Review: CMA’s Country Christmas

Kristina Carroll ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff

CMA COUNTRY CHRISTMAS - Country's biggest stars are joining together to celebrate the holidays! For the third year, Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles will host the "CMA Country Christmas" special, airing THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20 (9:00-11:00 p.m., ET), on ABC. Photo Credit: ABC/KATHERINE BOMBOY-THORNTON.
CMA COUNTRY CHRISTMAS – Country’s biggest stars are joining together to celebrate the holidays! For the third year, Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles will host the “CMA Country Christmas” special, airing THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20 (9:00-11:00 p.m., ET), on ABC. Photo Credit: ABC/KATHERINE BOMBOY-THORNTON.

For those of you who love country music, or are just looking to get in the holiday spirit, the CMA’s Country Christmas is a must-see.  Packed with performances from some of the year’s hottest performers, this two hour special is perfect to watch with family and friends.

For the third year in a row, this year’s program is hosted by Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, who opens the show by singing “Naughty Would Be Nice For Christmas”.  What starts with her lounging on a fancy white couch soon turns into an extravagant performance complete with background dancers in matching red vests.  It’s a good performance, but definitely not the best of the night.  In fact, Jennifer Nettles as a host in general is slightly disappointing.  Her introductions are less than stellar, and her jokes are so cheesy sometimes that they’re painful to listen to.  Luckily, most of the other performances make up for this.

After Nettle’s introductory performance, the Band Perry takes the stage and sings “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.  In an attempt to cover the version that most people remember as being the “Jackson 5” rendition (the one with a rock n roll spin on it), they don’t really succeed.  They sound good vocally, but they lack the energy that is essential to this song.  They perform it standing in one place, and don’t move around at all, despite the fact that this is one of the peppiest Christmas songs of all time.  This is somewhat understandable, since the Band Perry is famous for songs like “If I Die Young” and “Better Dig Two”.  But since it’s clear that they’re not accustomed to singing this genre, I think that they should have performed something more suitable to their tastes.  One thing that I really do enjoy about this performance, however, is that they do an excellent job of putting a country spin on the song, by incorporating a guitar, violin and a banjo into their performance.

Something that I really like about this program is that throughout the night they feature snippets from backstage, where all of the performers discuss memories and traditions that they love about the holidays.  I thought that this was a really cool thing to include, because it helps introduce each performer before they go onstage, and does a much better job than Jennifer Nettles.  And on top of that, we learn that Scotty McCreery’s first Christmas memory was getting a toy drum.  Pretty adorable, right?

The next group to take the stage is Lady Antebellum.  Being a huge fan of them, I personally was expecting something fantastic—and I wasn’t the least bit disappointed.  They perform their rendition of “Holly Jolly Christmas” from their Christmas album.  It’s an excellent performance, and my only complaint is that it lacks the country vibe that the Band Perry had.  However, it is a much better performance overall.

Lady Antebellum is followed by John Legend, and his performance of “This Christmas”, made famous by Donny Hathaway in 1970.  John Legend plays the piano in this performance, and definitely makes it the most heartfelt and soulful performance of the night.  I personally loved his rendition of this song, and it seemed like he was really enjoying himself.  His performance is definitely one of the must-see moments of the program.

After being blown away by John Legend’s performance, I was doubtful that there would be any other that was even comparable to his.  However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised.  Scotty McCreery, winner of season 10 of American Idol, stuns the audience with his rendition of “Winter Wonderland”.  Not only is this one of the hardest Christmas songs to sing (mostly because it has been made famous by so many historical artists, one of them being Bing Crosby), but McCreery is also at somewhat of a disadvantage being only 19 years old, and not having half as much experience performing as a country artist as all of the other performers.  Nevertheless, McCreery’s performance is by far the most adorable, and definitely the most country.  I personally think that it is just as good as the classic performances of this song, making his performance one of my favorites of the night.

Next, we are introduced to the children of Little Big Town, followed by the band’s a cappella performance of “Children Go Where I Send Thee”.  I’m not really sure what it was about this performance, but it just didn’t do it for me.  I think that it being such a long song, along with the fact that there was no music, makes it boring after a while.  Also, it doesn’t help that they come right after two of the best performances of the night.  In short, this performance is definitely not the most memorable by any means.  However, interestingly enough they do another performance immediately after this, of the song “Tennessee Christmas” (made famous by Amy Grant).  I enjoyed this performance much more than the previous one, and was very happy to see them redeem themselves.  It’s slow, but captivating, and didn’t fail to hold my attention throughout the song.

The idea of family is emphasized even further after Little Big Town’s performances, when we are introduced to the McBrides.  Martina McBride’s three daughters all discuss what they want for Christmas, and Martina McBride declares that they will be thinking about the people of the east coast, who are still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  This makes for a perfect introduction for her rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful”.  Her performance is flawless, and her appearance isn’t any less stunning.  Once again, this is a must-see.

Another thing that I love about this special are the transitions from slow, serious songs to more upbeat, fun songs.  After Martina McBride’s solemn performance, I personally definitely needed something to lift my spirits, and Colbie Caillat does just that, with “Merry Christmas Baby”.  However, there are some things that bother me about this performance.   She dedicates this song to the children in the audience, but the song itself has more of a sexy tone, and doesn’t really have anything to do with children at all.  I feel like there are so many other songs that she could have sung, that would have fit more in the context of children.  And to make things worse, in the middle of her performance elves come up out of nowhere and dance down the aisles, handing out gifts to children in the audience.  I love the idea, but having all this happen while Colbie Caillat is dancing sexily in a really short, sparkly dress onstage is just a little weird to me.

After Caillat’s performance, Jennifer Nettles is joined onstage once again by Lady Antebellum, and they briefly discuss their new Christmas Album,  “On This Winter’s Night”.  They then perform one of the songs from this album, “The First Noel”.  This is a very enjoyable performance to watch, and it’s clear that they have a lot of experience singing this song.  It suits their voices and style really well, and is definitely a good match.

Immediately after this, the Band Perry appears once again for another performance.  This time, before they take the stage, they talk about what Christmas is like at their house (they’re siblings, by the way), and how special it is for them.  They sing “Some Children See Him”, and are surrounded by all of the other performers’ children during the performance.  This is one of the slower moments of the show, but is a nice touch and an important part of the feeling of “family” that the show is trying to achieve.

Dierks Bentley’s performance of “Please Come Home for Christmas” is another one of my favorites.  He did an excellent job of making it country, and his upbeat rendition of the song made it fun to listen to, and entertaining to watch.  This is another example of how the show did a really good job of switching back and forth, from serious to energetic songs.

After Dierks Bentley, Colbie Caillat comes back to perform a Christmas original, called “Christmas in the Sand”.  I loved this, because the song really suits her voice and musical style.  It’s almost like a creative spin on the classic “Santa Baby”, and is very appropriate for her “sexy” tone.  This is a much better performance than her earlier one, and although I don’t see this song ever becoming a classic, it’s still fun to watch.

What happens next is very interesting:  Jennifer Nettles sings with John Legend in a performance of “o Holy Night.  To be honest, before watching this I was a little skeptical about how the two would sound together, given that they’re so different in terms of musical style.  However, it definitely works.  They sound great together, and really do the song justice.

Speaking of doing a song justice, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performance of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” as amazing as that of Katherine Jenkins.  This Welsh mezzo-soprano is not a country singer, but it’s clear why she has been included in this program.  Her voice is astounding, and absolutely unbelievable.

The last of my favorite performances of the night is Keith Urban’s rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.  It’s very different and unusual, in terms of the country spin that he puts on it, but it works really well.

Like almost all of the performers who gave somewhat disappointing performances, Jennifer Nettles also redeems herself by singing “Count Your Blessings”.  This is definitely her best performance of the night, and it’s definitely appropriate for her, as she talks about how this will be her son’s first Christmas, and how she is so grateful for him.  She emphasizes the importance of family throughout the program, and I think that this is a good way of closing it.  For the final performance, she is joined by Lady Antebellum in a very upbeat performance of “Let it Snow”.  This is a great song to end on, and it becomes even better when it starts to snow onstage, the elves come back down the aisles, and Santa appears!  The only thing I would have changed about this final performance is that I would have liked to see all of the performers come on stage and sing together, instead of just two of them.  Also, I would have liked to see some more singers (Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean…), instead of watching each performer sing multiple songs.

Overall, it’s an excellent show, and definitely worth your time to watch.  Even if you aren’t a huge country music fan, I think that you will definitely appreciate the performances in some way!

CMA’s Country Christmas airs on Thursday, Dec. 20th at 9/8c and Saturday, Dec. 22nd at 9/8c.

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