From Bing Crosby to Mariah Carey —Musicians’ Holiday TV Specials Ranked

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Holiday television specials have been a long-running tradition. With showy performances and festive productions, they’ve been a way to celebrate the season and reflect on another year that’s come and gone. Many big names regularly host such seasonal spectaculars, but it’s the big voices that captivate and leave the most lasting impressions.

Several musicians have had their hand in hosting holiday specials, but few have been truly great at it. It’s a difficult job, balancing a clever rapport, giving show-stopping performances, and maintaining a festive spirit all while most likely wearing glitter.

Here are the musicians who have done the holiday special justice.

8. Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank (1957)

Christmas’ leading men, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra hosted a night full of crooners, carols, and stiff cocktails. Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank is a striking time capsule. Taking place in a mid-century modern bachelor pad, the variety show captures two legendary vocalists as they do what they do best—Christmas.

7. Amy Grant’s Headin’ Home For The Holidays (1986)

In her first holiday special, the Queen of Christian pop, Amy Grant, hosted a white Christmas in Montana where she learned about the history of the land, met taxidermic roadkill, and got in the festive spirit with the help of some of her friends. The event saw guest appearances by Art Garfunkel, Dennis Weaver, and Ed Begley, Jr. in this at-times hokey, but heartwarming holiday affair.

6. Johnny Cash Christmas Special (1978)

The Man in Black looks good in shades of red and green. Hosting Christmas specials regularly throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Johnny Cash and his family became viewers’ holiday traditions themselves. The 1978 Johnny Cash Christmas Special, in particular, welcomed guests Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge to perform alongside the show-stealing comedy stylings of Steve Martin.

5. A Legendary Christmas with John and Chrissy (2018)

The 2018 holiday variety show, hosted by power couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, saw a guest list like any other. From musical guests like Awkwafina, Meghan Trainor, and Stevie Wonder to comedy’s finest like Zach Galifianakis, Retta, and Ben Schwartz, the night was punctuated with laughs, hits, and plenty of good tidings.

4. The Carpenters at Christmas (1977)

Brother-sister duo Karen and Richard Carpenter hosted their first Christmas special in 1977. Full of quick-witted storytelling, classic holiday songs, and guests galore, The Carpenters at Christmas is a lovable and relatable look into the family affair.

3. The Judy Garland Christmas Show (1963)

A special holiday episode of Judy Garland’s variety television series, The Judy Garland Christmas Show invites fans along for a cozy moment with the star and her family. It offers an intimate look inside the life of Garland as she sings and dances carefree and casually alongside her young children, Lorna and Joey Luft, and her teenage daughter Liza Minnelli.

2. John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)

The Muppets and the holidays just make sense. Throw John Denver in the mix and there is nothing much better than A Christmas Together. Opening with a whiplash-inducing puppet-filled rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the show gets even more muppet-y from there. Denver could have gotten lost in the flurry of felt and fluff, but he held his own with a cool charm amid the muppet madness.

1. Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special (2020)

No one does the holidays like Mariah Carey, so it was only natural for the “All I Want For Christmas is You” pop icon to host her own Christmas special. Throughout her 2020 festive extravaganza, she delivered on the holiday magic during a time when positivity and cheer were in great demand. With a grabbing storyline, stunning performances, and a roster of guest stars like Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, and Snoop Dogg, Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special was one for the books.

Photo: Courtesy of Decca/UMe

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