Donny Osmond ran an experiment with his kids a couple years ago. Justin Bieber had a new album out, and he asked them what they thought about it.
Their immediate response: “Ugh! Terrible!”
Oh really, he said? Well, what did they think of the track “Catching Feelings”?
Well, that’s a pretty good song, they conceded. He pressed further, asking about them some other songs on the disc. Their response: Oh, yeah, that’s pretty good, too.
Osmond had made his point: “It all has to do with image,” he told me.
If you read my profile of Donny and Marie Osmond and their long career in showbiz, you’re aware what a hard time he had overcoming the teen idol reputation of his youth — something he shares with Bieber. What is it about those pretty-boy crooners that draws so much scorn?
“Here’s my philosophy — Teen Idol 101, according to Donny Osmond,” he began. “When you hit it so big at, say, 13 years old and all these 11, 12-year-old teenyboppers love you, you have about a five-year span, maximum. In five years, you’re going to be 18, and 18-year-olds consider themselves adults, and whatever they liked back then belongs back in that era. And for some reason, time freezes in everyone’s mind. And they think, ‘Justin Bieber, he’s still 13 — oh yeah, he’s older, but he’s still 13 and belongs to young kids.’ So they kind of throw you out with adolescence. And I think that also when you start to make that transition, and people start throwing you out, you start to say, ‘But I’m growing up too!’ And it brings out some bitterness.”
That’s the stage Bieber finds himself in now — and he’s compounded his problem, Osmond said. “What Justin is trying to do is trying to be an adult too soon. . . I don’t know if it’s recoverable because he’s done some pretty bad things. But look at Britney [and her comeback]. I didn’t see that one coming!”
Maybe the world is a little kinder to teen idols these days? Some rock critics fell over themselves to praise the Jonas Brothers’ later songs, after all. “Yeah, but look what they did to the Jonas Brothers after it was over. Look what they’re going to do to One Direction in about a year,” he said.
“And then watch what Harry Styles does. It’s going to be very interesting from my perspective to see what Harry does to reinvent himself, to pull himself from that whole teen idoldom. He’s gonna do it, I know he is. Because he’s preparing himself image-wise right now. Because he’s acting cool, they’re packaging him as cool. It’s sooo packaged! It’s so predictable in my eyes. There’s a lot of blind followers out there who follow for the marketing aspect of it. But, I think Harry’s talented.”
So if it’s possible to reengineer a teen idol’s image. . . how come Osmond couldn’t do that back in 1980? “I was too goody-goody,” he said wryly. “I wasn’t the bad guy, I was this clean-cut, optimistic, goody goody.”
How much of a goody-goody? He used to have his crew find cute girls in the audience to bring backstage . . . so he could talk to them.
“But in hindsight, I’m so glad I didn’t go there. I didn’t go down that route I know I would have regretted later on in my life
Because as a square goody-goody, I’m married to the same woman 37 years, and I have five sons and they respect me. So I’m glad I didn’t go down that route.”