Santa is getting a little help this year: A whole cast of country stars is set to deliver the gift of music on Christmas Eve with the encore broadcast of CMA Country Christmas.
The special, which originally aired Dec. 3, offers two full hours of holiday cheer, all well worth watching whether you missed it the first time around or just want to savor it again.
Trisha Yearwood has taken over the reins of the 10th edition of the annual special, after Reba McEntire’s two-year hosting stint. Yearwood ably oversees the all-star cast, which includes top country acts Lady Antebellum, Chris Janson, Rascal Flatts, Dierks Bentley, Chris Young, Runaway June and Brett Young.
As in years past, the emphasis is far more on the sounds of Christmas than on the twang of country. Song selections stick with seasonal favorites, and they’re backed by a big-band orchestra. Also adding to the spirit are outside-the-genre performers Kristin Chenoweth, Tori Kelly, CeCe Winans and For King & Country.
Indeed, For King & Country, the Christian pop duo consisting of brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, delivers perhaps the show’s biggest “wow” moment, a driving, percussion-centric version of “The Little Drummer Boy” that may well bridge the divide between that love-it-or-hate-it song. Since its original airing, the performance has racked up close to two million YouTube views.
Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood of Lady A are in their element with “White Christmas” and a medley of “On a Night Like This” and “Silent Night” (Kelley’s descant on the latter is incandescent). Scott returns to the stage to join Chenoweth, Kelly, Yearwood and Winans on “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.” With these voices, the collaboration quickly turns into a breathtaking sing-off. (If there’s a winner, it’s Chenoweth on the high notes.)
Janson takes charge with a boogie-woogie version of “Run Rudolph Run,” bringing along his blazing harmonica. For an uplifting “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” Winans shows why she’s a gospel queen, with able harmony backup from Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney. Winans returns with a full choir to put a gospel flourish on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and Rascal Flatts reappears for a doo-wop version of "Deck the Halls" to the tune of the Beach Boys’ "Surfer Girl," a cut off Flatts’ their 2016 Christmas album.
Other highlights include Tori Kelly’s reverent “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Chris Young’s smooth and jazzy “Christmas Song,” Runaway June’s buoyant “Sleigh Ride,” and Yearwood’s tender "It Wasn't His Child," off her 1994 Christmas album.
All but one of the 15 performances was recorded before a packed house at Curb Event Center on the campus of Nashville’s Belmont University, Yearwood’s alma mater. Perhaps the show’s most poignant moment was filmed at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital: Dierks Bentley sang an intimate, acoustic version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” before a small audience of young cancer patients and their parents.
CMA Country Christmas airs at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT Tuesday on ABC.