How Donny Osmond Avoided the Pitfalls of Hollywood Life
The singer, actor, and former teen idol talks about what he's learned from his children and his Mormon faith.
Donny Osmond wears many hats—singer, actor, former teen idol (you know you loved him), talk show host, game show host, author, race car driver, and entertainment reporter on Entertainment Tonight, and temporary (though rumored to be permanent) co-host of The Insider.
Osmond, a devout Mormon, is currently starring in the Disney movie, "College Road Trip," as a nerdy father who befriends a father-and-daughter team (played by Martin Lawrence and Raven-Symone) as they set off around the country to look at potential colleges. Beliefnet recently spoke with Osmond about how he dealt with his own children leaving the nest and how his Mormon faith helped him--and the rest of the Osmond clan--avoid the pitfalls of Hollywood life.
In your new movie, "College Road Trip," you play the father of a girl who befriends Raven-Symoné's character, a girl visiting colleges with her father. As a father of five boys yourself, how did you react when some of your older ones left the nest?
Oh, it's tough. It's hard. I was fortunate in the fact that my kids didn't pick universities across the country. They're a half-hour or 15 minutes from where I live. But you still go through the separation anxieties. Once they decide to leave the nest and spread their own wings, it's a real difficult transition for a parent to make.
What advice do you have for parents who have children leaving the nest now? How did you get through it?
Let them go! [laughs] You've got to teach them early. If you do your homework and do your job early on in life, from what I hear, it's a little bit easier. We live by a saying, "Teach correct principles, and wise decisions will follow." And if you do that when they're young, it's a little bit easier to just let them spread their wings. But it's still hard.
Have you ever found it difficult to hold onto your Mormon faith while being in the public light?
Well, I probably would if I didn't believe it. But when you believe in something, you live it. You don't just do it once every Sunday and live a life of hypocrisy. So, absolutely not, no.
With your job reporting on Entertainment Tonight and filling in on The Insider, how does it feel to be asking the questions instead of being asked?
I have a better appreciation for what you go through. You know, it's totally different when you're interviewing somebody or being interviewed. It is a transition you've got to make consciously. When I did the talk show with Marie back in '99 and 2000, [we went] through the whole learning curve of what it's like to ask the question rather than be asked.
As a parent, do you have a certain level of sensitivity when it comes to reporting on celebrity stories involving young people, like Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, and company?
It does have its advantages because I'm coming from the inside, hence The Insider. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I was interviewing Valerie Bertinelli about her new book. And as I was reading her book, I realized we have a lot of the same friends. We both had hit shows in the ‘70s. And so when I asked her questions, it came from a whole different vantage point. She realized that, too, because I would mention names that only she would know or whatever, and situations that took place. So it immediately broke the ice, and it was two peers talking to each other.
When you hear about the very public troubles of high-profile celebrity families, do you ever wonder why you and your own family didn't fall into that trap?
I don't wonder. I know why. My parents isolated us from a lot of the trash that goes on, a lot of the garbage.
Did your faith have something to do with that?
Most definitely. A belief in God is vitally important, not just in show business, but stability in life. You know, to recognize deity is the most important thing that you can do. I mean, it comes to the Ten Commandments. They weren't 10 suggestions. They were Ten Commandments.
You live in Utah, correct?
That is true at this point in time. With our children having lives of their own, you don't want to disrupt that. So I'll be doing the commuting. I love living in Utah. I was born here but raised in L.A., but we decided about 13, 14 years ago to come here to Utah.
Is the decision to stay in Utah partly because you don't want your family to get wrapped up in the Hollywood lifestyle?
Not really. Your family really turns out to be the kind of family they are based upon what happens at home—not out in society. There's bad stuff happening in Utah as well, so it all depends on how you raise your children, but most importantly, it depends on what kind of example you are as parents.
I was watching Oprah last night; Bill Cosby was on. The bottom-line message was treat your kids with respect. Listen to them and talk to them like you want to be talked to. Having a child go to school after they hear, "Oh, you're late, "You're stupid," or "Who do you think you are, and what do you think you're doing?", immediately, they [have] a bad opinion about themselves because their parents don't like them. How do you raise a family like that? How do you expect a child to have any self-esteem—whether it be in Utah or LA or wherever, if they're raised that way? It all depends on what happens in the home.
What's the best piece of wisdom you've received from your children?
Listen to them. I remember when I first started having children, I thought I was going to be the perfect parent and discipline [them]. "They're going to do this and they're going to do that," until I woke up one day and my two oldest said [to me], "Sit down. Don't say anything. Listen to my opinion."
And I realized—they've got opinions, too. Yeah, you may be the head of the home, but they turn the head, so to speak. This whole head of the home thing has been blown way out of proportion. Some guys just take it way too far. Some parents take it way too far. Yet children need guidance. They need a parent to help and guide them. They also need a friend. They need a confidant.
I'm not a parent, but it seems difficult trying to walk that fine line.
Right. The great thing about the "College Road Trip" is the storyline. There's a great scene in there between Martin and Raven, where she basically says--"I just want a daddy who loves me. Not just tries to protect me and tell me what to do, but someone who loves me and respects me." That's the underlying message of the film, which is fantastic.
Do you think that there's a way to report on celebrity and entertainment news without it falling into the gossip category?
Yeah, but nobody will read it. Isn't that interesting how human nature likes to read about that stuff? When there's an accident, we all have to slow down and watch the accident. We all have to be a little voyeuristic. I mean, look at the world we live in now, with all these "Big Brother" shows. We're all a bunch of voyeuristic people.
Oddly enough and sadly enough, that's what show business is all about. How strange are they? It's not just about talent anymore. I don't see it turning around for a long time. It's just that we as individuals have to change and not let society dictate what we read and what we're interested in.
You've been public with your battle with social anxiety disorder, and your sister Marie has been vocal about her battle with postpartum depression. Do you think now it's become easier for celebrities to talk about these kinds of disorders and illnesses compared to when you first began your career in show business?
I think you're absolutely right in that statement because, back in the day, everything had to be perfect. Everything had to be just pristine. We had to keep this great image. Well, you know what? Nobody's perfect and it's about time we all find that out.
[After] I wrote my book ("Life Is Just What You Make It: My Story So Far") and [wrote] about [my] anxiety [disorder], I was out at my storage shed where I keep all my equipment for touring. The sun was going down. I was by myself. And I look out and I see this huge, burly guy walking towards me. I couldn't see his face. The sun was behind him. And I'm thinking, "I'm a dead man." The next thing I hear is, "Are you Donny Osmond?" And I think, "I'm really a dead man." I swallowed nervously and I said, "Yes." And he stood between me and the sun and I saw this huge football linebacker starting to cry.
He said, "Can I just tell you that your book helped me, suffering from anxiety." He says, "I'm an ex-football player, lineman, and I'm [in] insurance now, and I can't even hold a meeting. I can't even talk to people. But, after reading your book, it gives me hope."
There were so many more experiences beyond that. But that one experience kind of stands out in my mind as saying, "You know what? I'm glad I came out. I'm glad I talked about the fact that I'm not perfect." I had a problem, too. I was able to overcome it, and [that] gives people hope.