2020 has been a year that many of us spent in “pods” and “bubbles.” Carrie Underwood spent part of hers in a snow globe.
At least, that’s what the country star said it felt like when she filmed her new streaming Christmas special, “My Gift,” which premieres Thursday on HBO Max.
Surrounded by her band and an orchestra on a lavishly decorated stage, the 37-year-old delivers a show that’s “all about the music,” in her own words. Like her new Christmas album of the same name, “My Gift” leans heavily on the spiritual side of the season, with “Silent Night” and “Mary, Did You Know?” among its reverent slate of songs.
It also features not one, but two high-profile cameos. John Legend lends his voice on his co-written “Hallelujah,” and Underwood’s 5-year-old son Isaiah makes his debut on “Little Drummer Boy.”
Ahead of the special’s premiere, Underwood called to tell us all about those duet partners, her vision to “celebrate Jesus for Christmas,” and why making “My Gift” was a saving grace in 2020.
“I planned this album long before this year smacked us all in the face, and I’m so glad I did,” she says.
” … I’m a faithful person and to get to sing these songs, it just put me in a place of joy and peace and hope. It was a blessing in a trying year.”
Singing with her son
If you’re a fan of Underwood’s duet with Isaiah on the album, we have great news: You’ll get to see him record his parts on the “My Gift” special, with Underwood standing right beside him in the vocal booth, acting both as a proud mom and passionate conductor.
“It wasn’t a part of the original plan to put him in that song,” Underwood says. “But the more it started to come together, I could just see his little face when I sang it. He loves to sing. He loves movies that have music in them. He’s always particular about what he wants to listen to in the car. And he has such a great mind for lyrics, which is totally me. He remembers the entire song.
“I just asked him, ‘How do you feel about that? Do you want to do it with me? If not, just say no, it’s OK.’ And he was super excited. We practiced a little bit, but I didn’t want to overdo it and make it (feel like) work. When he came in that day, he dressed himself up. He wanted to get all gussied up because he said, ‘I’m singing for Jesus today.’ So he wore a little fedora and some jeans and a button-up shirt. He did such a good job. Because I’m his mom, I think anything he does is going to be great. But people that I work with are like, ‘He really has great pitch.’ Maybe he’ll want to do something with it. I don’t know. I’ll support that.
‘We celebrate Jesus for Christmas. That’s what I know.’
The special opens with “Favorite Time of Year,” a swinging, sugary piece of holiday pop that’s a celebration of lights, trees and tinsel. But it’s the secular exception among “Away in a Manger,” “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” and her new original, “Sweet Baby Jesus.”
“You can try to make music for other people, and (think), ‘What are they going to want me to do, or not want me to do?’ And that’s always going to end up being not genuine,” she says. “At the end of the day, that’s not something that I want to spend my time doing. I want to sing what I know, I want to sing from my heart. And growing up in Oklahoma, growing up singing in church, we celebrate Jesus for Christmas. That’s what I know.
“… But Christmas is super fun, too. It just makes for such a magical time of year. So we have some fun ones on there. Mainly, I just wanted to sing my heart.”
John Legend was a last-minute addition
Underwood’s duet with John Legend, “Hallelujah,” is a highlight of both “My Gift” projects. Legend co-wrote it with hit songwriter Toby Gad — the same combination that made his smash “All of Me” — and sent it Underwood’s way.
“The music world is actually a pretty small world, and everybody knows what everybody else is doing,” she says. “We got this song sent to us at the last minute, when we were almost wrapped up with the Christmas album. And I loved the song. It’s so beautifully written, and it covers a lot of ground in Christmas. There’s a lot about Christmas that makes it special. (The song has) this faith element. It puts you in the scenery, talking about the candles and the winter’s chill, and then there’s this love aspect of it that runs throughout. It mixes all that together perfectly.”
“And then, of course,” she adds with a laugh, “if John Legend sends you a song, you just ask if he might want to sing on it with you. He was in L.A., I was in Nashville, and we obviously would rather have been together to record it, but that’s just not the year we were dealing with. Actually, the special is the first time that we got to sing it together (in person). It was such a nice moment, and he sounds exactly like he’s supposed to sound, which I know sounds (obvious). But he’s such an incredible vocalist.”
‘I feel like I’m in a snow globe!’
“We just wanted it to be beautiful, timeless and classic,” Underwood says of the “My Gift” special.
“We didn’t take a variety special approach to it. We just wanted it to be about the music. We had this incredible orchestra there, and my band, and they were able to create these beautiful scenes around me. Sometimes I (was) like, ‘I feel like I’m in a snow globe!’ It just felt so magical, and I think it all translated through the cameras and onto the screen. I’m really excited for people to get to see it.”
WATCH Carrie Underwood, John Legend – Hallelujah (Lyrics) VIDEO BELOW:
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