Jennifer Nettles admits it was a little easier hosting ABC’s “CMA Country Christmas” special this year, airing Dec. 2 at 9 p.m.
“Last year, I agreed to host the show when I was four months pregnant, not knowing how I’d feel at nine months pregnant. At nine months I was like, ‘What have I gotten myself into?,’ says the Sugarland vocalist with a laugh on the phone from Augusta, Ga. “It was so great to have that documented. But it was wonderful this year to scoot around that stage and not be huffing and puffing in high heels.”
Taped earlier this month at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, the seasonal special features a constellation of country stars, including Luke Bryan, Hunter Hayes, Lady Antebellum, and Jake Owen, as well as rocker-gone-country Sheryl Crow, R&B star Mary J. Blige, and contemporary Christian singer Michael W. Smith singing holiday classics and sharing memories.
In her fourth year on the job, Nettles says she’s still having fun and that dueting with Blige on “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was a particular highlight this year.
“Just to get to sing with her was unbelievable,” says Nettles, a Georgia native who, as one half of the duo Sugarland with Kristian Bush, has enjoyed numerous hits like “Stay” and “Stuck Like Glue” and scored Grammys and CMAs. “I love her voice and have been a fan for a long, long time. I had the pleasure of meeting her several years ago and I became a fan of her personally because of her kindness but have been a fan of her music for a long time.”
She also thinks a segment featuring Bryan and Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame will be a hit with viewers when they perform “Hairy Christmas.” “Oh my God, it’s just a hoot,” she says, laughing at the memory of the country heartthrob and the heavily bearded reality star mixing it up. “I’ll put it to you like this: You will quack up!”
That combination of different genres of music, comedy bits, and a big opening production number — for which she promises “dancers and sparkly, glittery things and costumes and lots of fun” — is one that Nettles hopes will remind viewers of the variety shows of days gone by, of which she was an avid watcher.
“It’s the closest that I’ve gotten to what I loved about those shows like the Carol Burnetts, Sonny and Chers, or even the “Hee Haws.” That was so fun. There’s such a universal entertainment value to them, and I hope that ‘Country Christmas’ does that for families and allows them to sit back and enjoy.”
Adding to the family-friendly environment, the “Peanuts” characters will also be putting in an appearance, which, says Nettles, will serve as a bridge since the classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will air right before the special.
After a holiday break, Nettles is planning to hit the road in early 2014 in support of her forthcoming Rick Rubin-produced solo album, “That Girl.” But, she assures, “Sugarland is not breaking up. It’s just that we haven’t figured out how to put ourselves in two places at one time and I’ve been wanting to do a solo project for quite a while. So, until I figure out how to do both at one time I’m going to focus on one thing at a time. And [Kristian’s] doing his own thing too. I love the music that we’ve done in Sugarland and, obviously, I love our fans and I hope that they’ll come with me on this adventure.”
Until then, Nettles is looking forward to nesting — and feasting — with her nearly 1-year old son, Magnus, and the rest of the family for the holidays. “I love the traditions of it. The food to me holds such a memory — a visceral, physical memory — through all of these dishes that we pass down as if they are heirlooms in that way.”Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.