The annual CMA Country Christmas will air Nov. 27 on ABC

By Nancy Kruh
September 13, 2017 03:00 PM
Bob D'Amico/ABC

Christmas has come extra early for Reba McEntire this year: She has just been gifted with hosting duties for ABC’s annual “CMA Country Christmas,” which will air Nov. 27.

Taking over the reins from Jennifer Nettles, who has served as host for the past seven years, McEntire says she knows “it will be hard to fill her shoes.” But of course the 62-year-old Hall of Famer is hardly a novice in this role, having hosted or co-hosted the ACM Awards a record 17 times.

The Christmas show will be taped for the third year in a row at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House, and as always, it’s expected to feature a long – and strong – lineup of guest performers. At this point, planning is in its early stages, but McEntire intends to make the on-stage atmosphere “as personal and as friendly and comfortable” as she can.

She says she wants to set the tone for “it not to be such a formal event, but just a friendly ‘sit down, let’s sing, let’s talk a little bit, and then sing another song’ – and with lots of heartfelt emotion.”

McEntire has long made her mark on the holidays with guest appearances on Christmas specials (including the first CMA Country Christmas in 2010), as well as three popular holiday albums. Reba fans will be excited to know her latest, “My Kind of Christmas,” which was a Cracker Barrel exclusive last year, is being prepped for general release on Oct. 13.

Four tracks are being added, including collaborations with Darius Rucker, Vince Gill and Amy Grant. She also has re-recorded “Back To God” (a song off her recent best-selling faith album) as a duet with Christian artist Lauren Daigle; the two performed the song together for the ACMs in April. Another new highlight: McEntire’s spine-tingling trio with Kelly Clarkson and Trisha Yearwood on “Silent Night,” which also appears on Clarkson’s Christmas album.

Christmas is obviously a favorite time of year for McEntire, though she’s had to start new traditions since her divorce in 2015. One thing that hasn’t changed, she says, “is celebrating Jesus’ birthday … That’s the A-number-one tradition.”

She also still sticks to a schedule of Thanksgiving with her family in Oklahoma and Christmas with family and friends in Tennessee. The day after Christmas, she and her 27-year-old son, Shelby, plan to head out on vacation together. “Last year we went to the mountains,” she says, “and this year we’re going to the beach.”

Now into her fifth decade of performing, McEntire doesn’t seem to keep “slowing down” in her vocabulary, and she has three brand-new milestones: an ACM Award honoring her service to country music, which will be featured in the ACM Honors telecast at 9 p.m. EDT Friday; the 40-year anniversary of her Opry debut, to be celebrated Sept. 22; and her first GMA Dove Awards nomination, for “Back To God.” (That show will air at 9 p.m. EDT Oct. 22 on TBN.)

McEntire acknowledges that, now unexpectedly single, she’s in a new era of her life, and she’s determined to make the most of it. “I’m just now discovering,” she says, “that I feel more free and happier and more alive – just enjoying life.”

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