U2, George Clooney, and Amy Grant master their reaction shots during the “Kennedy Center Honors” TV special as other celebrities pay tribute.
Broadcast television is enough of a no-man’s-land right around the holidays that some old-school celebrate-the-arts programming manages to sneak in. For the second December in a row, we do live in a country where the sitting president can actually show his face at an arts-based ceremony. And in a nation where the vice president knows the words to, and can mouth along with, “Midnight Train to Georgia” so that’s something non-illusory, anyway.
The Bidens and Harrises are on hand for a program honoring U2, Amy Grant, Gladys Knight, composer-conductor Tania Le n and George Clooney. The fact that the first four of those five this year are musicians offers some natural advantages to putting on a show, as far as all-star cover-song opportunities go. Even Clooney earns a musical number as part of his salute, though, as Dianne Reeves pops up to serenade the actor-director with “How High the Moon,” a standard she sang in his “Good Night, and Good Luck” film 17 years ago.
U2 feels like the most underserved of the honorees, as the musical tributes roll out, although that’s not entirely the fault of the producers.
You could do worse than to have Pearl Jam’s frontman be the one pressed into emergency double duty in representing the U2 catalog. Even though it’s too on-the-nose a pick to represent something transformative, the way the choice of Blige once did. It’s sort of a lovely symbolic touch that, as much as you expect Carlile to be charged with delivering the powerhouse notes. It’s the representative of an embattled nation, Jamala, for whom the tune serves as the greatest showcase.
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Mickey Guyton proves a great pick to carry the torch forward with “You are the Best Thing That Happened to Me,”. And Ariana DeBose, with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” further establishes on top of that “SNL gig no one’s forgotten that there is really no awards or variety show she should not be booked for if her calendar’s open. This type of performance is something we are never going to see on the Grammys again, that’s for certain. So here’s to “The Kennedy Center Honors” as one of the last places where Anna Devere Smith is likely to suddenly show up in our living rooms and make us feel like we should have been wearing something a little more formal than our Santa PJs.