Black Friday has heralded the start of the Christmas season. AC radio stations have forsaken Adele to play Christmas tunes. My neighbour put up his Christmas lights last weekend. Clearly, it is time to stroll down the Christmas village stretch of Idol Memory Lane.
Now, one would think that a show that started out as a summer filler show before settling into a spring season show wouldn’t have a lot to do with Christmas, but you would be dead wrong. Because Idol albums are traditionally sent to stores in Q4, Idols were hitting the promo highway throughout the Christmas season. Add in the fact that Idols can usually sing and shows were happy to invite them to help light trees at Rockefeller Centre, sing on a parade float, ring in Christmas in DC or lend credibility to any old Christmas special.
If you seriously want to fall down a rabbit hole, enter in “Idol Christmas” in youtube and you will be hopping from channel to channel re-visiting Idols you had long ago forgotten. You will also be hearing some great music.
Not convinced that Idol has anything to do with Christmas? Well, you have to go to the way back machine and remember that in 2003, Idol/Freemantle/19E actually did a Christmas special featuring stars from Seasons 1 and 2. Plus, you forget that Idol used to have a deal with Disney for their American Idol experience which resulted in Idols yelling out “I’m Going to Disneyworld” and eventually performing at their Christmas parade that aired Christmas day. It was part of a nice $100K payday for the winner. Christmas performances are an Idol ricochet.
Now, I’m not even going to pretend that I can find all the Idol Christmas songs out there let alone the best. I’m going to throw down the challenge and ask people to search down as many Idol Christmas songs as they can and post the good ones.
Here are some interesting ones that I’ve found during my meanderings – Twelve Idols of Christmas:
1) David Cook – Winner Season 7 – “Happy Christmas” – Rockefeller Centre – Cook performs a beautifully stripped down version of this John Lennon classic with lots of emotion – you won’t even miss Yoko. Cook always has a way of getting to the core of a song.
2) Haley Reinhart/Casey Abrams – 3rd/6th Season 10 – “Baby It’s Cold Outside” – Video – Haley lends her honey vocals to this jazz standard with another successful collaboration with Casey. These two just shine together:
3) Kelly Clarkson – Winner Season 1 – “Grown Up Christmas List” – Idol Christmas Special – Kelly Clarkson’s powerful vocals shine on this song which she would go on to record in studio. Her version gets major radio rotation during the Holiday music season.
4) Kris Allen – Winner Season 8 – “The Christmas Song” – Bonnie Hunt – Kris Allen adds a cool vibe to this Mel Torme original that Nat King Cole introduced to the world. Another classic performance for Kris during that promo season was the ugly Christmas sweaters the guys wore on Letterman.
5) John Stevens/Erica Van Pelt – 6th Season 3/10th Season 11 – “Home For the Holidays – Beantown Swing Orchestra – Red grew up and smashes in this duet with Erika. The last time we saw John, he was just 16 and America was unfairly blaming him for JHud’s ouster. Here he shows some real jazz talent (youtube his name to see more of his grown-up performances with his band). Erika’s got some great depth on this that she didn’t necessarily get to demonstrate on the show.
6) Jason Castro – 4th in Season 7 – “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” – Lake Pointe Church – Jason re-imagines this song and knocks it out of the park in his understated way.
7) Phillip Phillips – Winner Season 11 – “This Christmas” – National Tree Lighting – It was cold, so Phillip had to put a coat over his grey t-shirt (it’s there, you know it is) as he tinges “This Christmas” with blues guitar. Neil Patrick Harris sure is chipper.
8) Scotty McCreery – Winner Season 10 – “Christmas Comin’ Around Again” – Original/Video – Scotty put out of an album of Christmas songs that sold pretty well, but I think he shines brightest on this original because it allows him to feature his strongest feature – storytelling.
9) Jordin Sparks – Winner Season 6 – “This is My Wish” – Charity Single – Why have I never heard this song before? Jordin shows off her remarkable voice alongside the New York Children’s choir in this Glade sponsored charity initiative.
10) Carrie Underwood – Winner Season 4 – “Do You See What I See” – Rockefeller Centre – Carrie sounds so clear voiced despite singing outside at night in New York. She nails it.
11) Fantasia – Winner Season 3 – “Let There Be Peace on Earth/We Wish You a Merry Christmas” – Disney Christmas Parade – Fantasia takes Disneyland to Church and gets the critters dancing.
12) Kellie Pickler – 6th Season 5 – “White Christmas” with Michael Buble – Some Christmas Special – Kellie adds a twist of twang to this swing version and its obvious everybody is having a tonne of fun.
Bonus: David Archuleta – 2nd Season 7 – “Silent Night” – Some Mall Somewhere – David has a lot of Christmas songs and he sounds good on all of them. I wanted to include this one because he spontaneously sounds splendid a cappella. That’s Idol for you. Even the crappy quality of a 2008 era cell phone can’t diminish this performance (once the crowd shuts up).
BTW I excluded “O Holy Night” because there were just too many versions to pick from. It’s like the official Christmas song of Idol. But that doesn’t mean you can’t link your favourite versions.