Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace, but a war is being waged to determine who will have the year's top new Christmas album. Top contenders are Kelly Clarkson's Wrapped In Red and Susan Boyle's Home For Christmas, which are being released today (Tuesday), and Mary J. Blige's A Mary Christmas, which was released two weeks ago.
These artists aren't just competing for bragging rights. Christmas albums are big business. Overall album sales have declined in the past decade, but Christmas albums are holding their own. Fans view them as a worthwhile investment. After all, Christmas tends to come around every year.
A Christmas album has ranked among the year's five best-selling albums in four of the last six years. Josh Groban's Noel was the best-selling album of 2007. Andrea Bocelli's My Christmas was #5 for 2009. Boyle's first holiday album, The Gift, was #5 for 2010. Michael Buble's Christmas was #2 for 2011.
Either Clarkson or Blige would make history if she led the holiday derby this year. Either would be the first female American artist to have the year's top holiday album since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking music sales in 1991. The only female artists to have had the top holiday album of a calendar year in this period are Celine Dion and Sarah McLachlan (both from Canada), Charlotte Church (from Wales) and Boyle (from Scotland). (See list below.)
What's more, Blige would become the first African American artist to have the year's top holiday seller in the Nielsen SoundScan era. That would be a real breakthrough, because Blige is a core R&B artist (as opposed to a pop/R&B crossover powerhouse like Mariah Carey, whose Merry Christmas was the #2 holiday album of 1994).
If Clarkson comes out on top, this would be the second time that an American Idol alum has had the year's top holiday seller. Clay Aiken's Merry Christmas With Love was the top holiday album of 2004.
If Boyle comes out on top, she would become only the third artist (and the first woman) to have the year's top holiday album with two different albums in the Nielsen SoundScan era. (Harry Connick, Jr. and Kenny G have accomplished this feat.) The Gift was the best-selling Christmas album of 2010.
All three artists have big guest stars on their albums. Boyle teams with Elvis Presley on "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and with Johnny Mathis on "When A Child Is Born." Blige teams with Barbra Streisand and Chris Botti on "When You Wish Upon A Star," Marc Anthony on "Noche De Paz (Silent Night)," Jessie J on "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and The Clark Sisters on "The First Noel." Clarkson teams with Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood on "Silent Night" and Ronnie Dunn on "Baby, It's Cold Outside."
All three women will be highly visible in coming weeks. Blige will perform songs from the album on HSN (Home Shopping Network) on Nov. 17. Boyle will make her film debut in The Christmas Candle, which will be released Nov. 22. (Her album includes one song from the movie.) Clarkson will have a Christmas special on NBC on Dec. 11. The (overly clever) title: Kelly Clarkson's (Cautionary) Christmas Tale.
Blige's album was produced by holiday album king David Foster, who has produced or co-produced best-selling Christmas albums by Groban, Bocelli, Buble, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion and Rod Stewart. (I think even Scrooge could have a hit Christmas album if he got David Foster to produce it.)
While these are the first Christmas albums for both Blige and Clarkson, both have had experience with holiday music. Blige sang duets with both Andrea Bocelli and Rod Stewart on their Foster-produced albums. Clarkson sang a duet with Blake Shelton on last year's Cheers, It's Christmas and had two solos on 2003's American Idol: The Great Holiday Classics. (One of those solos was "My Grown Up Christmas List," a song co-written by none other than David Foster.)
A non-traditional Christmas album could give Clarkson, Boyle and Blige a run for their money. Duck The Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas also comes out today. The album is a spin-off from the A&E reality series Duck Dynasty. Several major country stars appear on the album: Luke Bryan, George Strait, Alison Krauss and Josh Turner.
Here are other key holiday albums that either have been released, or are slated for release, this season. They're listed in chronological order by release date.
Jewel's Let It Snow: A Holiday Collection. This is Jewel's second holiday album. Joy: A Holiday Collection was the seventh best-selling holiday album of 1999. (Sales to date: 1,121,000.) Vince Gill plays a guitar solo on "White Christmas" on the new album. Released Sept. 24.
Various Artists, WOW Christmas: 30 Top Christian Artists And Holiday Songs. This compilation, the fourth in a series, features such stars as Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin, Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman. Released Sept. 24.
Barbra Streisand's The Classic Christmas Album. This repackage draws from the diva's two hit Christmas albums. Released Oct. 8. Other artists with identically-titled albums in this Sony Music franchise are Neil Diamond, Andy Williams, Martina McBride, George Jones & Tammy Wynette, Alabama, Johnny Cash and Gladys Knight & the Pips.
Gretchen Wilson's Christmas In My Heart. This is the first Christmas album by the artist who took "Redneck Woman" to the top of the country chart in 2004. Released Oct. 8.
Various Artists, Now Christmas: The 32 Song Classic Christmas Collection. This is the seventh Now That's What I Call Christmas! release. Released Oct. 8.
Elvis Presley, Merry Christmas…Love, Elvis. The King has eight albums on Nielsen SoundScan's list of the 200 best-selling holiday albums since 1991. That's second only to Mannheim Steamroller, which leads the pack with nine. Released Oct. 8.
Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas Symphony II. It's a sequel to the ensemble's Christmas Symphony, which was the eighth best-selling holiday album of 2011. Both albums feature members of the Czech Symphony Orchestra. Mannheim Steamroller has been a leading force in Christmas music since the 1984 release of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas. Released Oct. 15.
Celtic Thunder, Christmas Voices. It's the group's second Christmas album. Released Oct. 15.
Joshua Bell & Friends, Musical Gifts. The renowned violinist teams with such guests as Placido Domingo, Alison Krauss, Gloria Estefan and Straight No Chaser. Released Oct. 15.
Various Artists, Holidays Unwrapped. Zendaya, Bella Thorne and Ross Lynch are among the teen faves on this collection of Disney Channel stars. Released Oct. 15.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir featuring Alfie Boe, Home For The Holidays. The legendary choir has released 29 Christmas albums since 1957. The choir also performed on Groban's Noel and Bocelli's My Christmas. This live album, recorded last year at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, features English tenor Alfie Boe. Released Oct. 15.
Il Volo's Buon Natale: The Christmas Album. The Italian operatic trio is basically a younger version of Il Divo. Released Oct. 22.
Judy Collins' Christmas With Judy Collins. This is a revamping of Collins' 2000 album All On A Wintry Night, with the addition of "Angels In The Snow" and a different version of "Amazing Grace." Released Oct. 22.
Straight No Chaser's Under The Influence: Holiday Edition. This eight-song EP is the third holiday collection by the vocal ensemble. The first two, Holiday Spirits and Christmas Cheers, have each sold more than 350K copies. Paul McCartney, Cee Lo Green, Colbie Caillat and the late Otis Redding are featured on the new release. Released Oct. 29.
Johnny Mathis' Sending You A Little Christmas. Mathis has released numerous Christmas albums, including the 1958 smash Merry Christmas. (That perennial hit has sold 940K copies just since 1991.) The new album features collaborations with such artists as Billy Joel, Gloria Estefan, Natalie Cole, Susan Boyle and Vince Gill & Amy Grant. Released Oct. 29.
Nick Lowe's Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For The Family. This is the first holiday album by the veteran English musician. Released Oct. 29.
Bad Religion's Christmas Songs. This nine-song EP is the punk rock group's first Christmas collection. The group has performed on several KROQ "Almost Acoustic Christmas" shows. Released Oct. 29.
Andy Williams, The Complete Christmas Recordings. This two-disk collection features the late singer's most durable holiday tune, "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year." Released Oct. 29.
Erasure's Snow Globe. The English synth-pop duo mixes original songs and covers on its first Christmas collection. Due: Nov. 11.
The New Christy Minstrels, Merry Christmas! The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings Of The New Christy Minstrels 1963-1966. Due: Nov. 12.
Leona Lewis' Christmas, With Love. This is the fourth studio album by the British singer who took "Bleeding Love" to #1 on the Hot 100 in 2008. Due: Nov. 29.
Now, here are the best-selling holiday albums in each calendar year from 1992 to 2012, complete with the album's sales tally for that year. I also tell you how high each album climbed on The Billboard 200 and show you where it ranked on Nielsen SoundScan's year-end chart of the year's top-selling albums. In three years, an album from a previous year was the best-seller again. In those three cases, I also show that year's top newly-released Christmas album.
1992: Garth Brooks, Beyond The Season, 1,542,000. Peak position: #2. Year-end ranking: #29.
1993: Harry Connick Jr., When My Heart Finds Christmas, 748K. Peak position: #13. Year-end ranking: #89.
1994: Kenny G, Miracles—The Holiday Album, 2,987,000. Peak position: #1. Year-end ranking: #8.
1995: Mannheim Steamroller, Christmas In The Aire, 1,844,000. Peak position: #3. Year-end ranking: #25.
1996: Kenny G, Miracles—The Holiday Album, 888K. Year-end ranking: #66. Top newly-released album: Michael Bolton's This Is The Time—The Christmas Album, 613K. Peak position: #11. Year-end ranking: #115.
1997: Hanson, Snowed In, 863K. Peak position: #7. Year-end ranking: #85.
1998: Celine Dion, These Are Special Times, 2,684,000. Peak position: #2. Year-end ranking: #17.
1999: Kenny G, Faith—A Holiday Album, 1,575,000. Peak position: #6. Year-end ranking: #40.
2000: Charlotte Church, Dream A Dream, 1,077,000. Peak position: #7. Year-end ranking: #78.
2001: Various Artists, NOW That's What I Call Christmas! 1,614,000. Peak position: #3. Year-end ranking: #43.
2002: Various Artists, NOW That's What I Call Christmas! 741K. Year-end ranking: #92. Top newly-released album: Kenny G's Wishes—A Holiday Album (501K). Peak position: #29. Year-end ranking: #160.
2003: Harry Connick Jr., Harry For The Holidays, 687K. Peak position: #12. Year-end ranking: #106.
2004: Clay Aiken, Merry Christmas With Love, 1,004,000. Peak position: #4. Year-end ranking: #70.
2005: Il Divo, The Christmas Collection, 544K. Peak position: #14. Year-end ranking: #134.
2006: Sarah McLachlan, Wintersong, 759K. Peak position: #7. Year-end ranking: #79.
2007: Josh Groban, Noel, 3,699,000. Peak position: #1. Year-end ranking: #1.
2008: Josh Groban, Noel, 915K. Year-end ranking: #28. Top newly-released album: Enya, And Winter Came…, 580K. Peak position: #8. Year-end ranking: #63.
2009: Andrea Bocelli, My Christmas, 2,207,000. Peak position: #2. Year-end ranking: #5.
2010: Susan Boyle, The Gift, 1,852,000. Peak position: #1. Year-end ranking: #5.
2011: Michael Buble, Christmas, 2,452,000. Peak position: #1. Year-end ranking: #2.
2012: Rod Stewart, Merry Christmas, Baby, 858K. Peak position: #2. Year-end ranking: #15.