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Jennifer Nettles Kicks Off Holiday Season With 'CMA Country Christmas' & New Dolly Parton TV Movie
Move over, Mrs. Claus: Jennifer Nettles, the reigning Queen of Christmas, is back to usher in the holiday season with a three-day marathon of holiday cheer. It all kicks off with CMA Country Christmas on Monday night (Nov. 28), then an appearance on The Voice on Tuesday, and finally the TV movie sequel Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love on Wednesday, where she'll reprise her role as young Dolly’s mom.
"It’s quite crazy to think in terms of three nights in a row. If you don’t like me, don’t turn your television on at the holidays because you won’t be able to escape," laughs the affable country star. "Hopefully everybody does like it."
Monday's two-hour CMA Country Christmas variety show -- filmed at the Grand Ole Opry in early November -- includes performances by Brett Eldredge, Rascal Flatts, Kelly Clarkson, Andra Day, Idina Menzel, Loretta Lynn, Amy Grant, Jordan Smith and many more. The special, she tells Billboard, is a Christmas party that "welcomes anybody who wants to come and celebrate the holiday through music."
"For me, it harkens back to the old variety shows that the whole family could watch together," she says.
After seven years of hosting the special, Nettles says the secret to being a good host is to keep the focus on your guests. "The best thing you can do is be relaxed and make it about everybody else, celebrating whatever occasion it may be that you are coming together to celebrate, and make sure they feel welcomed," she says.
In addition to hosting, Nettles is set to perform two selections: "The Little Drummer Boy” with Menzel and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” with Day, both of whom are featured on her new holiday album, To Celebrate Christmas.
"For me, having done the CMA Country Christmas show for seven years, I have had an opportunity to audition for myself all of these different songs, all this different wonderful holiday music, and see what I like the best and offer it to the fans," she says. "It was a real treat to do.
"The record itself is pretty special for me, and those performances in particular on the record are standouts," she continues. "I have been a fan of Idina for a long time ever since she was on Broadway in Rent, and I just love the power of her voice. Andra is really in a delicious part of her career, and we did a jazzy version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman' that I just love."
As for what fans can expect, she says that Brett Eldredge -- who just performed on a float at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade -- is just one of many musical treats. "He is probably my favorite male artist in country music right now. He is so diverse and super versatile. I hear a lot of that off his Christmas record -- the diversity of what he can do," she says. "It’s interesting, because on the radio we are allowed a very narrow window, vocally, and when we get to do these holiday records, stylistically it’s all over the map. In terms of radio, the sound of that is so narrow. People don’t get to hear us sing all of the ways we like to sing."
After viewers get their first course of Nettles on Monday night, the singer will join Dolly Parton on Wednesday night for a duet of the song "Circle of Love," which is included on her album and is a centerpiece song of Christmas of Many Colors.
"I had to learn that song for the movie because my character [Avie Lee Parton] sings a snippet of the song within the movie as sort of a lullaby and when I had to learn it, I fell in love with it and knew I was doing a Christmas record," she says. " I reached out to Dolly and asked her if I could use it, and she said yes. I was blown away and thrilled. She is so gracious and so smart and so talented. As a woman in this business and in an industry that has changed so much over the years, she is one to emulate for sure."
As for the movie, Nettles says to "get out your tissues."
"It picks up in the winter of the holiday season. It tells the true story of Dolly’s family about a Christmas that they had where everyone is making a sacrifice to get her mom a present and a couple of other plots that are going on where they almost freeze to death in a blizzard," she says. "There is lots of laughter and lots of tears."
In the midst of it all, Nettles continues her job as a judge on the MTV Live show American Supergroup, where she just performed her new single “Hey Heartbreak." A new video for the song--included on her latest record, Playing With Fire-- was filmed in California.
"That experience has been super enriching to me, to help these budding musicians who are all so talented," she says. "In terms of other reality competition shows that are vocalist-based, but this is about the process of collaboration. I have been blown away by the talent."
Up next? A string of holiday‐themed tour dates slated for Nashville (12/8), Tallahassee, Florida (12/9), and Lake Charles, Louisiana (12/10), with more dates in 2017 and a possible return to the Broadway stage.
This begs the question: Does Nettles -- whose son Magnus turns 4 on Dec. 6 -- have any time to shop? "I haven’t even started that yet," she laughs. "He understands who Santa Claus is, but he doesn’t know the ideas of what he wants for Christmas. He loves astronauts and dinosaurs and Ninja Turtles and superheroes."
Until then, Nettles will be the hostess with the mostess for the holidays. "I am so honored to get to be a part of all of these holiday celebrations," she says. "Fans talk to me about how Country Christmas has become a holiday tradition for them and that they all watch to start their holiday season. To be a part of people’s holiday traditions is a real joy."
Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, airs November 30 on NBC. The Digital HD will be available December 1 and on Blu-‐ray / DVD December 20.