Carly Pearce Talks Blake Shelton, Dolly Parton & Hosting ‘CMA Country Christmas’

Carly Pearce on CMA Country Christmas
ABC/Robby Klein

Carly Pearce used to celebrate the holidays as a teenager with big dreams performing at Dollywood. Fast forward to today and the country superstar is hosting the 13th installment of CMA Country Christmas.

It’s actually second time for Pearce, who shared duties alongside Gabby Barrett last year. Joining the 2022 ACM “Female Artist of the Year” for this yuletide evening of music is Steven Curtis Chapman, Dan + Shay, Scotty McCreery, Maren Morris, Old Dominion, Molly Tuttle, and The War and Treaty.

Here Pearce previews the festive special, reflects on recent accomplishments and what’s to come.

I feel like “CMA Country Christmas” is a rite of passage for country music artists, let alone hosting this annual tradition. What did it mean for you to return this year solo?

Carly Pearce: I always dreamt of hosting as a kid as much as I did dream of being a country artist. I used to look at people like Reba [McEntire] especially and really wanted to make that a part of my brand. The fact I got to host last year was such a dream come true. It was one of my first hosting gigs at that level. So to get to do it with Gabby felt so easy. To be able to do it on my own and have the CMA ask me back, it really was a huge honor. I had such a good time with it.

You’re also performing “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag.” Not to mention a medley with Molly Tuttle. Do you have any special connection to the songs chosen?

“Here Comes Santa Claus” is the opener, so I didn’t have much to do with that. But with the medley with Molly Tuttle, I very much love bluegrass music. So, I had a big hand in that. It’s just so good. People are going to love it. “The Man with the Bag” was a song I sang when I worked over in Pigeon Forge at Dollywood and “Country Tonite” in the Christmas show there. It was a full-circle moment for me to be able to do it on this show now.

What stands out to you about the musical lineup this year?

I think there is such a different flavor of artists. You have Molly Tuttle and her band. They are so amazing. They bring such a different flair. Then you have The War and Treaty, which has some of my favorite vocalists. They are a husband and wife duo that has really started to make some ground in the Americana and country space. Then you have Dan + Shay, who I feel come out with so many Christmas jingles that get stuck in your head for days. Maren Morris, her vocals are really amazing in the show. I was blown away. Steven Curtis Chapman is so good from the Christian space. And you have Scotty McCreery as well. They all make for a really good show.

CARLY PEARCE on 'CMA Country Christmas'

ABC/Larry McCormack

Dollywood is such a magical place for Christmas. What do you remember about working there during this time of year? Amazing to think years after you would actually be invited by Dolly Parton herself to become an official member of the Grand Ole Opry.

I actually talk about it in the show, which is so funny. Another full circle moment. I was 17 when I worked in the Christmas show at Dollywood. You’re right, it’s such a magical time around Christmas. I always tell people to go around this time. I performed in “Christmas in the Smokies.” I was the youngest by a lot of years, which meant I had to do everything nobody else wanted to do. I wore a massive mascot Frosty the Snowman suit in the show. We sang “Frosty the Snowman.” That’s such a memory for me. Now I’m like, “Oh my gosh! I don’t have to wear the Frosty suit anymore.”

Congrats on your first Grammy nomination with Ashley McBryde for “Never Wanted To Be That Girl.” The song has struck a chord, having proven staying power.

This song and this particular album that the song was a part of in “29” are so special to me. This was a story I was living in real-time. So to have this song Ashley and I wrote together was so special. To go all the way to the top of country radio and win all these awards. We just came from an honest place when we were writing it. We wanted to write something that said something. I don’t think you really hear that perspective on the radio. I thought after the CMAs when it was one “Musical Event of the Year” that it was the last of its life. Then we get the Grammy nomination. For Ashley, it’s not her first, but for me it is. These are all pinch-me moments. The fact the way I tell stories and see the world is getting this kind of recognition is very special.

You’re touring with Blake Shelton in 2023 as part of his “Back to the Honky Tonk” Tour. How excited are you?

I think Blake’s fanbase is very country, which lends itself to my music and who I am as an artist. I toured with Blake. He was my very first big tour when I had my first single out. To be able to come back and be his big support act five years later, I think fans are going to see we have a really sweet friendship. He has been really good to me, and I’m just excited as a fan to watch his show every night.

You recently celebrated “What He Didn’t Do” reaching number 1 on the Hot Country charts on Spotify. What does that single mean to you?

That is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. I intentionally wanted to make it the last song off of the “29” project. It felt like the right way to close the chapter and album before moving on to new music. It has really resonated with fans from the beginning and on country radio. I think it will be a really big song for me.

Where is your mindset today as you’re writing new material, considering everything you’ve been through to get to this point? What would you say the feel will be of your future music releases?

I definitely think I’ve found my version of country music. Just in the production and going into that classic, more rootsy side of things. I think what I learned the most with the “29” era is fans want to see the way I see the world. I think you’re going to see what’s been going on. I’m 32 now, almost 33. There has been a lot of life since I was 29. With that comes happiness and peace, but also struggle with that. I think fans are going to hear all of that.

Steven Curtis Chapman and Carly Pearce on 'CMA Country Christmas '

ABC/Larry McCormack

You now have this reputation of finding success through collaboration as well. Do you have a dream collab?

I got one for this album, and he knows it. Cody Johnson is my number one.

I think the ultimate come full circle moment would be something with Dolly.

Dolly would be on my bucket list no doubt. Dolly or Lee Ann Womack and Alison Krauss.

Carly Pearce and Santa Claus on 'CMA Country Christmas'

ABC/Larry McCormack

Have you ever given thought about releasing your own Christmas album?

I think it will happen at some point. I think I would want to put in the right time to make it the way I want it to be. For sure!

Are there any go-to movies or shows you watch this time of year to get in the holiday spirit?

My mom and I every year have to watch two movies. I feel like fans know how sentimental I am and know how much I love just relationships in general. So they would not be surprised to know they are Holiday and The Family Stone. The storylines are really emotional and I like to feel 24/7. They are classics to me.

Do you ever see yourself in a movie or TV show?

I never say never. I’m pretty expressive, so I would totally like to challenge myself to act!

CMA Country Christmas, December 8, 9/8c, ABC