It's Twice the Country Fun: Brad Paisley's First TV Special and 'CMA Country Christmas' Air Back to Back Tonight
Paisley brings his comedy chops, along with his guitar, for his variety show, and Trisha Yearwood is the new host for the CMA's 10th annual holiday special
What better way to spend Tuesday evening than a country music double bill on TV?
Brad Paisley kicks things off with his first variety special, a rollicking romp through comedy, song and the wild streets of Nashville. And that hour-long show is followed by two full hours of holiday cheer, courtesy of the always-merry CMA Country Christmas special.
Of course, from Paisley’s 11 years of hosting the CMA Awards with Carrie Underwood, everyone knows that he has sharp comedic chops — and they’re almost the main attraction of Brad Paisley Thinks He’s Special.
So sure, tune in for the music, but don’t be surprised by just how funny this show is.
Among the best bits involves Paisley’s favorite comic foil, Underwood, and his attempt to show her how to put some mud on the tires in a four-wheel-drive pickup. Instead, she insists on taking the wheel, terrorizing Paisley with doughnuts, fishtails and other thrill-seeking moves. (He has resolutely maintained that no stunt driver was involved.)
Underwood is one of the show’s several guests who are there just for laughs. Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning shows up to hound Paisley with performance advice. Chris Harrison, host of The Bachelor, and Paisley crash a bachelorette party-on-wheels — on one of Nashville’s many pedal taverns. And Tim McGraw and Paisley’s wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, also have memorable cameos.
There’s no shortage of music on the show, which was filmed entirely in Nashville: Paisley joins his musical guests, the Jonas Brothers, Darius Rucker (Hootie, along with his Blowfish) and Kelsea Ballerini, as each sings one of their hits; Paisley even ropes the Jonases into a bit of high jinks. The mirthful host does reserve the right to show off his sensitive side, debuting a new song, “Alive Right Now,” which he shares with Addie Pratt, a talented young singer who’s also a cancer survivor.
By the way, if you can’t get enough of Paisley’s funny side, be on the lookout for his upcoming Amazon series, Fish Out of Water. He’s set to star and executive produce the half-hour sitcom, which was announced in September (though its debut has yet to be scheduled).
Trisha Yearwood takes over the reins of the 10th edition of CMA Country Christmas, after Reba McEntire’s two-year hosting stint. Yearwood ably oversees an all-star cast, which includes top country acts Lady Antebellum, Chris Janson, Rascal Flatts, Dierks Bentley, Chris Young, Runaway June and Brett Young. Janson and Runaway June are making their debuts on the holiday special.
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 made up of brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, delivers one of the show’s many highlights, a driving, percussion-centric version of “The Little Drummer Boy” that may even bridge the divide between that love-it-or-hate-it song.
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,” Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox gives up his usual lead vocals in favor of quartet harmonies with bandmates Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney and gospel queen Winans.
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.
Brad Paisley Thinks He’s Special airs at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on Tuesday on ABC. CMA Country Christmas follows at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.