Blake Shelton’s Not-So-Family Christmas Special premieres on NBC Monday night, and while there is some of the irreverent material implicitly promised by the title, viewers will also get plenty of traditional caroling from the country star and his guests. So it seems natural to ask if, as a boy, Shelton grew up on Perry Como’s and Andy Williams’ annual holiday TV appearances.
Maybe not. “How f---in’ old do you think I am?” Shelton barks, suddenly making his questioner feel very f---in’ old indeed.
Then, pulling himself together, the Voice star less kiddingly acknowledges, “Uh, yes. You know what, though?” It seems he had a preference for inanimate felt over sweater-clad crooners. “I mostly remember watching all the claymation things growing up as a kid. You knew it was almost time for Christmas when they started playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Which would explain why, in the middle of his first Christmas special, he’s included a claymation sketch in which animated versions of himself and Larry the Cable Guy go hunting and accidentally shoot Rudolph dead. (Other lovable Christmas-related creatures also buy the North Pole farm.)
Happily, most of the other guests on the special do not die in bloody hunting mishaps. The show includes four duet partners: Kelly Clarkson, wife Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire (who might also be considered his manager-in-law, since her husband helms Shelton’s career), and Shelton’s mom, Dorothy Shackleford. Jay Leno shows up for a Skyped-in comedy bit.
And then there’s Christina Aguilera, who came by the taping in Hollywood last month, not to reprise the duet she does with Shelton on his new album, but to participate in a skit where she berates Shelton for doing a faux commercial in which he’s selling his own branded “Not The Voice Chair,” which is a basic office chair with a bell duct-taped to the arm.
Aguilera’s participation in the special is going to start a terrible rumor that the Voice judges are getting along. “The judges are getting along, I promise,” Shelton laughs. “Adam is Jewish,” he adds, giving Levine an out from participating.
The original intent was just to have Shelton run through a lot of numbers from his new countrypolitan Christmas album, Cheers, It’s Christmas. And a fairly full orchestra was on hand at the taping for some string-synching behind the singers’ live vocals. The comedy, on the other hand, was a late addition -- although hardly an unexpected one, given Shelton’s status as one of Twitter’s foremost celebrity comics.
“When we originally decided to do this, it was just going to be all music, like a concert,” Shelton says. “And then as we started talking to NBC more about it, it’s like, I’ve kind of become this guy on The Voice that’s always cutting up, so it’s like you’ve got to do something funny, some kind of a skit. And the more we got into it, it started becoming this other thing, which I’m glad about. Because I’m not an actor and I’m not somebody that’s trying to be in movies or anything, but I do like to act like an idiot. And to do skits just seems like it comes natural to me, because I don’t take myself seriously and I’m not afraid to look like an idiot when I can.”
Guest star Larry the Cable Guy is seen only in stop-motion animation, as he and Shelton go on an ill-fated hunting trip where not only are most of the characters from Rudolph accidentally or purposely mowed down, but even Frosty is eliminated with a blow torch, since he’s the one witness to the crimes who can’t be felled with bullets.
As audience members filed out after the taping in Hollywood, they were handed questionnaires asking what they liked most and least about the show. It wasn’t hard to guess that was due to network nervousness about how the bloody Rudolph sketch would go over, even with Shelton’s rep for wicked humor, and even given the 10 p.m. airtime.
“Yeah, we’re still on the fence if we pushed it too far with the claymation thing or not,” he admitted moments after the taping wrapped up. “You know what? We had all these meetings, and it’s like ‘Man, have we gone too far with the claymation?’ And finally it’s like, ‘It’s clay! It’s just clay! Why are we even talking about… It’s clay! Who cares?” We had fun with it, though... I’m glad they’re actually doing at questionnaire thing. That (sketch) might end up going.”
In the end, though, the Rudolph-shooting sketch stayed in the final edit, which is a good thing, not only because it’s the funniest part of the hour, but because a name change to Blake Shelton’s Heavily Reedited, Wholesome Christmas just wouldn’t have had the same ring to it.
Shelton was in the middle of a hell of a week when he taped the special in early November. Just three days earlier, he’d scored an upset at the CMA Awards, besting Taylor Swift for the top prize, entertainer of the year, on top of his usual male vocalist trophy and a songwriting award for his wife’s hit, “Over You.” That same day, he and Lambert appeared on the cover of People magazine as a royal couple for the first time. The day after the Christmas taping, The Voice resumed, in its live format.
“Man, I tell you what -- and my management knows this -- if there’s anything sacred to me, it’s the fall of the year,” he says. “I don’t want to be doing much in the fall. It’s important to me to be home and be off. And ironically, that’s exactly when this storm of things landed… But for the first time I’m not bitching about it. Because every time I think we’ve reached the peak of my career, we’re finding another place to get to, and it’s hard to keep up now with all the different things going on. Each one of them individually would be a big deal on its own for me. But for ‘em all to be happening at the same time is unbelievable.”
Lambert wasn’t complaining about sticking around L.A. for a while before heading back to their Oklahoma home. “I’m a huge fan of The Voice,” she gushed backstage. “The live shows are the fun part. It’s the long taping days that I’m bored with. So, because I’m the No. 1 cheerleader, I have Team Blake shirts ready to go, and they’re even blinged out this year.”
She sings a duet on the Christmas special, “Home,” a reworked-for-the-holidays version of his country chart-topper. “I actually am the one that got Blake to record ‘Home’ in the first place, because I thought it would be a beautiful country song. And then Michael Buble rewrote it for Christmas. So it’s perfect for us to sing, especially with what’s going on in our lives right now.” Which is to say, not a lot of immediate home, hearth, or hunting.
Shelton and Reba duet on “Oklahoma Christmas,” a song newly written for his album. “You know that young lady playing fiddle on the show? She co-wrote that song,” says McEntire. “To get to record ‘Oklahoma Christmas’ with him was a lot of fun. Of course it was at his house here in LA. where they set up a studio, and it was 90 degrees, and nobody could get in the ho-ho spirit at all. But it’s a lot of fun working with Blake. He makes sure everyone has a good time.”
On the special, Shelton makes a joke out of giving Reba one of his Voice knockoff chairs, but the gift she hands him is no joke. “I gave him the original handwritten lyrics to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ that Mae Boren Axton wrote for Elvis Presley.” There’s more to the story than Elvis-love. “Mae was from Oklahoma, too, originally, but she was living in Nashville. So when Blake first went to Nashville, she said ‘You come stay with me.’ I’ll give you a job. And he was mowing her yard and running errands for her and everything like that, and she was always encouraging and helping him. She was a very special lady.”
The special is full of other ladies very special to Shelton -- not all of whom love Christmas, or at least its music, as much as he does.
The choice of “Home” as a not-overtly-Christmasy holiday song was a conscious one for Lambert, who’s not big on performing familiar seasonal chestnuts. “I love Christmas music. I just don’t sound good singing it, to me,” Lambert insists. “I’d just rather other people sing it. And Blake listens to Anne Murray Christmas and Larry the Cable Guy Christmas all year round, so I kind of get burnt out.”
His mother confirms this. “He just likes Christmas music,” says Dorothy Shackleford, who duets with her son on the special. “I mean, Blake listens to it year-round. It’s really weird."