BWW Interview: Amy Grant on Her New TENNESSEE CHRISTMAS Special for The Hallmark Channel
"Let's go chat by the waterfall." That's how Amy Grant kicks off our time together.
Waterfall backdrops are among the perks of filming a primetime TV special - in this case, AMY GRANT'S TENNESSEE CHRISTMAS, premiering on The Hallmark Channel this Monday, December 3.
The Queen of Christmas Music remembers me from a fan event a few years back, when I spent a couple hours with Grant and her country-superstar husband Vince Gill inside their stunning, Grammy-laden home. There were a handful of other people around us back then. But this, she says, is a chance for us to chat one on one.
We're at the Graystone Quarry right outside of Nashville, one of Music City's most picturesque places. Any other time of year, the waterfall out back might be the focal point, but today, it's rivaled by several dozen decked-out Christmas trees and a concert set fit for Fezziwig.
It's the kind of production you'd expect from the yuletide twofer of The Hallmark Channel (famous for their holiday movie edict of "see Christmas in every shot") and Amy Grant (the woman who's given us five Billboard-blockbusting Christmas albums, including 1992's Home for Christmas, which remains one of the bestselling holiday records in human history).
If you aren't familiar with Amy Grant's Christmas music, you are but just don't realize it. For two months of the year, she's everywhere you go.
In line at the post office? There's her "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," famous for its slow build to a grand finale.
Spending too much money at the mall? Her epic "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" makes you not mind.
Getting groceries? So is her "Sleigh Ride," with Amy's iconic "Yoohoo!" at the end.
There's almost no way you finished Black Friday without encountering the cozy Christmas blanket that is Amy Grant's amber-toned voice.
Her original songs, too, have become a part of the festive fabric we all share: "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)," "Tennessee Christmas," "I Need a Silent Night," "Emmanuel, God With Us" (gorgeously updated this year with Anthem Lights) and most notably, "Grown-Up Christmas List." David Foster penned the latter, but Amy made it famous, tinkering with the words and adding her own. The song's been covered ten million times, and at least nine million of those use Amy's lyrics.
She's about to perform some of those songs and others for The Hallmark Channel, along with special guests Kellie Pickler, Michael W. Smith, and the aforementioned Vince Gill. Grant has several decades of experience in creating evenings that capture the special magic of Christmas. As it turns out, this Hallmark special is no exception, and anyone watching it on TV this Monday night is in for a treat. But first, Amy has carved out a few minutes to talk with me before taking the stage.
Among the topics we tackle beside the waterfall: what it's like to write a modern Christmas song in these politically divisive times, the thing that gets her choked up on stage, and - of course - the Broadway shows she's into these days....
AW: Obviously, you have a lot of Christmas music; a lot of them are originals. When you start to write a song that ends up on a holiday project, is it always with the intention of writing a holiday song specifically, or does it ever just end up taking that direction?
AG: Well, everybody winds up creating Christmas music in the summertime... rather odd. And I can't say I've ever sat around and just thought, "I'm going to write a Christmas song" apart from a project... And so every time I've written a Christmas song, it's been because I had either a special performance, or I was doing a recording, and I just wanted to sort of round out the feeling of Christmas.
I mean, there are so many great Americana songs, and always, to me, it's like what flavors... what are you still trying to add to the equation?
When I write, that's what I'm trying to do. It's like, "What's the feeling that hasn't been said yet?"
I've noticed that in some of your more recent holiday recordings. I guess it's sort of mirroring the progression of your career toward songs that are about all of life - whether it's faith, love, loss, whatever. I see that in songs like "To Be Together" and "Melancholy Christmas" - all the different dynamics and emotions of the holidays.
Yeah. Yeah! You know, the song "To Be Together," to me, is all about welcoming each other as we are. And just, culturally, I feel like that message of welcoming - in all of our differences - is just increasingly important.
I get kind of choked up singing that song because a lot of times, with writing, I find myself writing the world I want to create. And I feel like that's why the arts in general are so important, because you're reaching for something that doesn't exist. And that's what a song is.
You know, you have to picture something first before it can be a reality. Whether it's a song, or a setting, or an experience you want to have with somebody. There are not many things in life that we just accidentally fall into.
It's funny, that song, "To Be Together," came out in 2016 and seemed so culturally relevant that year... and here we are just two years later and it seems even so much more relevant now.
Thank you. I do feel that way. I'm from a big family. We all have different ways of living our lives. What matters to us individually is unique. So many different lifestyles and age groups are represented. Nobody ever feels the exact same thing about ANYTHING at the exact same time. You know? It's just that constant swirl of us. We're a big, loving mess.
I want to ask you about the song "Tennessee Christmas," which is from 1983, but it's also the name of your most recent Christmas record and also this new Hallmark Channel TV special.
That song seems to resonate with people who've never had so much as a layover in Tennessee.
Why do you think it connects in that way?
I think Tennessee Christmas paints the picture - with a song - of belonging that everybody longs for. It's an easygoing song. You know? It's just a gentle, welcoming song.
I'm sorry, I'm distracted, I'm looking at your beautiful clean face, and I'm going, "I have so much makeup on!!"
(Laughs) Oh my gosh. You're lovely. Please.
You have all these wonderful Christmas songs, so when it comes to an event like this, and you have an hour of television time to fill, how do you choose the songs?
Oh gosh. I made some suggestions. This [TV taping] tonight is going to involve more music than the actual TV show. Because [in the final TV cut] we're also trying to tell stories [about] what makes Christmas meaningful.
[Editor's Note: I got to meet some of the people whose stories will be told in this special... they have some powerful tales to tell; it promises to be a standout part of the program.]
Really, to me, the answer to loneliness is community. And the only way to create real community is for somebody to say, "I need help with this," and then somebody else has the freedom and the opportunity to say, "Hey, I can help with that." It's always this equation of somebody speaking their need, somebody else volunteering to help with that need, and then suddenly you have community.
And because Tennessee is called The Volunteer State, it's like the perfect setup to say, "This is how we build community... to not be afraid to say what we need, and not be afraid to help meet somebody else's need."
At Christmastime, it's like, I want to do a special that's not... the energy and focus of it is not, "Gee, haven't I had a great career?"
Because that's not even the point. The point is to try to create in one hour of TV time a circle that somebody could walk into and feel inspired by.
I'm writing for BroadwayWorld.com, so I have to ask: do you have a favorite musical?
OH MY GOSH! I just got tickets to Dear Evan Hansen... I've never seen it. I'm taking my daughter.
I saw that you're mentioned in the Playbill for Something Rotten.
I was mentioned in the Playbill??
You're in the Playbill! Yeah!
I didn't even know that! Ahhh!! You just made my day.
AMY GRANT'S TENNESSEE CHRISTMAS airs on The Hallmark Channel this Monday night, December 3, 2018 at 6:00 p.m (eastern). UPDATE: An encore presentation is scheduled for December 17, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. (eastern) / 11:00 a.m. (central) on The Hallmark Channel (check local listings for updates as the airdate approaches). It is also available to stream for cable subscribers via the Hallmark Channel app until January 1, 2019. For more information, visit The Hallmark Channel website or AmyGrant.com.