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'Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale': What Went Wrong?

Her new special was heavy on the holiday tunes, but light on the humor

Kelly Clarkson on 'Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale'
Justin Lubin/NBC
December 12, 2013 9:45 AM ET

Damn it, Blake Shelton – why did you have to be so awesomely offensive in your Christmas special last year? Thanks to your side-splitting Claymation spoof with Larry the Cable Guy, in which you shot Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and incinerated Sam the Snowman, NBC must've been scared off. In your place, Kelly Clarkson gave us a boring, misguided and uneven hour of television that served as little more than a commercial for her new holiday album, Wrapped in Red. Look, I get that the Peacock network is on a singing-contest-winner/female-country-music-star high right now – you may have heard about a little TV event last week called The Sound of Music Live! that pulled in a robust 18.6 million viewers.

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But this was no Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece that drew faithful fans and determined hate-watchers. Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale, sadly, had the correct adjective all along. The "cautionary" translated to "stay away." Or, at least, fast-forward all the parts that weren't of Clarkson in a crimson dress (a pretty new one for each song!) performing eight tunes from Wrapped in Red. Here's hoping that Michael Bublé's 3rd Annual Christmas Special next week will throw a big bucket of egg nog on this disaster – both for us and for Clarkson, because her fun and rollicking take on so many holiday classics makes Wrapped in Red a great addition to the Christmas-album genre. But, what's done is done, so here now are the show's five biggest gaffes:

Blake Shelton Was Relegated to the Cheap Seats
OK, I get the running gag of Clarkson trying to ramp up the star power for her holiday special (Clooney! Brangelina!) while Mr. Voice himself was right under her nose offering to "help out." But to not have him sing one song or participate in a scene that was even remotely funny was just plain criminal. In many ways, having Shelton as a guest star was more painful than if he hadn't appeared at all, because all it did was remind me of how he wouldn't be reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to a group of inquisitive children again this year. It may have been a joke when Shelton, humiliated in an elf costume, informed Clarkson that her special "sucked." But his words were too accurate to be funny. Come on, NBC, if you like this guy enough to keep him around, just let him host SNL already – where he can really let his freak flag fly!

Cool It With the Sound of Music Tunes!
True, Clarkson's jazzy version of "My Favorite Things" would have no place in the Mother Abbess' office (or maybe the she was just auditioning for NBC's next live staged musical in 2014), but considering that the network will be running an encore presentation of SOML! this Saturday night, the show tune was a bit of overkill.

The Tasteless Homeless Shelter Scene
There was a cute moment when Clarkson bumped into her fired flack (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's Jai Rodriguez back in the acting game) on the street and he's holding a cardboard sign that says "Celeb assistant: Will fetch coffee for food." But then Rodriguez takes Clarkson to a homeless shelter – where he's been crashing since losing his job – and things get a little too uncomfortably real for something that was (I thought) supposed to be used for comic effect. Hey! Homeless kids are funny! But it's OK – they somehow can afford iPhones and will save Clarkson's floundering career when the video they take of her singing "White Christmas" at the shelter goes viral! Because that's what Christmas is all about – inaccurately portraying a serious problem in this country and using it as a plot device to get a singing star back in the good graces of Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. You want to know what life is really like in a shelter? Read this. Nary an iPhone or celebrity in sight.

Not enough Ken Jeong
The Community actor stole every scene as Clarkson's manager with his deadpan delivery of the few giggle-worthy lines bestowed upon this hot mess of a holiday special. First he wasted no time in offering up the predictably meta idea that the first-ever American Idol winner boost her image by competing on The Voice. Speaking of another Idol alum who has NBC seeing nothing but dollar signs, the ghost of Carrie Underwood was not far from anyone's mind, especially Jeong's, when he panted to Clarkson, "I am so turned on in the most wholesome way."

The Country Music Queens Got the Shaft
Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood were billed as guest stars, but for heaven's sake, Jai Rodriguez got more screen time than these country legends. In their two brief, stilted comedy scenes with Clarkson, both ladies looked as miffed as I was over missing the winter finale of Nashville. To add insult to injury, they were trotted out to sing a measly one song ("Silent Night"), which they had to share with Clarkson.

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