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The Journal Gazette

Monday, November 27, 2017 1:00 am

McEntire 'really excited' to host CMA Christmas

Jay Bobbin | Zap2it

Reba McEntire's history with “CMA Country Christmas” dates back to the first edition, but for the first time, she's the host.

The iconic singer-actress welcomes a number of her peers to the Country Music Association's eighth annual ABC yuletide special, airing today. The timing is good for her, since her seasonal album that had a limited release last year – “My Kind of Christmas,” – is getting broader distribution this season.

Taped earlier in the month at Nashville's legendary Grand Ole Opry House, “CMA Country Christmas” finds McEntire succeeding seven-time host Jennifer Nettles (who says she “loves” passing that baton to her). Guests include Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Alan Jackson, Little Big Town, Trisha Yearwood, Brett Eldredge, gospel great CeCe Winans and Kelsea Ballerini (with whom McEntire did a duet at the recent CMA Awards).

“I'm really excited about getting to do it,” confirms McEntire, a winner of two Grammys and numerous other awards who maintains that “it's always very important” to get the right mix of holiday music whether for the special or an album.

“For a Christmas album, a gospel album or a regular album, I try to find songs that touch my heart ... and that way, when I sing them, they'll touch your heart, too,” she reflects. “If that happens, I've done my job. We go from a fast ditty of a song to something real complex that will make you cry. It's a roller coaster of emotions, and that's the way I like to have an album. It really piques your interest.”

McEntire cites Christmas music among her main inspirations as an artist, reasoning that it “ties into being at home and being with family and friends around the holiday season. You do a lot of singing at Christmas time.” With that in mind, McEntire is pleased “My Kind of Christmas” is getting a fresh run now: “My record label said, 'Let's give another treatment to it,' so we added four songs. One is with Vince Gill and Amy Grant, one is with Darius Rucker, and Lauren Daigle sang 'Back to God' with me with just a pianist.”

The other new collaboration on the album harks back to another TV special. “I put in 'Silent Night,' which Kelly Clarkson (McEntire's former daughter-in-law) and Trisha Yearwood and I did for Kelly's Christmas special in 2013,” McEntire explains. “That's six new artists on the album, so it's more full than it was. The folks who bought it last year, if they buy this version, get an added bonus.”

Though a drama that ABC decided not to pick up would have brought her back to weekly television this season, McEntire has much else happening, including the debut of her authorized line of footwear and her teaching of an online country-music “MasterClass.” She also participated in recent fundraising events for foundations run by veteran music producer David Foster and opera great Andrea Bocelli.

“It's a wonderful thing to get to help people while you're also working and making a living,” McEntire says. “That's what Bob Hope taught me a long time ago. He said, 'If you can't give back all the things you've been blessed with, you're missing out on so much.' He was a great person to learn from.”