Marie Osmond's most recent album, Unexpected, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY AGUA CALIENTE CASINOS
Let’s say you’re driving down Highway 111 and see someone very familiar-looking behind a huge Harley, your imagination might not be playing tricks on you. It could really be Marie Osmond, who is forever learning to love new things, such as hitting the open road on a chopper with her husband, as well as hitting high notes while singing operatic arias.
Osmond recently celebrated the very first No. 1 album of her six-decades career with Unexpected, her latest genre-defying recording filled with tracks written by Handel, Puccini, Sondheim, and others made famous by Louis Armstrong and Liza Minnelli. It debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s classical crossover albums charts.
The celebrated vocalist, who rose to fame as the sole female sibling of the Mormon family singing dynasty, continues to defy what’s expected of her. As her brothers were topping the charts, Marie broke out with the massive hit single “Paper Roses” before recording many curiously romantic-sounding duets with her brother Donny, such as “Deep Purple,” “I’m Leaving it (All) Up to You,” and “Morning Side of the Mountain.” The two became the TV darlings of the Jimmy Carter-era when they hosted their enormously popular television variety series Donny & Marie, which attracted such guest stars as Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett, and Olivia Newton-John.
Since then, Osmond has continued a busy career with country hits such as “Meet Me in Montana” and “There’s No Stopping Your Heart.” She’s performed on Broadway in a revival of the musical The King and I and written two revealing memoirs titled Behind the Smile, which detailed her struggle with post-partum depression, and Might As Well Laugh About It Now, in which she discussed career missteps, challenges with weight loss, and being the mother of eight children. More recently, the entertainer co-hosted the morning chat show The Talk, continues touring and performing before fans, both solo and in a long-running Las Vegas residency and series of holiday concerts with Donny.
Ahead of her March 9 performance with the Desert Symphony at Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage, Osmond chatted with Palm Springs Life about her switch to opera, why she decided not to play Sandy in Grease, and life on the open road.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY MARIE OSMOND
About the Unexpected album, Marie Osmond says, "I've been working on this legit soprano for 20 years before this album."
Congratulations on having your most recent album Unexpected debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. It must be a thrilling achievement.
Thank you. Honestly, I was on tour doing my Christmas show and it just hit me so hard, because they said it debuted No. 1.
I'm sitting up there with Andrea Bocelli and it just got to my heart. It was just unexpected. That's the name of it. You just don't expect that. And especially when you try a new genre. It's very touching to me, really. The fans are the ones that did that. I have the best.
How do your longtime fans respond to these operatic arias, which are so different from the country-pop songs that launched your career?
That's the first time anyone has asked me that question, Jeremy. I love you. What happened is when my son [Michael Blosil, who died by suicide in 2010 at the age of 18] passed away, I sang “Pie Jesu” on Oprah’s show and the response was overwhelming.
It was very moving. Was that the first time you sang opera publicly?
I've been working on this legit soprano for 20 years before this album. I would sing it around the house, and he would say, "Mom, that's my favorite way you sing." So that's why I sung that on Oprah. Well, it got such a response that I tried out a few a couple nights. I tried “Nessun Dorma” one night. I got a standing ovation and I'm like, "What? Shut the front door." So I started to try things towards the last few years there. And that's how this album was born, was through my son and trying things in Vegas. Because, people say, "Well, are you still country?" And I'm like, "Of course, I'm country." That's my music. And I've been singing it since I was 12. And I will be doing some of those hits in the show there, because I think people want to hear “Meet Me in Montana” and “Paper Roses” and things like that. I have a very odd range. So the show is going to be very eclectic, something for everyone. You'll have a good time. I promise you.
• VIDEO: See Marie Osmond sing the song she dedicted to her son, Michael.
I have no doubt. I understand you can be seen riding a Harley through the desert.
I went to Yellowstone and saw my first buffalo and it did something to me. And so, while I can still handle my bike, I mean, it's not really heavy. It's like 800 pounds. But while I can still do those kinds of things, I really want to. I'm a life liver, you know what I mean? I'm not good in a passenger seat. Unless my husband's driving, I'm not very good with it. We only have so much time on this earth. We got a motor home. This is stupid. I don't even know I'm telling you this.
Because you realize it's fascinating to think of Marie Osmond driving a motor home and riding a Harley!
We upgraded our motor home at Christmas. If you see this motor home with two Harleys on the back, you'll know it's me.
You were considered for the role of Sandy in the 1978 film version of Grease. I have so many questions about this. Did you actually audition and why did you turn it down?
Yes. Well, Olivia [who ultimately starred in the film] is my dear friend. We laughed about it, and I told her she must have had more clout than I did. They actually came to me first. And the script was not the way it ended up. I didn't want to play that role, but they cleaned it up a bit for Olivia. What a great show. What a great role for her. There are a lot of things you pass on, that you don't do. There've been quite a few things, but that one got out to the public.
I just wonder if there's a secret audition tape out there that we should hope to see one day. The original stage show was raunchy. Was it important for you to be a positive role model for kids back then?
The was no audition. The truth is that I really always wanted to have children. I mean, to be a woman in this business, if you get a five-to-10-year career, you are so blessed. And here I am at six decades. But really at that time of my life, I didn’t want to do anything that if my mother saw it, I would want to vomit. You know what I mean? That was kind of my boundary. I didn't want to do anything that my children would see and go, "Oh, gross mom." And so that was really my barometer.
"...I didn’t want to do anything that if my mother saw it, I would want to vomit. You know what I mean? That was kind of my boundary."
You also turned down an offer to pose for Playboy.
I mean, at that time we had lost all our money and I really could have used it, but they wouldn't let me do it in sweats. I didn't understand. [Laughs]
You were close friends with Betty White. Was she as wonderful as her reputation?
Oh my gosh, she was like a mom. There are two people that had that impression on me. The first one, I would say, right up there with Betty was Lucille Ball. As a young girl in this business, I loved women who were incredibly intelligent and funny and beautiful. They both checked off all those boxes. Lucy was a little tougher. I'd play Scrabble with her and things like that. Betty loved Gin Rummy, and she would cheat. I have just had this incredible, incredible life that I have been able to know so many people, but she was special. Boy, it's going to be a hard replacement for Betty White, if that’s even possible.
Are you excited to perform with the Desert Symphony?
Yes, I am. They're phenomenal. This is a show where it goes right back to my roots, when I was 12 years old and recorded “Paper Roses.” Everything was live. Next to me were the Jordanaires. I did everything live. Sonny James was in the studio. There's just something about everything live that is just magical. We will have a full orchestra there and the show is very interactive. I believe I'll make you cry a little and I'll make you laugh a little. We're just going to perform some fun music and have great memories. I think people need it again, don't we? It's why I'm doing it.