After appearing on NBC’s Today Show, singer Tony Orlando joins MSNBC.com Chat to discuss his new book, “Halfway to Paradise” in which shares many of the stories from his own remarkable life. Orlando took questions from chatters over the phone from the Ed Sullivan theater where he prepared for an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. Chat producer Will Femia moderates.
MSNBC-Will Femia: Welcome Tony Orlando.
Question from Rose Penksa Charney: When is your new CD to be out? I have heard some of the songs you wrote for it at your shows, can’t wait to have it. I also wanted to thank you for all the years of enjoyment, and for being such a giving person, you are the same wonderful person. It is so great to see you so happy. See you at Heinz Hall in Pittsburg. Love to you and your family, Rose Penksa
Tony Orlando: The CD is in the process of being made. We actually finished it and then we realized that we’d written a couple more songs and we decided to go back into the studio. As a matter of fact, between Nov. 6-11 in Branson to do the tracks, three more new songs on the CD that the people feel would strengthen up the CD. So we’re in the process of recording it and adding a few new tunes.
MSNBC-Will Femia: That’s pretty soon considering you don’t have the whole thing finished.
Tony Orlando: Right, we had 12 songs in the original CD and we though that would be enough. But then we had three other songs, two of which I wrote, and the person producing the album with me felt that this was something that we really shouldn’t wait for a second album to go with so we’re going back in the studio and creating that recording as we speak.
The lead song on the album is called “Caribbean Jewel.” It was either going to be that or “Halfway to Paradise” like the book because the book has been received so well and there’s been such an amazing response to it. Originally it was a song written by Carole King called “Halfway to Paradise” for me. The idea was that we went back in and, after all these years, 43 years later, to cut an updated version of it and hopefully we can get Carole to do the cut with me. That’s something I’m kind of wishing for and praying for. Anybody who has a couple extra prayers in their pocket for me, please try it, I’d really appreciate it.
MSNBC-Will Femia: Oh good that takes care of this question...
Question from Chris: How did you come with Hallfway to Paradise for the title of your book?
Question from Susan Sloan: Hello Tony! I don’t know if you will remember me, my name is Susan, I met you last year. I’m from Texas and I was wondering if you plan on any concert dates here? I would just love to see you again! Love you, Susan
MSNBC-Will Femia: Touring plans?
Tony Orlando: If you look on the TonyOrlando.com Website, you will be filled in up to date on exactly what the tour situation is. We’re pretty solid up throughout November and December and well into March, coming into April.
I think June starts a whole new scheduling process for us. Up until that period of time we’re pretty solid. I don’t see anyting on the Website for Texas, so that’s a good goal for us. If Susan has an idea and feels that there’s a venue that would be right for me she should let us know about it. If not, I sure would love to see her in Vegas December 16th for the Christmas show that we’re going to do at the Orleans.
That’s December 16th through the 22nd.
MSNBC-Will Femia: That last chatter asked “do you remember me?” and by far, you have the most of those questions I’ve seen on a chat list.
Question from theresa: Tony maybe you can bring the Santa & Me show here to Westbury...it would be great. P.S. I am the dark haired, dark eyed girl who gives you oreos all the time and gave you the desert storm doll last year at Westbury.
MSNBC-Will Femia: What’s the deal with that? Do you remember everybody?
Tony Orlando: I have a pretty good memory bank. Each person, for those of you out there who are asking the question “do you remember me,” some I do and some you’re going to have to be a little more specific. The young lady who talked about being from Texas, if she could be a little more specific to bring me back to where we did meet I’d appreciate it. Like the one did from Westbury who just recently asked in the chat whether I remember the dark haired girl with the Oreos. How could I forget that?
The only reason I look forward to going out back stage after that show is not only to meet everybody, but I know that I’m guaranteed some Oreo cookies. And “Hi” to her and “Love” to her.
And ask her this: Has she tried the half fudge, half peanut butter Oreo cookies? They are amazing. Tell her next time I come to Westbury or in that area, I’ll remember her if she brings those even better!
Question from Kathryn Kooyman: Tony, I am sooo excited to see you in Osceola, Iowa on Saturday, October 19. Are you still singing, Colors of my life” from the Barnum Show?
MSNBC-Will Femia: Can you talk a bit about which songs you do and how you pick them?
Tony Orlando: The Barnum song I haven’t done in quite a while. I know that Kathryn who is asking me about that obviously goes back to somewhere in the early 80’s when I was just finished doing Barnum on Broadway and did a version of this beautiful song that was written for the play and I used to do it in the show. I haven’t done it in a long, long time, but she’s just reinstated the idea of maybe going back and looking at it again because it should be revisited
To all those people who are asking where I’m going to be, I think the easiest way for me to answer that questions is that if you look on the Website and back track from the Summer to now you’ll see that I haven’t been home much. And you get to the point on the where you go, “Where am I? Am I in Chicago or am I coming to Cleveland? Are we going to Mexico tomorrow or are we in Kiev?” You forget where you are, where you’re going. So the best way to find the answer to that one is to just check on the Website under tours and you’ll see exactly where I’m going and hopefully it’s in their vicinity. And thank you for even asking.
Question from Kim Lewis: Hi Tony, It has been a long time Tony, since I have had the honor to see you perform in Branson. Too long in fact. Your shows have always been an inspiration to me. Remember your saying, “Reach for the Moon, the worse that could happen is you would fall among the Stars.” If it wasn’t for you a lot that has happened in my life, wouldn’t of happen. Thank you Tony!! Anyway, when are you going to perform again in Branson? I miss your shows and I loved your Christmas one. Also, do you have plans on selling your book in Branson, yourself. I would love to get one with your autograph on it. Best regards.....
MSNBC-Will Femia: Branson came up in a lot of questions. Can you include in the answer to that the significance of Branson to you?
Tony Orlando: The significance of Branson in my life is that I began my theater in Branson in 1993 and it remains my home base. It’s where I make my home with my wife, Frannie, and my daughter Jenny Rose. My son John lives in L.A. but he certainly spent eight years with me in Branson in my theater.
Branson remains my home, but I no longer have a theater there, I’m on the road about 250 day out of the year. Not working in Branson has allowed me to do things like the movie with Billy Bob Thorton and to write the book and to go into the studio again and record some of the material I’ve been writing.
But Branson, for those of you who have never been, it is an amazing beautiful area in the Ozarks consisting of about 37 theaters sits about 67,000 seats for live theater. The Grand Palace is a theater that serves up every country major superstar from Faith Hill on across the board. And it changes its marquee. But then you have Andy Williams who is a regular and a mainstay there and has been for many years, along with Glenn Campbell, Mel Tillis, Bobby Vinton, all of them have their own theaters and continue to work and make Branson their home. So for those of you who have never been, I think it would be a good idea for you to try it. It’s a beautiful place with beautiful scenery and lakes and great vacationing and things to do for the kids and the family and I recommend it highly. To the young lady who was coming to the shows there, I appreciate it, and don’t stop coming, there’s plenty there to see.
Question from Debbie: I remember reading that you were friends with Freddie Prinze. Did you stay close to his wife and son Freddie Jr. after his death? Are you close to his son today?
MSNBC-Will Femia: Lot of Freddie Prinze questions on the list.
Tony Orlando: No, when Freddy passed away, his wife Kathy did a very smart thing. She moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, as I was told and she made sure that she got away from the Hollywood scene and that included all of us. And I think she made a very wise decision. She went and raised her son away from the people who were part and parcel of the influences that were not terrific in those days to Freddy or me and she did a very wise thing because she obviously has raised an incredibly wonderful young man who has reached and amazing place and has made his dad very proud.
I think there would have been a lot of disturbance of people asking questions growing up as a kid and I think that Kathy did the proper thing. What it did do is that I did lose touch with her. It’s one of the things that I feel in my heart that I feel guilty about through the years that I wasn’t there for Freddy. But you know, in examining it and looking at the way this man has grown up, it’s probably better that it was that way. More than ever he is proof in the way that he handles himself and his lifestyle that his mother did the proper thing and raised him just exactly the way he should be.
MSNBC-Will Femia: Could you talk a bit about lessons you learned about friendship over the years? I’m sure you’ve seen real friends, show biz friends, drug friends.. I’m curious what your perspective is now.
Tony Orlando: A real friend is someone who does n0t give you expectation about delivering on some kind of peer group pressure. The moment that you start to see someone coming at you with that attitude is the time to run and turn the other way, that won’t be a friend. But a friend who doesn’t put any pressure on you and doesn’t have any expectations on you other than earning each others’ trust and working toward earning that trust is really the most important, I think, element in any relationship.
You can like somebody, you could even love somebody, but you have to work at trusting somebody and you’ve got to earn that trust. And I think that if there’s any one thing that young people should look at is if someone comes at them and says “try this” or “try that” or “do this” or “do that” and in their gut they know it isn’t right, they should never feel afraid to say hey, move out of my way, I’m walking by.
Always be with people who support you and who surround you with positive attitudes, that’s really the most important thing. The moment you get into a circle of people who look to bring you down and they enter into your circle with a whole lot of negatives, whatever it is, even if they start throwing their own negatives at you, it’s time to walk on.
Question from Kathryn Kooyman: Tony, I read your book. It was a ery written so well. At one moment I would be laughing out loud and later crying. I also appreciated your candidness about the hard years. It definitely shows how drugs can bring out the bad in good people. I respect you so much for being able to come out of such a dark place so strong. Your story serves as a strong inspiration to persons who undergo hard times to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Tony Orlando: That’s a review that I cherish, thank you.
MSNBC-Will Femia: That’s just a comment, but I wonder if you could respond. Do you respect yourself after that or are you ashamed of it or ... ?
Tony Orlando: I’m very proud of the way I’ve dealt with my crisis in life. Look, we all have crisis. And quite frankly we all have addictions. I mean, one of the main addictions in this country right now is food. It’s to the point that it’s at a crisis level. Not only for adults but for children. This is no different an aphrodisiac than anything else and just as much of a killer as anything that you could be addicted to, smoking or anything.
Anything in excess is not good for you. And my feeling is that how you come out of a situation, whatever the crisis is, whether it’s with financial or drugs or with yourself about your own self worth or self doubt or loss of confidence, whatever it is, what you measure your life by is how you handle that crisis and how you come out and how you can make the people around you who really love you, your family, you wife, your daughter, your son, your mother your father, your grandmother, your grandfather —do things in your life that never embarrass them or shame them. And if you do get into a situation, get out of it as soon as you can so that you don’t continue on and you can show by example how much you love them by getting yourself back on your feet and building a better life for yourself.
Question from Vykki: I have been a fan over the years. I had no idea about your trouble of substance abuse until I saw you on TODAY this morning. Glad that is over and that life is going well for you now.
Tony Orlando: That was exactly almost 30 years ago -1977. And I don’t think anything that happens in one’s life 30 years ago… sometimes the problem when you write a book is that you’re talking about what you wrote about and it has an essence of “now” in the sense that it happened recently, and to put it in its proper perspective, it’s 1977 that that nine month affair with a drug situation happened, and my point in putting it in the book is that nine moths is just as bad to one’s well being as 9 years. Because you’re going to pay a bill at the end of that dinner. You’re going to end up having to pay a price. And that price might not only be the loss of your self esteem, but maybe the loss of your literal life —-the loss of your job, the loss of your marriage, the loss of respect of your peers, the loss of your family… And so my feeling about that segment of the book was I had to write it, but that book is about 58 years of my life, 43 of those 58 that encompass show business, which is all I’ve known.
The emphasis on that is important but I am hoping that the young lady gets a chance to read the book and see all of the positive things that happened thereafter that period and how wonderful it’s been for the last 30 some-odd years since that time.
Question from Miss: What are the backup singers doing today?
Question from Lynette: Do you think you ,Telma and Joyce will ever have a reunion tour again?
Tony Orlando: Yes, I would very much consider it if the girls wanted to do it for a good time of it or for a charity or if we just wanted to go out and have a re-living the experience of singing together. We really do love each other, we’re still friends, we speak to each other on the phone.
I’m very proud of the success that Telma has had as a sitcom actress. She may be the longest running sitcom actress in the history of television and that’s the truth. We went on in ’73 and she’s now in a new show called “Half and Half.” But if you count all the shows she’s co-stared in, it starts with our show to Bosom Buddies with Tom Hanks to Nel Carter’s “give me a Break” to Family matters where she played Urkle’s aunt Rachel to this present show. I can’t think of anybody, really, maybe Lucy in re-runs, who’s been on television as long as Telma Hopkins. She’s been an amazing success and I’m so proud of her. And sure, if she had time to go out and do a couple weeks on the road I think we’d all get a kick out of it.
And Joyce Vincent Wilson, who probably is the most talented singer of the trio and has a heart like an angel and who has enjoyed her time with her sister Pam in dedicating her life to contemporary Christian gospel groups and even performing in regional gospel Christian based plays in Los Angeles, I’m super proud of her and a performer and more importantly, I’m very proud of her as a woman who has faced some hardship and tragedies in her life. She’s quite a lady.
MSNBC-Will Femia: I have to read a couple of these to you, we got a lot of these types of comments from people who still carry some lesson or influence from you from years and years ago. It really blows my mind…
Question from Wendy Ascenzo: Tony, Way back in 1974 I attended the Grammy Awards in NYC and sat alongside you and your wife. You were so kind and gracious to two non-celebrities and have never forgotten your down-to-earth attitude. I have watched you over the years and pray that you have found peace and happiness. You have gien us so much! Thanks, again.
Question from Pat Zipf: Dear Tony, I wrote you a fan letter back in about 1963/64. It was after you came out with the song “Bless you”. You wrote me back such a wonderful, sincere letter - told me all about your life and your sister. Wish I still had the letter & picture you sent me. When I married and left home, Mom “cleaned” out my room!!:-( You are still as nice and down to earth as you were back in the mid 60’s...BLESS YOU!!!!
Tony Orlando: Thank you. Thank you, I hope so. For those people who mention years like 1963 and 1974, in no way do I ever take for granted the amount of time and the love and support they’ve given me in my career. And to think that they have spent that many years remembering a letter that might have been written to them or one that wasn’t answered or one that should have been answered or a picture that was signed or a show that they saw or a time that we sat together at the Grammy awards and it meant something to them. Trust me, it means more to me to hear it back. You guys have made my day and those stories truly warm my heart and make this all worth it, it really does.
Question from Donna Wright: I had the pleasure of seeing your concert here at Windsor Raceway in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I enjoyed your performance so much, I was wondering when you will be back in Windsor and where do you get the energy to do your performance night after night. Your performance made me feel like you were just being your self and you were doing a personal show just for us, as if we were family. Will your book be on sale in Canada and where? I liked how you gave your back-up group a lot of credit and they are very talented. Take care and God Bless. Hope to see you soon. Donna Wright
MSNBC-Will Femia: Do you have a performing philosophy?
Tony Orlando: I look at the audience very much as a family. It’s very perceptive of that young lady to pick that up. If I were a comic, it wouldn’t be about getting laughs, it would be about giving laughter. If you come from a point of view where you’re on that stage to get something from the audience, you’re going to be an immediate loser. If you’re going to go out there from the point of view where you’re going to go out and give something to these people and make sure that they get their money’s worth and make sure that they feel appreciated and that I’m going to work myself until I know that you have been satisfied at this dinner table, and all of the songs that are put on there is a main course and a dessert and a feeling of satisfaction much like a Thanksgiving dinner. And my job is to go out there and make sure that they feel embraced and loved, only as a response to them feeling that way about me.
Now, I know that there a lot of people who read this in this chat and say, “Oh please, come on.” But the truth of the matter is that anybody who has a cynical attitude toward that has never really experienced that feeling that that person who just wrote that like Donna from Windsor, Canada did. There is a unique relationship that goes between and audience and a performer in a live situation that is unlike a television show, that’ s unlike a movie, that’s unlike a Broadway show that’s a written play. It’s the words, the music, the feeling, the heart the relationship is spontaneous and happens for that moment. You can’t rewind it, you can’t replay it. It is just for that moment. And the only time you can really sense it or feel it is in your memory.
And I have a ton of those memories. And It’s really been my fuel. It’s been my source of food. It’s the piston in my engine, it’s what drives me. So that young lady has picked up on the whole reason why I do what I do, and I want to thank her for that. Thank you Donna.
MSNBC-Will Femia: How shall we wrap now that our half hour is ending?
Tony Orlando: Well, I’m talking to all of you right now sitting at the Ed Sullivan Theater, the famous Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City getting ready to get dressed to go on and do a little walk-on tonight for the David Letterman Show. It’s kind of a funny bit that David and I have always done. We’ve known each other a long time.
And when you come on to do a bit with David, of course it has to be underlined and underscored with tongue and cheek and sense of humor. And so he said, “come on, introduce your book to the public the David Letterman way.” And that’s what we’re going to do. We had a lot of fun rehearsing it today and I hope that all of you who are writing to me today get a chance to see the show tonight, I really appreciate it. By the way, for those of you who will watch the show that wrote tonight, know that when I walk out there I’ll have you in my heart.
Thanks a lot for the time, for the interest, for the years of support, and for those of you who read the book, for telling me that you enjoyed it, I really appreciate it.
MSNBC-Will Femia: We appreciate your time as well. Thanks very much for joining us today.
Tony Orlando: Thank you!
MSNBC-Will Femia: For more information on what’s going on with Tony, visit his Website.