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The phrase "something for everyone" is what's bugging Marie Osmond. She's at a local TV station this morning, taping an ad for "Magic of Christmas," her concert tour that ends with a Salt Lake City show Friday but the promo copy isn't sounding quite right.

"This isn't saying what the show is," Osmond tells the cameraman and the tour promoter. "When I hear 'Marie Osmond,' I think that's going to be cute, but the show's amazing. All kinds of musical genres, like a walk down memory lane. It really is the way Christmas shows used to be."

The way Utah's most famous performing mom is tinkering with ad copy might seem, if not on the perfectionist side, at least ironic. If there's anything the Osmonds have been good at, after all, it's offering "something for everyone."

Utahns have a complicated relationship with the Osmonds. We've grown up watching them - seeing them at the mall or Fourth of July events, as well as on our television screens. They're the big Mormon family next door who parlayed hard work, harmony and a road-show style of earnestness into international celebrity that, to some critics, seemed to extend beyond the range of their talent.

Maybe the Osmonds have branded us, as well. As TV families moved from the '70s-era Partridges and Bradys to the dysfunctional Simpsons and Ozbournes of the 21st century, the Osmonds' "something for everyone" cuteness has come to symbolize what is square and safe and unhip about the state as a whole.

Changing image: For Marie, who's been on TV most of her life, famous for being a "one-take" Osmond, the heat of the media glare must have felt excruciating when cracks in her perfect image started to appear. That was in 2000, when the tabloids detailed how the singer and TV host famously bolted from her Los Angeles home, temporarily leaving both her husband and her children.

Marie's tale of overcoming postpartum depression is detailed in her 2001 celebrity memoir, Behind the Smile, describing her hardworking childhood, a cloaked story of sexual abuse, and how she patched together her marriage. "I Wasn't Running Away, I Just Missed My Exit,' she jokes in a list of rejected titles included in the book, displaying the goofy kind of humor that surprised some viewers who watched Marie on last fall's Fox TV show "Celebrity Duets."

"Marie is a great talker, so well versed," says Arthur Smith, the show's executive producer, who teamed Marie as a judge with music legends Little Richard and producer David Foster. "She was great, better than I ever thought she would be."

For most of the past six years, she's been working regular gigs pitching her company's collectible dolls on cable TV and promoting her children's charity, but mostly out of the public spotlight. Performing as a judge on a spin-off music reality show served, if not exactly as a comeback vehicle, as a reminder to the industry of Marie's niche as a TV icon, says John Ferriter, her longtime agent.

"The people who make all the decisions now grew up either wanting to date her or be her," says Ferriter, senior vice president of non-scripted TV for the William Morris agency.

Now with the Christmas show, her first tour in 10 years, Marie's back on familiar ground, which brings her to this late-November morning's taping at a Salt Lake TV studio. The 47-year-old Utah mother is tired after a concert rehearsal stretched late into the night. "I'm dyslexing all over," she cracks as her well-powdered face is bathed by flattering lights, and all the jokes in the room focus on that well-placed bank of lights.

"You know what Lucille Ball told me?" says Marie, who's dressed in a black lace flounced skirt and high-heeled boots, her shoulder-length dark hair backcombed, the distinctive beauty mark by her left eye punctuated by the flash of dangling earrings. "I was about 16, and she said: 'Honey, you want to go far in this business? Know your lighting. The camera is forgiving to men, but not to women.'"

It's a familiar story to most of the people in this room who surround Marie, who have heard this anecdote 20, maybe even 50 times. But what it underscores is just how long Marie Osmond has been in the spotlight, painting stage makeup on her face, and working hard to make something bigger out of that cute image.

Living a full life: For most of her life, "cute" has been just the right description for Marie Osmond, ever since she was a grinning 3-year-perched on Andy Williams' knee, famously introduced to television viewers as the "youngest Osmond brother."

At rehearsal and in an interview, everything about the woman that Marie has grown into seems familiar. There's still that smile, big enough to electrify a room, and that one cocked eyebrow. And just as you'd expect, she's nice, quick to praise the music director's "beautiful charts," or to autograph the back of a doll's neck for a fan.

Ask her what's been like to watch yourself on TV monitors her whole life, and Marie laughs. "I thought you were going to ask: 'Is it hard to watch yourself age?'" she says. "About aging? I don't care. My life is full. Why would I want to be 20 again? There's something cool about a person - especially females - comfortable in her own skin."

Yet in response to the question "how old are you? she plays cute, avoiding answering with a question of her own: "Mentally?"

Showing off a performer's promotional flair, she refers to Smile as my "New York Times' best-selling book." "I was the first celebrity to go public with the topic," she claims.

With her people in the room, Marie tosses around the kind of sisterly repartee familiar from her on-stage persona. She's not sarcastic, exactly, just a little bit bratty. "I've decided that skinny women are mean because they're hungry," she jokes. "At my age, I need a little extra on me so I can maintain my hormonal humor."

What prompted the tour, Marie says, was a stint in the studio to tape an inspirational song for music director Jerry Williams' upcoming album, which reminded her how much she missed singing. She says her four youngest children have never seen one of her shows but they'll join her on stage.

At practice in a downtown Provo hall, they don't look like an entertainer's kids, seemingly more intrigued by the on-off switches on their cordless mics than by the idea of performing. Their number at rehearsal was "very short, very out-of-pitch," the judge in Marie opines.

After rehearsal, after seeing the performer's rhinestone-studded black cowboy hat and pink feather boa, after hearing the 12-piece big band and the 6-piece combo with two backup singers, even one of the singer's toughest critics, her 15 year-old son, proclaimed the show as "cool," Marie says, laughing again.

During the morning taping, her cell phone, like that of any busy mother, has stacked up with 11 calls. She and her agent say she turned down a handful of Broadway and TV offers in recent years to be with her mother, Olive, who died in May 2004, then to nurse her husband through an illness, and raise her kids.

"I've got eight," is one of the jokes Marie rehearses for her holiday show, an example of how she's aiming at the sweet spot of audience expectations, hitting on all the notes that Utah culture is known for. "Not husbands, kids."

Dolls and beyond: Perhaps the most interesting public face of Marie Osmond is the one represented by her doll company. After all, if there's any place where "cute" still sells, where "cute" still matters, it's the collectible doll world.

As a child on performing tours, Marie began collecting dolls with her mother, a hobby that set apart the two women in a family of men. She began designing and selling dolls on the cable shopping channel QVC in 1991, and a decade later she and her husband bought the company, building it into one of the biggest in the world.

Collectors consider her dolls to be reasonably priced and well made, but they're just as drawn by their creator, who has designed dolls in honor of her mother, and more recently, brother Donny. "I've heard collectors say to her, 'It's not just the dolls, it's you,'" says Kathryn A. Peck, managing editor of the Boston-based Doll Reader magazine.

The dolls represent something authentic to Marie, a connection to her beloved mother, a reminder of the childhood she lost to working, says Lisa Hatch, who has worked with Marie Osmond for 22 years.

"I don't think Marie ever wore anything but pink," says Hatch, vice president of the doll company. "We've found a picture of her at 6 months old, laying there in her crib with a doll in her arms."

And in a savvy display of cross promotion that shows off all the Osmond in her, Marie has designed a special edition "Adorabella" Christmas doll, packaged in a hot pink box, to sell at her concerts.


* ELLEN FAGG can be contacted at or 801-257-8621. Send comments about this story to

A little bit country Christmas show

* Marie Osmond's "The Magic of Christmas" concert will take place at 7 p.m. Dec. 22 at the Nu Skin Theatre of the Energy Solutions Arena, 301 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.

* TICKETS ARE $29.50 to $39.50 at Ticketmaster outlets, or visit www.ticket