If you never anticipated a collaboration between Carrie Underwood and John Legend, you’re not alone.
Discussing her performance of “Hallelujah” with the R&B star in her upcoming HBO Max Christmas special My Gift, as seen in the exclusive clip above, Underwood jokingly tells EW, “I don’t know if people would have thought, ‘Hey, Carrie and John, sing together,’ but it works so well.”
As Underwood sees it, the key to their success as duet partners is that “we’re both singers, and we really get into what we are singing, what we’re communicating. It’s just such a beautiful song. I’m so glad they sent it to me and he sang it with me, and I’ve had this opportunity to just be around somebody of his talent.”
With My Gift, Underwood expands on her Christmas album of the same name, released in September, and creates live performances of each song that she hopes are seen as “super-beautiful, classic, and timeless.”
While it’s been a long time coming in an entertainment career that started on TV nearly 16 years ago, this special marks the first time Underwood has served as an executive producer. “I’ve been lucky enough to work behind the scenes in a lot of other TV-type of ventures and just get to watch some of the best people in the business do their thing, so when we started talking about making this a special and all the people that we were going to work with, it just seemed like a good next step to be a producer,” she says. “I’m always approving everything along the way and looking at setups. I have my two cents to offer anyway, so might as well make it official.”
Producing any sort of TV project in 2020, as COVID-19 still runs rampant through the United States, presents its own problems, though. Underwood stresses that “in the whole pandemic situation, obviously everybody is first concerned with making everybody feel safe, and to continue moving forward [to] create something beautiful and timeless with all of the new parameters that we had to work with.”
One of the highlights of the My Gift album is Underwood’s rendition of “Little Drummer Boy” with her 5-year-old son, Isaiah Fisher. While he isn’t singing on stage in the special (“I didn’t want to overwhelm him too much,” Underwood says), their collaboration is represented by “some fun behind-the-scenes stuff of the day we recorded. It’s just so sweet.”
The special also features a treat for fans of Underwood who have been with her since American Idol: In a full-circle moment, Rickey Minor, who served as music director on Idol during the season she was competing, reprises that role for My Gift.
“I have been able to work with Rickey kind of on and off throughout the years for various things,” Underwood says. “He’s just one of the top-tier people that award shows and things like that would hire, so I’ve seen him many times throughout the years, and he always comes out to my shows when we play in L.A.” She adds, “I’ve literally known him for 16 years, and he’s just so positive and upbeat and talented. He’s one of my favorite parts of the special because he just dances around and has fun with and loves what he’s doing. So it was nice to have familiar faces surrounding me.”
All in all, Underwood hopes that in such a tough year, when performers like her have been unable to connect with their fans in person due to safety precautions, this music special brings as much joy to the audience as it did to her. “You’ve got to figure out different ways to do things,” she says. “You never know how the year is going to shake out, so it just felt nice to get on a stage and sing. And I hope people think, ‘Wow, it’s nice to sit and listen.'”
My Gift: A Christmas Special from Carrie Underwood begins streaming Dec. 3 on HBO Max.