Joseph Llanes

Carrie Underwood’s ‘Gift’ to Fans: Creating ‘Light in a Dark Year’ With New Christmas Album & Special

The Christmas tiding of “peace on earth” can’t ring loudly enough in 2020. From the deadly COVID-19 pandemic to Black Lives Matter protests calling for racial justice, peace has been in short supply. Carrie Underwood is hoping to “create light in a dark year” through her holiday album and TV special. 

Not even the acclaimed Queen of Christmas Mariah Carey lets her Lambs sing her No. 1 holiday staple “All I Want for Christmas Is You” until Nov. 1. But on Sept. 25, Underwood delivered a special early present: her first full-length Christmas album, My Gift, which  contained 11 traditional and original jingles. My Gift debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart (dated Oct. 1), bestowing the country singer her eighth consecutive No. 1 album on the tally.

Not only did My Gift kickstart Christmas early, but it spawned two of the top five new streaming holiday songs of the year, through Nov. 26, according to MRC Data/Nielsen Music, with “Silent Night” at No. 3 (6.3 million on-demand streams) and “Hallelujah,” featuring John Legend, at No. 5 (4.1 million). “Favorite Time of Year,” which is streaming exclusively on Amazon and appears as an extra on the album, comes in at No. 4 (5.9 million).

Fans can see her perform “Hallelujah” with Legend, as well as other holiday treats on her HBO Max special My Gift: A Christmas Special From Carrie Underwood, premiering Thursday. She’ll also reveal behind-the-scenes moments during the recording process of “Little Drummer Boy” with her 5-year-old son Isaiah to spread much-needed holiday cheer from her family to others.

“I really hope people watch it and just feel at peace. It’s the kind of thing that you can watch with your family. Hopefully, people sing along with me on their couches and just get a sense of hope and peace and love and joy and all of the good things that are about Christmas,” Underwood tells Billboard via a phone interview.

“Silent Night” and “Hallelujah” from your album are among the top five most-streamed holiday songs this year. Why do you think your fans have particularly gravitated to those songs from your Christmas album?

You never know how people are going to react when you record something or write something or whatever it is. You just kind of throw it all out there and just see. But I think with “Hallelujah,” it’s just a beautiful song. It covers a lot of ground in Christmas song land. It’s got some spiritual aspects to it, it’s got kind of this love story thing to it, it’s got all of the tactile [elements] … winter’s chill, candles. It paints the scene really well, so it kind of puts you into that time of year. And I’m glad to see people are digging what we’re doing.

Your HBO Max special is officially being unwrapped this week. What’s the most heartfelt moment you’re looking forward to fans seeing as you perform your original and traditional Christmas carols?

We went about this whole special just wanting it to be beautiful and timeless. And the way it’s shot, the scenes that are created around me, are just that. I got the chance to watch it back in a theater and sit there — it was just four or five of us watching everything. And I was singing — not literally, but with my body, like tensing up singing every note with myself, and just the way it’s shot is just beautiful. I really hope people watch it and just feel at peace.

How did it feel recording “Little Drummer Boy” with your 5-year-old son Isaiah, who made his Billboard chart debut with the track?

It was so great. He came in, I asked him if he might want to do it. I definitely wanted it to be his choice and didn’t want to force him into it or make it feel like work or anything like that. And he, at 5 years old, I feel like has just such a heart for the Lord. He is so compassionate and so sweet and so giving and so loving. He is what I think of when I think of the “Little Drummer Boy.” So I asked him if he wanted to sing it with me, and we practiced a little bit. It was so great getting to share what I love to do with him, and to see him in the studio in front of the mic and getting to be in there with him and help him out. And it’s something I’m gonna have forever.

I love the way he said, “Wum pum pum-pum.” But that’s already gone! And that’s how fast it happens. We sang it the other day because some friends asked us to and he said, “Rum pum pum-pum” with an r. And I was like, “No! It’s gone! The magic that was this year’s r is just gone.” So yeah, it’s kind of crazy. It was another reminder that I’ve got to live these moments while they’re here.

And I’ll have to add, obviously, there’s union stuff and all these boring things. He got his first paycheck getting to sing with me, and we framed it. We’re like, “What do you want to do with it?” And he wanted to give some away. We support a lot of kids in Haiti, and he wanted to give some money to Haiti. It was just so sweet getting to see him. You know, he’s 5, but it’s never too early to teach the value of a dollar.

You’ve experienced a lot of success outside of music this year, from your book Find Your Path becoming a New York Times best-seller to your fitness app fit52 launching, and your lifestyle apparel line CALIA celebrating its fifth anniversary. Quarantine kickstarted a lot of people’s exercise regimens and nutritional diets, but eight months in, seasonal depression on top of quarantine depression can start settling in. How do you encourage people to continue taking care of their well-being?

I do feel like it’s so important to just take a moment every single day to think of all of the things that you have to be grateful for. If you wake up first thing in the morning and you’re like, “OK, what am I thankful for?” I feel like your day is just so much better. And this time of year can be lonely and it can be crazy. And like you said, seasonal depression and stuff like that can come creeping in. That’s just normal, without a year like this year has been. To have hope and just to focus on the things that are good and that are right, I think it just makes your day a million times better. I do love self-care and I work it in whenever I can, taking a moment to breathe. If there’s anything this year has taught us, is that we can all slow down a little bit. And the trick is to focus on the positives.

Anything else?

I’m just thankful for this year, for the things that I’ve gotten to be a part of this year. It has been difficult and challenging, but I’m proud of all of us and how we’ve managed to come together and still create things that are beautiful, and like I said, joyful and peaceful and just light. We want to create light in a dark year. And I feel like we’ve done that, and I’m just really proud of the album and the special and the people that I’ve gotten to work with along the way this year.