5. Did you take that as a compliment or did it sometimes rankle with you?
Kevin, we were always very friendly with The Jackson 5. I did eventually get to work with Michael for two years. I worked with him over a two year period during the Bad Tour and the release of the Bad album. I had always known Michael and we were always friendly, but to actually work with him was a real treat. We became close enough to have some really cool conversations. At the time I was heavily into producing other people, and he allowed me to work with him when there was another deal that was better than mine; but Michael wanted to work with me. By doing that he really opened up the floodgates of opportunity for me. He didn’t have to do that but he was really a kind hearted guy.
Again, it’s one of those experiences that you tell people about and they don’t believe you Kevin. It was a really cool thing to have worked with him. I felt bad later in life after we had done what we had done together, that we didn’t really keep in touch like I wish that we had. But sometimes you get intimidated, and I was a little intimidated when someone reaches that level. I thought that Michael wouldn’t have wanted to hear from me but I also felt that there really was a connection between us. He connected with my brother Donny as well but our connection was a bit different. It wasn’t that we just exchanged life experiences; Michael was a business man and that is something that I have always tried to be and so it was fun to be collaborating at that level because the guy was a master marketer.
Whenever Michael had a meeting with his publicist he would allow me to sit in and listen. I would just sit there like a fly on the wall and listen to what was basically a master class on marketing.
Does Jimmy Osmond have a favourite Osmonds track, and why?
I have several that I like Kevin, but my favourites would have to be Crazy Horses and then probably Love Me For A Reason. Those two really stick for me not because they are great songs, but Crazy Horses I love because of the true artistry of my brothers, and of course I have been singing them now for so long. For me, I love what they do to people, and the audiences who have grown up on them. I learned a long time ago that when you perform a song on stage, you kind of realise that once you have got over yourself, you are really just there to take people back to their memories. And when you do that, everybody has a better experience because the audience knows that you care about them.
Whatever you sing, whether it is something cheesy like Long Haired Lover From Liverpool (laughter) or something cool like Crazy Horses, it transports them back to their memories and being part of that is so cool.
Will we ever see a full-blown Osmonds tour again?
No Kevin, my two older brothers (Alan and Wayne) health is such that they can’t tour, and Donny has always liked to do his own thing. That’s why it was so nice that I was able to put everybody together again for one last time on the 50th Anniversary Tour. We toured the world and we played big arenas in the UK and that really was the last time. And as members of our family are retiring, The Osmond Brothers may well turn out to be The Osmond Brother one day (laughter).
But at the moment Merrill, Jay and I still do about 100 shows per year. And if we weren’t on top of our game and we weren’t performing at a level that I think we do, we simply wouldn’t do it. It’s just that we have done enough to realise that you have to bow out gracefully, and know that we have had a great ride. But as long as there is still a demand for what we do, and it helps people, and it allows us to provide for our families too, we will carry on because this is what our business and our craft is. I think that it is quite healthy that we have that kind of attitude.
When you are out on tour do your families still tour with you as they did back in the day?
Lately that has been the case; again I feel that we are enjoying ourselves more today than we ever have because we don’t take it all for granted. With the tour that is coming up all of my kids who are available to be with me are with me, and I want them to see it and they want to see it. At the end of the tour we probably won’t have made anything because it’s all about spending and I will probably have blown it all on them (laughter) but it’s worth it because it will be forever in their memories.
The Osmonds have influenced many artists; who has influenced Jimmy Osmond?
I don’t know how many artists we have influenced but a lot of people have influenced me. I was watching Good Morning America on Elvis Presley’s birthday, and the announcer held up an album and said “the youngest Elvis impersonator was Jimmy Osmond” (laughter) and I just about fell on the floor. They held up a copy of my Killer Joe album and I started thinking that’s true; we used to headline the Las Vegas Hilton when Elvis wasn’t there. The whole jump suit thing that we wore in the 70’s came about because of me dressing up and taking the mickey out of Elvis because the Las Vegas Hilton was Elvis Presley’s home. I would come out onto the stage and impersonate him when I was still a little boy (laughter). After that we all started wearing jumpsuits so Elvis influenced us in a lot of ways.
Jerry Lewis was fun and we used to be on his TV show quite a lot. Andy Williams was the guy that really helped us, and who introduced us to the old Hollywood way of entertainment. And as a matter of fact I have just acquired his theatre in Missouri which is kind of cool. When I signed the contract it was 47 years ago to the day that I first appeared as a three year old boy on the Andy Williams Show. Now I am trying to keep his legacy alive which is cool. It was a pretty weird turn of events. So for this year I have about 400 shows in the theatre, with various artists for the season; people like Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, the Eagles and the Steve Miller Band, lots of classic rock like I have on my iPod (laughter).
Now I can’t speak to Jimmy Osmond without mentioning ‘that record’. Even to today you are the youngest person to top the UK charts. How does that feel?
I know Kevin, I love that, it’s so cool (laughter). There was a time where I tried to take myself seriously, but there is no way that I will ever be out of the shadow of being an Osmond brother or Donny’s brother or Marie’s brother or being the youngest Osmond. I was a kind of mascot growing up and so nobody has ever taken my music seriously, even though you believe that you can deliver it at a level. That was always hard for me but I’m now ok with it. I am 51 years old, I have had a great, fun career which hasn’t been as cutting edge as I would have hoped musically, but to have a history like we have had, well I am just really grateful. This doesn’t happen easily for people, and if people want to remember me as a version of Bob The Builder, then that is ok with me (laughter) because it still gave me that piece of history. They even made Halloween masks of me and even a Jimmy doll which I have given to my kids now, as it is part of my life. I never, ever try to force my stardom upon my children. Once in a while my daughter will pull out a Jimmy doll and play with it and I think that is kinda cool (hysterical laughter).
You were eight years old when you sang Long Haired Lover From Liverpool, were you aware of where Liverpool was?
To be honest Kevin, no I had no idea and I didn’t know what the song was about (laughter). The song was really about The Beatles. I was the first member of my family to record a hit record when I was five years old, and that was in Japanese (laughter). The family then went on to have hits with One Bad Apple, Yo-Yo, and Down By The Lazy River and my mother didn’t want me to be left behind. She and our record producer Mike Curb found this song and I recorded it, and it just became, to this day, one of the biggest selling records ever. And it’s funny but I love to rub that in (laughter).
Are you currently working on anything other than the tour?
One of my hobbies is my cartoon book, The Awesome Possum Family Band which I have just released for kids. It is the story of my life, but I am in disguise (laughter). It really is the story of my brothers and me and it is quite funny.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career really depends upon which facet we are looking at. Business wise, I was really thrilled with putting together the 50th Anniversary World Tour, which was a big moment for me. Even if it wasn’t the biggest or most successful production that I have ever put together, it was all about the people that I love the most, and that made it so special and fulfilling for me.
As far as personal experiences I really liked doing Chicago. They were kind to me and allowed me to change the script just a little bit so that I didn’t feel uncomfortable because there are certain things that I won’t do. When they allowed me to be in that play at that level it was so cool and I was pleased that it was so well received. That has to be a highlight too Kevin.
And I think that the next big fun thing is being entrusted with the Andy Williams brand if you will, together with his theatre. Andy meant so much to us; he gave us all our big break. It was Walt Disney who discovered the brothers but it was Andy who really made things happen. And for me it is such a weird twist of events being able to be in this position. I just hope that I am able to be respectful in everything that I do with regard to that.
And after all of that, what’s next for Jimmy Osmond?
(Hysterical laughter) well you know I still produce TV shows and I hope to continue with that. Also I really do hope that I am offered some opportunities over here in the UK. I really do love this country. I usually go where I feel that I have a sense of purpose. Over here I have had the opportunity to be in plays and in reality shows on my own and it really does feel good to be validated in that way. It’s nice over here in the UK that people feel that my success is not simply because I am an Osmond. They believe that I have the talent and I am always glad to be over here.
Good luck with the tour and I will be coming to Nottingham to photograph the show.
If you are around I will introduce you to the ‘cool guys’ who are my brothers (laughter).
Thanks for taking the time to speak to me Jimmy, take care.
All the best Kevin and bye for now. I hope to see you in Nottingham.