- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

An ex-preteen-idol nearing 50 — who would want that job?

Donny Osmond has that job. Yet it’s tough to feel sorry for him. He’s still handsome, doesn’t look a day over 40 and has never needed to walk the celebrity unemployment line.

In the past decade or so, he had a crack at daytime TV (with sister Marie) and a well-received five-year stint as the lead in Broadway’s “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Then, in a piggyback marketing gambit, the singer released a collection of Broadway tunes, 2001’s earnestly titled “This Is the Moment.”

“Moment” was momentous enough to launch a sustained comeback, which continued a year later with “Somewhere in Time,” a batch of contemporary cover songs — perfect, inoffensive stuff for the Osmondian tenor.

His latest release, “What I Meant to Say,” has the distinction of being semioriginal. Mr. Osmond co-wrote most of the songs and oversaw production of the album. It’s something like a new phase in his career: that of inspirational balladeer.

If Donny Osmond the childhood star was, to quote the old family variety show sign-off, “a little bit rock ‘n’ roll,” the middle-aged Donny Osmond is a little dance-pop, a lot of torch and absolutely no rock ‘n’ roll.

That’s fine, up to a point. “Say” goes down like an elevator ride and is just about as memorable. That’s not to say the album is bad or that it lacks conviction; it’s just that with so many dentist-office synthesizers and cottony drum programs, it’s too smooth to stick for very long.

Just so you know where this critic is coming from: I was not yet a twinkle in my mother’s eye when Mr. Osmond was a megapopular child dreamboat on TV, and listen-while-you-work Muzak isn’t exactly my thing. But I appreciate a gifted singer of any genre, and Mr. Osmond is one.

Songs like “One Dream,” with its hopeful summons to the seeking of divine grace, suggest he might very well find a fertile career in the easy-listening sector of the Christian music market. As it is, “Say” is timidly secular.

Here’s Mr. Osmond getting frisky on the Bill Withers-esque “Breeze on By”: “Baby, you’re driving me crazy/I don’t want anybody thinking about you in the way that I’m thinking about you.”

The studio computer jockeys make like early-‘80 Prince on the get-jiggy “Whenever You’re in Trouble,” but Prince wouldn’t be pleased with the bungled homage.

Back to the ballad thing: If Mr. Osmond had limited himself to singing about faith — he’s a practicing Mormon — we might have been spared a cover of Richard Marx’s insufferably treacly “Right Here Waiting.”

But who am I to question anyone who made it down the child celebrity chute and survived second and third acts as an adult?

Donny Osmond is doing something right. I just can’t tell you what it is.

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