Carrie Underwood has beaten the odds: at a time of the year when TV is clogged with Christmas specials, she managed to put one together that stood out. It had something for everyone — singing, sentiment, silliness, and sex. And she made its charms last for a full two hours.
At first, it was a little hard to see where the “holiday” in this An All-Star Holiday Special was going to apply. Underwood began by singing “Cowboy Casanova” attired in various tight black materials, with what looked like platform boots borrowed from KISS. Oh my, I thought, what a refreshing alternative to the seasonal red-and-green!
When I first read Underwood’s eclectic guest list — Dolly Parton and David Cook, no surprises there; but Kristen Chenoweth and Christina Applegate, too? — I thought, uh-oh, this could be a trying-to-please-everybody bland-fest. Instead, this varied line-up proved to be one of the strengths of the evening. Yes, she sang an impeccable duet with Dolly, a stark “I Will Always Love You.” But she also offered a sweetly raucous tribute to ’60s girl-group pop, as Underwood, Chenoweth and Applegate, in pink prom dresses and beehive hairdos, powered through a fine medley of songs such as “Leader of The Pack,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and “Be My Baby.”
The real theme of the show, a mix of songs performed in front of a studio audience and taped bits of comedy, was, as she put it, “a behind-the-scenes look at my life.” These included jolly little japes that played on Underwood’s supposed Hollywood innocence, such as trying to set up her sister Stephanie with dates that included Carson Kressley and a Johnny Depp impersonator. Underwood’s mom and dog Ace also got their brief, starring moments. Underwood’s own best funniness was a fake-flashback that showed her stuffing envelopes with cash for the Idol judges before her 2005 win.
Also highly amusing was Carol Leifer (hello, Carol!) playing Underwood’s manager, “Gwen Lefkowitz.” She had best line of the night, re Carrie: “It’s like hearing Bible verses come to life.”
Musical high points included “What Can I Say,” performed with the sharp young trio Sons of Sylvia. There was also a fine Carrie duet with Brad Paisley, with whom she sang while he was performing somewhere else and projected on a screen above Underwood. It could have been awkward; instead, it sounded terrific. Of course, it helped that the song they chose, “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” was the fine 1973 hit for a classic country twosome, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. Toward the end, Underwood also delivered some fine Christmas songs, including “Jesus Take The Wheel” and “O Holy Night.”
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