John Legend on His ‘Christmas Under the Stars’ Special & Holiday Traditions
John Legend has proven himself time and again as one of Hollywood’s most valuable assets — he has an EGOT after all — and even as the holidays arrive, he’s a fixture with his album A Legendary Christmas.
The tunes from his holiday library are front and center in BYUtv’s annual Christmas Under the Stars special which brings viewers and fans up-close to Legend and the other creatives behind his album. “We basically did a filmed version of the concert that we did on tour last year,” Legend says of the format.
Below, he opens up about the holiday event, his album, Christmas traditions, mentoring on The Voice and much more.
How did this special come into existence? Had you heard of BYUtv’s Christmas Under the Stars before?
John Legend: Well, they reached out to us and offered us this opportunity, and I thought it would be a really fun way to present the Christmas album [A Legendary Christmas]. We had toured with it last year and had so much fun. We had never created a full concert video and I really loved the tour. It was one of my favorite tours I’ve ever done, so when BYUtv reached out to us, we thought it’d be a fun way to record a visual version of the show and the album, so that people could see how cool the tour was last year.
This special focuses heavily on your music. What should fans expect to hear from the jazz set? Any favorite holiday tunes or things you’re most excited for them to hear?
Well, we just released a deluxe edition of the Christmas album. And we feature new renditions of “My Favorite Things” and “This Christmas,” it was cool to perform those. But we also did a lot of the favorites from the original A Legendary Christmas album, which came out last year.
We did some original songs, like “Bring Me Love” and “By Christmas Eve,” and we did some of the classics from that album, like “What Christmas Means To Me” by Stevie Wonder and “Silver Bells.” We really had a good time and we also did “All of Me” and “Ordinary People,” as well.
Christmas Under the Stars is an annual tradition at BYUtv during the holidays. What holiday traditions or specials do you keep up with?
Well, we love doing the tree lighting [at Rockefeller Center] and I’m performing at that again this year for NBC. And it’s been fun ever since I’ve had a Christmas album, it’s been really exciting to have this music, and have the tradition of us listening to the music as a family and performing at some of these special events. It’s been a lot of fun.
A Legendary Christmas: The Deluxe Edition was released earlier this season featuring new songs and collaborators like your fellow Voice coach, Kelly Clarkson. Will there be any guest appearances in the special?
It’s just me and my band, and we have some behind the scenes interviews, just trying to get more in depth with the album, and the concert itself.
From your holiday album to this special, how does it feel to know that you are part of the traditions families are making at this time of year?
That makes me so happy, because I know how much these songs have meant to me over the years, and for us to hopefully be part of people’s traditions is going to be really special.
You are one of the busiest people in this industry – The Voice is a big part of your schedule. How does your approach to coaching mentoring on that show differ from this set?
The Voice is fun, and it’s very exciting for me to work with new artists, and see all these young people who have a dream to make it in this business, and give them all the advice that I can give them, and help them really figure out what they want to do with their career. And help them, hopefully, win the competition as well.
It’s been a lot of fun working with them. I’ve always loved mentoring other singers. I came up as a choir director in church when I was a kid. And a director of a cappella group when I was in college. And I always loved working with other singers, and helping them become the best artists they can be. So the opportunity to do The Voice, and have so much fun making the show, it’s been really cool for me.
Your genre of music focuses heavily on jazz as does this special. What makes it the perfect pairing for the holidays?
I wanted to fully embrace the nostalgia of Christmas. Most of my studio albums are more contemporary, and even though I have a lot of old-school influences. But with Christmas, I feel like it gives us the license to be a bit more nostalgic, and harken back to a bygone era in music. It was a lot of fun for us to do that, too. We did it with the music and visually.
A lot of the visual references were mid-20th century references. Things like Nat King Cole, and Dean Martin — all these folks influenced the way we visually represented the music, in addition to the fact that the music itself is a lot from that era, as well.
Due to TV magic, specials like these are often filmed ahead of time. How long did you work on this one?
We’ve been working on the creative for it all summer, but we filmed it in October. And here we are.
Is that strange, working in a holiday setting out of season?
Well, I made the album last year starting in April, so that was a little weirder [Laughs]. But yeah, what I always tell people — which is really true — is that doing Christmas music puts you in a good mood. So it was a good mood enhancer starting in April of last year to be immersed in Christmas music, and it’s really fun for me to do it, and hopefully people enjoy it.
Christmas Under the Stars with John Legend, Sunday, December 1, 7/6c, BYUtv