The Fox network is wishing you – the home television viewer – a very Carrie Christmas. And they’re gift-wrapping two hours of entertainment in a special package titled Carrie Underwood: An All-Star Holiday Special that will air December 7 (8-10 p.m. ET/PT).
Of course, Fox, the network that brings you American Idol, has the gift that keeps on giving with Underwood. The country vixen from Checotah, Oklahoma, who broke through to national fame by winning the fourth season of A.I., has reason to be in the holiday spirit.
Her third album, Play On, was released November 3 (19 Recordings/Arista Nashville) and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and she’s making all the talk show rounds this week, from Conan O’Brien on Monday to Ellen Degeneres (Wednesday) and Jimmy Kimmel (Thursday).
Last week, she completed her second straight stint co-hosting the Country Music Association Awards show with Brad Paisley, performing “Cowboy Casanova” in hot pants, one of her 10 costume changes, cracking jokes, and taking a not-so-subtle shot at Taylor Swift nemesis Kanye West (“Brad’s idea,” Underwood said on The Tonight Show).
If only those Grinches disguised as tabloid gossips weren’t around to spill the eggnog. Underwood, during a Monday conference call to promote her special, took time to set the record straight when asked about the ending of the very entertaining CMAs last week.
“I just want to say that was really hurtful,” Underwood said of tabloid reports and Internet gossip that she was miffed with Swift’s runaway success that night and interrupted Paisley’s closing comments in order to turn the spotlight back on herself. “My brain would never operate that way at all. I have so much respect for every single person that is in that room. Whether they’re, I mean ’cause most of the people there are in the music industry. They are part of it. I would never dream of doing anything like that.”
Underwood, 26, only received two CMA nominations this year, but had the chance to win Female Vocalist of the Year for the fourth consecutive time. The streak ended as the 19-year-old Swift won en route to sweeping all four categories in which she was nominated, including Entertainer of the Year. She became the first woman since Shania Twain in 1999 to capture the CMA’s most prestigious honor. Swift’s all-male competition included Underwood’s co-host, along with Kenny Chesney, George Strait and Keith Urban.
At the end of the show, Underwood is seen hugging Swift in the background as Paisley takes center stage to wrap it up. “How ’bout that? Nineteen years old. … Congratulations, Taylor. What a night. I can’t even imagine a better … night than this.”
Still clapping, Underwood returns. When Paisley briefly pauses after the word “better,” she jumps in, “And how were we? We were awesome,” she says with glee, offering a hearty laugh while the crowd applauds. Paisley ends with “Thank you for coming everybody. God bless you,” while Underwood, smiling broadly and waving, adds, “Good night, everybody. Thank you so much. Good night.”
It’s hard to believe someone would mistake Underwood for a sore loser after watching that. Yet she witnessed a similarly misguided stance at the CMAs three years ago, when Faith Hill was taken to task for expressing mock anger after losing to Underwood in the female vocalist category.
Hill even released a statement through her publicist in response to her suddenly harsh critics. “The idea that I would act disrespectful towards a fellow musician is unimaginable to me. For this to become a focus of attention given the talent gathered is utterly ridiculous. Carrie is a talented and deserving female vocalist of the year.”
This time around, it was Underwood who had to defend herself.
“Like I said, my brain does not work that way. … And it was really, really hurtful to see such a great night and such a great moment be turned into trash. … And it made me sadder for … I feel like stuff like that kind of takes away anybody’s moment more than, I don’t know, more than anything else. Because that’s turning somebody’s great moment into a tabloid headline. And it’s sad.”
And it’s a shame Underwood felt she needed to address it Monday while closing out an otherwise joyous occasion. After all, her variety special should be worth celebrating. The show will include performances from her new album, along with previous hits and holiday classics. Guest stars include Paisley, Dolly Parton, fellow American Idol champion David Cook and – for comedic relief – Kristin Chenoweth and Christina Applegate. (Underwood, middle, performs with Chenoweth, left, and Applegate.)
Earlier in the call, Underwood was asked about her relationship with Paisley, who performs on his own and with his CMA co-host for the upcoming special, although he couldn’t be in Los Angeles for the taping. “Brad and I have a bit of a history together; I got to co-headline a tour with him not too long ago; he’s just a great guy. … The more we’re around each other, the more we get comfortable with each other. Things just get better and better. … It was a lot of fun co-hosting the CMAs again. I felt like we did a good job. I was really proud of both of us for managing to, I don’t know, not cause any major problems (laughing, perhaps not knowing what was yet to come). It was just a lot of fun.
“From a host standpoint, it makes three hours fly by.”
Underwood said two of her favorite moments on the special were with Parton and Cook.
Underwood was also happy to say “Hello Dolly” for the first time. Expect what she calls “an impromptu, fun moment,” with the fun-loving country legend. “I never met her before this so I was so excited to get to talk to her and obviously get to sing with her. It was a dream come true,” Underwood said. “… When Dolly’s there, you kind of step out of the spotlight, and let her do her thing because no matter how hard you try, she’s going to steal the spotlight. She’s great; that’s the way it should be.” (Parton, left, is shown with a well-endowed Underwood, right.)
Of Cook, 2008’s American Idol winner, she said, “We sing together; the first time we sang together was last year – was it last year? – gosh, it seems like a long time ago. At the opening in Disney World of the American Idol attraction. They asked us to sing together and we did and it was like, ‘Hey this is really good; this feels really good.’ So, we kinda rocked out for a minute. And got to sing together again. It was probably one of my favorite moments in the show because I just love him to death.”
She also continues to hold a special place in her heart for the show, even though it has been more than four years since she defeated Bo Bice for the title. Asked if she still watches, Underwood exclaimed, “Of course. I will always have just the biggest love for American Idol as a participant and as a fan. And now, you know, it’s so crazy for me to watch it and think, ‘Oh my gosh, I was on that show.’ I love the people on it, I love the people working on it, I love to go back and talk to the contestants; and, I mean, I feel … I vote, too, just like everybody else I sit out there and I vote. So it’s great to understand being a fan and being a participant, I get to see both sides.”
Among other recent American Idol performers, Underwood said she enjoys Season 8 winner Kris Allen, who’s from Conway, Arkansas (“He seemed really genuine and he was kinda from my neck of the woods”), and Danny Gokey (“just the sweetest person”).
While her iPod includes everything from classic rock groups such as the Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival to more eclectic choices, including Ne-Yo and Thousand Foot Krutch (“They’re people that deserve more credit than they get”), Underwood also said it’s filled with “a lot of other Idols.”
Her Idol worship notwithstanding, Underwood offers firm words of advice to those alums still trying to make it in the music business. “Any contestant that comes off Idol that does well on Idol has to make sure they know what people voted for,” said the blond singer who is the best-selling American Idol winner with more than 10 million albums purchased. “I’ve seen it happen a few times where people are one thing on the show and then they get off the show and try to do something else. And it’s really strange because Idol is one of those things that … they’re telling you what they want. People are telling you, ‘We love this person as is.’ And it’s the best testing forum that you can possibly have.
“So I think it’s really important to remember why people voted for you. And, of course, cross your fingers and say a little prayer and hope that people dig what you’re doing.”
It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas.
• Photos from Carrie Underwood: An All-Star Holiday Special by Michael Becker/Fox.
• CMA Awards photos by Rick Diamond/Getty Images.