Here’s where Kelly Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale falters: The girl can sing, clearly. Actually, she belts like the American Idol champion she is. Her hour-long NBC special has some truly affecting musical moments, not the least of which include: a stunning trio with Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood adding new dimensions to “Silent Night” (the a capella section the three perform is absolutely gorgeous), and—can it even be?—a new entry into the holiday music canon, “Underneath The Tree,” which puts Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” to shame, even though it has more in common melodically with Stevie Wonder’s “Someday At Christmas”. The title track to Clarkson’s new holiday album Wrapped In Red isn’t bad either. Clarkson gets jazzy on “My Favorite Things,” and bluesy on “Please Come Home For Christmas,” and sports an impressive array of red dresses. She has a top-notch band, and can even make it snow inside her stage set.
So why, oh why, wouldn’t Clarkson just play to her strengths? I guess something has to hold the special together, but a convoluted plot—about Clarkson trying and failing to snag celebrities for her special and then learning to focus on the children—falls flat. The special features Clarkson’s performances of holiday songs in Las Vegas about six weeks ago. But in between these songs there is so much painful claptrap, involving an annoying little girl reading from a cautionary storybook, Queer Eye’s Jai Rodriguez in the Bob Cratchit role as Clarkson’s long-suffering assistant Chad (the Christmas Carol nod, with Chad’s sister “Poppy” in the Tiny Tim part, is almost too slight to actually exist), and Blake Shelton in an elf costume. (Why would you have Blake Shelton on your special and not even have him sing? Apparently, the network behind The Voice can make Shelton do whatever it wants.) Clarkson’s search then leads to a gimmicky montage of famous people turning down her request to appear on her special (does this actually count as people appearing on her special?): Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Danica Patrick, and Natalie Cole. Clarkson’s occasional pleas directly to the camera (she even winks!) do nothing to help matters.
Kelly Clarkson is an amazing singer, and would have done better here just to focus on her vocal stylings, maybe with some special duets with guest stars. While she offers several solo performances, it would have been interesting to see her perform with others, outside the Yearwood/McEntire collaboration. As it stands, this special is a hot mess between exemplary renditions of classics like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and none of the jokes land (as the concepts of Clarkson blackmailing Yearwood and McEntire to appear on her show and having her make Shelton iron her wardrobe just aren’t funny). I guess there’s a nice lesson at the end about how helping homeless people is more important than chasing celebrities, but it seems more key here to have your glitter mike match your outfit. Only the songs seem sincere.