“Sometimes it’s a public service to put an end to someone’s dreams,” says Danny Bonaduce, giving us a thumbnail sketch of his philosophy for judging I Know My Kid’s a Star, which premieres tonight at 10/9c on VH1. Talking about the show, Danny proves to be unapologetic as ever as he talks about heading the reality competition of stage moms and the kids who are sentenced to them. Below, Danny talks about his own tumultuous experiences with child stardom, the trainwreck culture of Britney and Lindsay and why he doesn’t think getting involved in showbiz is necessarily damaging to young people.
You hold yourself and your tumultuous past up as an example as a cautionary tale from the start of this show.
Everybody, the production crew and everything, was trying to be polite, but basically the game was this: don’t let your kid grow up to be Danny Bonaduce.
Do you think you wouldn’t have had the difficulties you have if you had a more stable home as a child star?
That’s two different questions. I think I would have had less tumult in my life if I hadn’t grown up in my particular house. Taking drugs and going to jails and getting into fights has nothing to do with being on television. I think it has to do with the way you’re raised, and I was raised by wolves.
You make reference to Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan stealing your trainwreck act…
…I call them the four horsewomen of the apocalypse.
So, you think that fame has nothing to do with people’s downward trajectories?
It’s funny, because I’m a man of strong opinions and when I make one, I stand by it even if it starts to appear incorrect to me after a while. I would say that my particular issues had nothing to do with the kind of fame that I had. Even though The Partridge Family was, at one point, as big as Britney Spears, bigger than Lindsay Lohan, by far bigger than Paris Hilton, the paparazzi weren’t everywhere. All your secrets weren’t exposed. People wanted to protect you more than injure you. Now it seems like people want to do damage to young celebrities. They want to find them doing bad things. They encourage them. How many times am I going to watch a paparazzo purposely put his foot under Britney’s car tire and say he was run over by a crazed woman?
Maybe it’s dangerous for kids to be stars.
I certainly think it’s less dangerous for a kid to be famous than to go to school in Compton. Although Compton’s pretty nice now. I think you’ve got less of a chance of having a truly damaged child because he was in show business than because he went to school in Littleton, Colorado. It’s a dangerous time to be a child.
Have you heard any criticism of the very premise of the show? Stage parents tend to get blood boiling.
I’ve done a lot of press and everyone has reacted in such a palpable way. It’s not necessarily good or bad, but it’s also not very positive. I think we’re pretty fair with the clips we show. There are a couple of clips where the parents are not doing anything but helping their kid, and you can see that some of these reporters are out to hate that parent. That parent put their kid in show business and they’re out to get them. In a way, I kind of understand that. But people wanted to not like these parents right off the bat, and a few of them are quite likable. A couple of them are most certainly not.
Are you saying that stage parents get a bum rap in general?
Yes. I believe they get a bum rap, but only because when a stage parent goes bad, it’s so damaging to the child. It’s damaging to the project they’re working on. It’s embarrassing. It’s such a big deal to have a bad stage parent. It scars. But is a mother ever aware that her baby is ugly? Does any mom ever look down and go, “Boy! Did I have an ugly one!”? The answer is no: everybody thinks their baby is cute. Well, all these parents think their kids are incredibly talented. Some of them are not, but either way, the parents gaze upon their child as if they are a prodigy.
All of that said, how was it to corral these people, just based on your personal annoyance?
Everyone in the beginning had such a sense of superiority that they were the clear winner. The fireworks started after the first few eliminations after kids whose parents thought they were so amazing started to get eliminated. The parents start to realize, at least in my estimation, “Hey, am I wrong?” Or, “Does it matter if I’m right or wrong?” Or, “Little Johnny might be a genius, but Danny’s not seeing it. I’m screwed.” And I wasn’t always pleasant about sending kids home.
So, is dashing people’s dreams your public service?
Yes! I know that sounds like an oxymoron. If you’ve got a guy with one leg, he can still run a marathon and be a hero, but he’s never gonna be the fastest man alive. If that’s his ambition, it’s a public service to that man, his family and his friends to let him know that he’s never going to be the fastest man alive. He may be the fastest one-legged man alive. If you have an impossible dream, a dream that cannot be fulfilled, the friendly thing for me to do is to put a stop to you wasting your life at it. I have this overwhelming desire to play for the NBA, but I’ve got three things against me: I’m middle aged, I’m white and I’m 5’6″. If I spend my day sweating my guts out in front of a hoop outside and my girlfriend doesn’t come up to me and say, “Dan, I love you but you’re never gonna play for the NBA,” she’s just gonna let me waste my life in the driveway. Sometimes it’s a public service to put an end to someone’s dreams.
That said, there seems to be a good cop/bad cop dynamic between you and your fellow advisor on the show, Markie Costello. You’re nurturing and she’s blunt.
“Blunt” is a kind word. There’s dashing someone’s dreams by telling the truth, and then there’s bashing someone’s dreams by hitting them with the bat. I chose dashing, she chose bashing.
Do you disagree with her philosophy?
I think she’s excellent television, but I don’t think she had to be quite as hostile was she was sometimes. Markie knows her business backwards and forwards and once an amateur who knows nothing disagrees with her, she lets that be known. But the show would not be the show without Markie.
Was the show fun for you?
It was a very good time for me. I was kept away from a lot of the personal drama and by the time I sent someone home at the end, which you would think would be sad and horrifying and maudlin, I always knew I was doing the right thing. Somebody’s gotta lose, this thing has rules to it, and this kid’s gotta go. I didn’t sit up at night going, “What am I doing to this kid?” I was just doing my job.
So you’d do this again?
Oh, absolutely. I expect to. I am rooting for Season 2 of I Know My Kid’s a Star like you wouldn’t believe!