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Barry Manilow: Audiences connect with a guy who's telling the truth

By Katie McLaughlin, CNN
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Barry Manilow sings his favorite song
  • Barry Manilow got his start as Bette Midler's musical conductor and arranger
  • He also wrote commercial jingles early in his career, most notably State Farm and Band-Aid
  • Manilow on first $1 million check: "I used it as a bookmark"
  • Manilow: "I'm a private man, and I'm a gentleman. And I'm proud of it."

"Piers Morgan Tonight" airs weeknights on CNN/US at 9 p.m. ET and on CNN International at 0200 GMT (live simulcast), 1200 GMT, and 2000 GMT and HKT.

(CNN) -- Barry Manilow told CNN's Piers Morgan that when he first got into show business, he had "no eyes to be a performer. I had no ambition to be on the stage singing, singing and dancing around the stage."

Manilow, who has sold over 80 million records worldwide, had 35 consecutive Top 40 hits and five albums simultaneously on the charts, is the guest on Thursday's "Piers Morgan Tonight." The show was taped before a rare in-studio audience, and the renowned singer-songwriter played the piano and sang some of his hits.

"When I got up there to promote my first album," said Manilow, "I really didn't know what to do with my legs. I was able to get up from the piano, and then I really didn't know what else to do, because I had never, ever thought about standing up on a stage and entertaining. And, I thought I was dreadful. But the audiences didn't. And I think they were able to connect with a guy who was telling the truth."

Manilow recalled that his first real shot at the spotlight was given to him by Bette Midler in the early 1970s. "I was her conductor and arranger," said Manilow. "And I had an album out. And she allowed me to do a couple of songs."

Barry Manilow on the price of fame

During the 1960s and 1970s, Manilow worked as a commercial jingle writer.

He composed the songs for State Farm Insurance ("And like a good neighbor, State Farm is there... "), Band-Aid ("I am stuck on Band-Aid, 'cause Band-Aid's stick on me!") and McDonald's ("You deserve a break today") among others. Manilow pointed out that the State Farm and Band-Aid jingles still air to this day.

The Brooklyn-born-and-raised Manilow recalled that on the day he was presented with his first $1 million check, which he calls "The 'Mandy' check," he had actually bounced a check he'd written out to AT&T that same morning. "Mandy," which was recorded in 1974, was Manilow's first No. 1 hit.

"I used it as a bookmark," said Manilow. "I mean, that's where I was at, you know. I didn't take money seriously. I was never doing it for the money."

Manilow also recounted the lashing he got from critics who bashed "Mandy," despite the song's success on the charts.

"I've got my feelings on my sleeve," said Manilow. "I've made a career out of it, you know? This is who I am, this is what I feel and I think that was one of the reasons I had such trouble with the critics. They didn't like to see that from a guy. They'd much rather see a guy being angry on the stage."

Manilow's first album of original songs in more than a decade, "15 Minutes," is out.

The singer-songwriter has been the resident headliner at The Paris Hotel in Las Vegas for two years; prior to that he headlined at the Las Vegas Hilton for five years. Now in his seventh year in Vegas, Manilow may soon beat Elvis Presley's record of Las Vegas longevity. The album name is a nod to the expression coined by artist Andy Warhol in 1968: "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

Manilow, who has been world-famous for nearly 40 years, told Morgan that the rewards of fame depend on how it is handled.

Manilow said that he fears for people who become famous on shows such as "American Idol" and "X Factor" without having paid their dues.

"They do have talent," Manilow said. "But, you know, before you know it, they are household names. And they haven't worked in the bars that we worked in. They haven't played the bar mitzvah, they haven't gotten dressed in the men's room."

However, Manilow pointed out there's a dark side to fame today and that stars often pay a price that he didn't have to pay. In particular, he referenced Britney Spears' psychological issues and troubles with paparazzi and said, "I don't know whether anybody brings that kind of thing on themselves. It seems to me that she was trying to live her life.

"This didn't happen to me. Not that. They didn't follow me around wherever I was going."

He said he worries about young celebrities today because "just being famous is a very dangerous thing to do if you are not grounded."

Manilow also pointed out that celebrities today open their private lives to the public via Twitter, YouTube and reality shows, saying "they invite people in, you know. For me, that's one place I lock the door unless I invite you in. It's my one thing that I finally have to myself, man. Which is my life and you can't come in unless I invite you in."

Morgan told Manilow that he agrees that "we know too much" about famous people's lives, and that he finds the musician more interesting because he keeps his private life private, invoking "the old mystique from celebrity."

Manilow recalled coming up in "that world of Sinatra's" where "we didn't see then what we do see now.

"I'm a private man, and I'm a gentleman," said Manilow. "And I'm proud of it."

When Morgan asked Manilow to tell the now-famous story of how Bob Dylan publicly came to his defense, Manilow said, "He said some really great things when I was out at dinner and he gave me a real compliment. He said, 'Keep doing what you're doing, man.' And those were the years that I really needed to hear that."

What's Manilow's favorite Barry Manilow song?

"There's so many songs," Manilow said. "There's been 30 years of music, but 'One Voice' comes to mind." Manilow said the song remains an inspiration to him because the words and music came to him in a dream one night.

He wouldn't disclose his least favorite Barry Manilow song.

How did Manilow feel about being "the greatest showman of our generation" by Rolling Stone magazine?

"That's really a beautiful thing to go through my life with, because I work real hard on that stage. I try to do the best work I can."

Watch Piers Morgan Live weeknights 9 p.m. ET. For the latest from Piers Morgan click here.