Alan Jackson’s Holiday Special Embraces Family

For a man who usually prefers to let his music do the talking, Alan Jackson proves to be an amiable television host. Don’t expect him to be jockeying for David Letterman’s job, but his down-home persona provides the appropriate holiday warmth for the CMT special, Alan Jackson: Let It Be Christmas.

Premiering Friday (Nov. 29) at 8 p.m. ET/PT, the hour-long special showcases material from Jackson’s latest Top 10 country album, Let It Be Christmas. Even die-hard fans will become better acquainted with the country superstar through family photos and recollections from Jackson and his wife Denise. Among the personal asides is Denise’s story of the Christmas when she opened a series of boxes to finally reach the small package containing her engagement ring. “It was a little bitty diamond,” Jackson explains to his wife. “That’s why it was a little bitty box.”

Jackson makes every effort to shine the spotlight on his family, especially his three daughters who play major roles in the TV special. Prior to the taping, Denise expressed some concerns, but those were limited to her husband’s emotional response at seeing his children perform. She explains, “This is a man who cries at soccer games. He’s so sentimental with the children. If Ali or Mattie is running down the field, he’s about to tear up because they’re having a good time, they’re playing well.”

During the special, 12-year-old Mattie recites the Christmas story from the Bible. The reading leads into an orchestra and choir backing Jackson on “Silent Night.” Earlier in the show, 9-year-old Ali and 5-year-old Dani join their friends for a dance sequence accompanying Jackson’s big band rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Explaining his desire to have his children featured on the show, Jackson says, “I just thought it might be fun to have something in there to take the camera off me for a minute or two.”

Jackson’s new holiday album includes 10 traditional standards, but he wrote the title song, “Let It Be Christmas.” Joined by his family, Jackson’s performance of the song is a highlight of the special.

“I didn’t intend on writing a song for this album because it was basically going to be traditional classics,” Jackson says. “I wrote it one night on the bus while I was rolling down the road. I didn’t know if it would work or not [or if] it blended in with these old songs. Denise, my wife, really liked it, and we decided to try to record it. It seems to fit in with the old ones pretty good, so I was glad to be able to contribute something to it other than just singing on the album.”

Performing on the special are two Nashville choirs — the Belmont University Choir and the W.O. Smith Children’s Choir. Also assisting is the core team of Nashville studio musicians who regularly record with Jackson — keyboardist Matt Rollings, bassist Glenn Worf, drummer Eddie Bayers and guitarists Brent Mason and Bruce Watkins. Mason, in particular, is provided screen time during several tasteful solos. The rhythm section is augmented by steel guitar legend Lloyd Green.

Alan Jackson: Let It Be Christmas premieres Friday (Nov. 29) at 8 p.m. The special will also be telecast Saturday (Nov. 30) at 12 a.m. and 6 p.m. and Sunday (Dec. 1) at 12 p.m. (All times are ET/PT.)

Find out more about Alan Jackson: Let It Be Christmas.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.