'New Year's Rockin' Eve' Exec Producer Mark Bracco on Christina Aguilera Headlining & Keeping Tradition Alive

Christina Aguilera
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

Christina Aguilera performs onstage during Christina Aguilera: The Liberation Tour at Radio City Music Hall on Oct. 3, 2018 in New York City. 

Mark Bracco doesn’t mind working on New Year’s Eve. For 13 years, Bracco has served as the executive producer for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest, the iconic annual event that millions of Americans look to as the official start to the New Year. 

Bracco oversees the booking of the countless chart-topping artists who perform at New Year’s Rockin’ Eve all across America. This year’s show will feature performances from breakout artists like Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello and Dua Lipa, as well as veterans like Christina Aguilera and New Kids on the Block. Ryan Seacrest will host the event live from Times Square with the help of Jenny McCarthy, while Lucy Hale and Ciara will handle coverage from New Orleans and Los Angeles, respectively, ushering in the New Year as it occurs in the different time zones. 

Putting together one of the most highly televised events of the year is no small undertaking, and Bracco helps make it all happen. Billboard caught up with the man behind the curtain just before the 47th anniversary of America’s biggest celebration, to talk about the evolution of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and the importance of keeping traditions alive.

What are you most excited about for viewers to see during this year’s New Year's Rockin’ Eve performances?

I'm super excited that Christina Aguilera is going to be headlining for us in Times Square. She'll be performing a medley of her greatest hits right before the ball drops. She performed for us in Times Square, in 2007, and more than 10 years later she's back. She's one of the most iconic voices in the world, so we couldn't think of anyone better to end 2018. Being live in New Orleans again this year for the Central Time Zone countdown to midnight, to have Florida Georgia Line and Maren Morris in the middle of the Big Easy performing for us will be great. Our LA party this year is just stacked. We always talk about New Year's Rockin' Eve as a celebration of the biggest artists and the biggest songs of the year. This year more than ever, every single song is just a massive, huge hit. We were looking at the year end list of the American top 40, and we have so many of those songs on the show. From Maren Morris doing "The Middle" to Weezer doing "Africa," we have so many massive hit songs in the show. It's just a great recap of the year in music.

So many Americans look to New Year’s Rockin’ Eve as a way to usher in the new year, and for many, it’ll be the first thing they see in 2019. What does that responsibility mean to you?

I watched Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve as a kid on the couch, with my family. Whether you're celebrating at a big party, or with your family at home, everyone watches because it is an American tradition. It's one of the reasons we've kept Dick Clark's name on the show even after he passed away a few years ago, even now that Ryan Seacrest is our host. We feel a great responsibility on New Year's Eve because we know that we're the show that's bringing families and Americans together to celebrate the end of the year, and then celebrate the start of the new year. Really, we just want to entertain people with the best music and a safe space for everyone of all ages to watch together.

How do you think New Year’s Rockin’ Eve has evolved in the past 47 years from what it was then, to what it is today? 

When it started out 47 years ago, it was Dick Clark in Times Square with one camera helping to countdown to the New Year. The show just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Last year I believe we had 38 performances throughout the entire show. I haven't counted how many there are this year, but I'm sure it's at least that many, and the show just keeps growing. When I first started working on it, the show started at ten o'clock, and then it expanded to start at eight o'clock. We went from three and a half hours to five and a half hours. Last year we had our highest ratings in 27 years, which in the television environment right now, is a pretty amazing feat.

Despite how much New Year's Rockin' Eve has grown, what traditions have remained the same?

What I think will never change is the ball drop. It all leads up to the ball drop and gets sort of bigger and more spectacular every year. To have all of our talent onstage as the confetti comes down and everyone sings "Auld Lang Syne" and then "New York, New York," it's something that through the best times in our country, and through the most trying times in our country, New Year's Rockin' Eve has always been there to usher in the hope and promise of the New Year. That's what the foundation of the show has always been.

How does watching the live broadcast compare to going to Times Square on New Year’s Eve?

It should be on everybody's bucket list just once to come to Times Square and to be there when the ball drops because it's unlike any experience you'll have. We find that every year, with the artists who have performed right before the ball drops, whether it was Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga, afterwards, they all feel like it was such an amazing moment to be there in the middle of Times Square, in good weather or bad weather. 

What's the dynamic like between the four different hosts? 

We always call it our "New Year's Rockin' Eve Family" because our hosts really do become like family. They all just have fun with each other. Jenny likes to give Ryan a little bit of hell during the show about stuff. Ryan and Jenny, they love to be down on the street talking to all of the people in the crowd, and just hearing their stories. Every year, that's one of my most favorite parts of the show, is that Ryan, Jenny, Lucy and Ciara, are just so genuine with the crowd. Ryan has always talked about the fact that Dick Clark was his role model. To have a few years where they crossed over together, I think meant so much to Ryan. I think that Ryan really is the Dick Clark of this generation. 

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for dcp
Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy attend the Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2018 on Dec. 31, 2017 in New York City.

How do you think New Year’s Rockin’ Eve both impacts and reflects pop culture each year?

We love to really encapsulate the year in music. One things that's interesting this year, is that we have more country music stars on the show than we've ever had. I think this was a really breakout year for country music and country stars crossing over to other genres. One thing we always think is interesting is as the show goes on and we get into the later hours at like 1 a.m., a lot of the artists will do a newer single, and a lot of times we find songs that air at 1:30 in the morning become huge hits that year.

What's your first New Year’s Rockin’ Eve memory?

This is my 13th year working on the show. The first year that I got to work on the show, to be there in Times Square in the control room as it was all happening, was sort of a pinch-myself moment. It was in that moment that I thought "I used to watch this show on the couch when I was a little kid with my parents or my siblings.” I'm working on the show that I've loved since I was a little kid. Sometimes people will say to me, "Wow, it must really stink having to work on New Year's Eve." I always say always say I'm the luckiest guy in the world that I get to work every  New Year's Eve. I get to be in the center of the universe in Times Square where the world is watching. 

After a tumultuous and trying year like 2018, why do you think New Year’s Rockin’ Eve is the perfect way to close it?

With the show being around for 47 years, there are years that have been really uplifting years for our country, and other years that have seen difficult times and tragedies. I think for us, our goal on Dec. 31 is that everyone is together with their friends and family. I think it always offers the promise of hope in the new year. We just want to be there for everyone to celebrate together, no matter your background or where you come from, and know that we're there with you, hoping as much as you are that lots of good things happen in the New Year after that ball drops.

New Year's Rockin' Eve airs live at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. The show is produced by Dick Clark Productions, which shares a parent company with Billboard.