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'Wee Daniel,' big star: When Irish eyes are smiling, PBS viewers are pledging

Daniel O'Donnell brings his Irish charm to the Fargo Theatre Saturday night, June 2, 2018. Special to The Forum1 / 3
Irish singer and performer Daniel O'Donnell put his handprints in cement March 8, 2013, at the Prairie Public Television studio in Fargo. He was assisted by Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau President Charley Johnson (left). Forum file photo2 / 3
Daniel O'Donnell, right, speaks with Prairie Public Televisions's John Harris during a 2003 pledge break. Forum file photo3 / 3

FARGO — Some music stars find their way to the top of the charts through radio. Some build a fanbase with YouTube videos or through their Twitter feed.

Daniel O'Donnell went a different route — Public Broadcasting Service.

Over two decades, the singer had built a successful career for himself in his native Ireland and England, but was largely unknown in the United States until 2002. That's when his first special aired on PBS and made the singer a star stateside.

The 56-year-old with a cheery voice and the personality to match returns to town for a show at the Fargo Theatre on Saturday night, June 2.

"We've been broadcasting Daniel O'Donnell since 2002 and he's probably never missed a membership drive," says Troy Davis, director of development at Prairie Public Broadcasting in Fargo.

Davis says the Irish crooner is the go-to guy when it comes to generating memberships during pledge drives. During a recent pledge drive, Prairie Public gave away tickets for the show as an incentive to prompt fans to give.

"He's a consistent performer," Davis says, comparing him to other popular PBS attractions, like Celtic Thunder and Celtic Women.

O'Donnell's most recent PBS special, "Back Home Again," — the same title as this tour — will air Thursday, June 7, on PPTV.

He's not just a hit over the airwaves. The showman delivers live and does so frequently.

"There really hasn't been a year that's gone by that he hasn't been in our region for a concert," Davis says, adding that the entertainer is one of the stars of Minot's Norsk Høstfest in September.

Prairie Public even hosted a popular tour to see O'Donnell in Branson, Mo., years ago.

This year, the singer brings his Christmas show to the Welk Resort Theatre there, bringing the Irishman's North Dakota/PPTV ties full circle.

"Until public TV stations started airing him, he was relatively unknown," Davis says. "He's grateful for the support that PBS stations across the country have shown."

And he's grateful for his fans.

"Anyone who listens to him or has been to his concerts can relate to him," Davis says. "He's very down-to-earth, very humble. That's one of his attractions and why he still brings a great, loyal audience."

Davis speaks from personal experience. He once drove the singer to the airport after a visit.

"He's just a genuinely nice person all around," he says.

O'Donnell's likeability has earned him the term of affection "Wee Daniel" back home.

"I think that the atmosphere of a close, loving family made its mark on me from an early age and that's why I have always tried to get together with my fans as much as possible," O'Donnell recently told The Sunday Post in Dundee, Scotland. "They are just like my family, and to sing, chat and laugh with them is just the perfect way of life."

"It seems like he knows half the people in the audience," Davis says. "He truly cares about every one of his fans. At the Fargo Theatre, I'm sure he'll be there until the last person wants to say hi to him will say 'hi.'"

"I've always loved meeting the people after shows," O'Donnell recently told the Eastern Daily Press, of Norwich, England. "Without the people who follow me I would not have this life. They say that when you're doing a job that you love, you never work a day in your life. Well, that is certainly the case with me."

If you go

What: Daniel O'Donnell concert

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 2

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets range from $55 to $75, plus fees; or 866-300-8300