By Audrey J. Bernard, Style & Society Editor
*Oh, Holy Night, the Stars were brightly shinning at the 81st annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday, December 4, 2013.
The two-hour network special was televised live, locally on WNBC-TV from 7:00-8:00 p.m., and nationally on NBC from 8:00-9:00 p.m., and featured an incredible lineup of sensational stars that included Mary J. Blige, Lauren Alaina, Toni Braxton, Leona Lewis, Mariah “MiMi” Carey, Kelly Clarkson, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel, Audra McDonald and The Rockettes.
All of the performances were stellar with special mention to the dancing elves and youth choir assisting MiMi and choreographed by Debbie Allen. Ashanti and Alaina Grande performed only in the 7:00-8:00 p.m. hour airing on select NBC stations.
As thousands of excited spectators looked on – and millions more watched from home – the countdown began with NBC “Today” Show hosts Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker and Natalie Morales flicking the switch that lit up the entire area to wild applause. The hosts then joined an invitational only celebratory party at the Rock Center Café in Rockefeller Plaza Concourse Level where they enjoyed holiday spirits and dinner. Guests received a replica of the Swarovski crystal star in their gift bag.
The 75-year-old 76-foot Norway Spruce tree is 47 feet in diameter and is illuminated by more than 45,000 energy-efficient multi-colored LED lights, topped off with a 9 ½-foot-wide LED-lit Swarovski crystal star weighing approximately 12 tons. After the lighting ceremony, the tree will remain lit between 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and for all 24 hours on Christmas; and from 5:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. After January 7, 2014 — the last day to view the spectacular Norway Spruce — the tree will be milled into lumber that will be donated to Habitat for Humanity. “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” is produced by Brad Lachman Productions with Brad Lachman serving as executive producer and produced by Bill Bracken. (Photos courtesy NBC)
About The Hosts
Matt Lauer – Matt Lauer has been co-anchor of NBC News’ “Today” since January 6, 1997. He joined “Today” in January 1994 as the show’s news anchor. From September 1992 to September 1996, Lauer was at WNBC in New York City where he served as a co-anchor of the early morning newscast “Today in New York” and as a co-anchor of the early evening newscast “News Channel 4/Live at Five.” He began substituting on “Today” as a news anchor in early 1993 before becoming the permanent news anchor in 1994. Prior to joining WNBC, Lauer hosted a daily, live, three-hour interview program, “9 Broadcast Plaza,” in New York from 1989 to 1991. Before that, his experience included hosting a number of weekly information and talk programs in Boston, Philadelphia, Providence and Richmond. Lauer began his career in 1979 as a producer of the noon news on WOWK in Huntington, West Virginia. In 1980, he was a reporter on the station’s 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts. Lauer is a graduate of Ohio University. He lives in New York with his wife, Annette Roque Lauer, their sons, Jack and Thijs, and daughter, Romy. Follow Lauer on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mlauer
Savannah Guthrie – Savannah Guthrie is the co-anchor of NBC News’ “Today” and also serves as NBC News Chief Legal Correspondent. Prior to joining “Today,” Guthrie served as NBC News White House Correspondent from December 2008 to June 2011 where she contributed to all NBC News properties, including “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” “Today” and MSNBC. Guthrie also served as co-host of MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” from January 2010 to June 2011. In 2002, Guthrie received her Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center, where she graduated magna cum laude. She was a member of Order of the Coif and received the International Academy of Trial Lawyers’ Student Advocacy Award for her work with victims of domestic violence. She graduated cum laude from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism in 1993. She received the top score on the Arizona Bar Exam in 2002. Follow Guthrie on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SavannahGuthrie
Al Roker – Al Roker has been the weather and feature anchor on NBC News’ “Today” since January 1996. He’s also co-host of “Wake Up with Al” on the Weather Channel. Until January of 2000, Roker also served as the weekday weather forecaster for News Channel 4’s early evening newscast Live at 5 on WNBC-TV, NBC’s flagship owned and operated station in New York City. New York magazine has twice named Roker Best Weatherman. He is a recipient of the American Meteorological Society’s prestigious Seal of Approval and has been a pioneer in the use of computer graphics for weathercasting. In 1994, Roker founded Al Roker Entertainment, Inc. (ARE), a thriving multimedia company involved in the development and production of network, cable, home video, and public television projects. Roker is a bestselling author, with his most recent book, “Never Goin’ Back: Winning the Weight-Loss Battle For Good,” available now. Raised in Queens, N.Y., Roker received his B.A. in communications from the State University at Oswego in 1976, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the school in 1998. He resides in Manhattan with his wife, ABC News 20/20 Correspondent Deborah Roberts, and has two daughters and one son. Follow Roker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/alroker
Natalie Morales – Natalie Morales is the news anchor of NBC News’ “Today” and the co-host of the third hour. Prior to her role as news anchor, Morales served as “Today” national correspondent from February 2006 to June 2011. Morales also served as a national correspondent for all NBC News platforms including “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” Dateline NBC,” and MSNBC, and still continues to report across the NBC News Group. Morales, who speaks Spanish and Portuguese, was born in Taiwan and spent much of the first 18 years of her life living overseas in Panama, Brazil and Spain as an Air Force “brat.” She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Rutgers University, New Jersey, with dual majors in journalism and Latin American studies. Morales was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated Suma Cum Laude. She currently resides in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Follow Morales on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nmoralesNBC
About The Performers
Lauren Alaina – Georgia native Lauren Alaina captured America’s hearts when she appeared on Season 10 of American Idol. Her first album, “Wildflower,” debuted at #1 on the iTunes Country chart and #2 on Billboard’s Top Country Album chart, and was the best-selling digital album by a debut country female. She was also the youngest female to have her album debut that high since LeAnn Rimes 15 years prior. Alaina has been nominated for several Teen Choice and CMT Music Awards, and recently took home the Artist Of The Year: New Artist trophy at the 2012 American Country Awards. She has toured with superstars Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Sugarland. She is an Ambassador for the Special Olympics and will release her version of “Grown Up Christmas List” as a part of their A Very Special Christmas album series this holiday season. Alaina is currently working on her highly anticipated forthcoming sophomore album.
Ashanti – Ashanti burst onto the music scene with her smash hit debut album, the self-titled “Ashanti,” which sold over 500,000 units in its first week and landed her the #1 spot on both the Billboard Top 200 and R&B album charts, and a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most albums sold by a debut female artist. That year, her album “Ashanti” won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album, eight Billboard Awards, two American Music Awards and she was presented with the Soul Train Aretha Franklin Entertainer of the Year Award. Over the last decade, Ashanti has appeared in a number of films and television shows, including the 2013 season of “Army Wives” on Lifetime, recorded four more albums, penned a book of poetry, starred on Broadway and launched a self-titled fragrance. Her new studio single “I Got It” featuring Rick Ross and produced by L. T. Hutton, was released on November 26 and has already reach number 20 on iTunes’ R&B/Soul charts. “I Got It” will appear on Ashanti’s fifth studio CD “Braveheart” arriving in stores in early 2014. Additionally, Ashanti is set to star in the Lifetime Network’s “Christmas in the City” movie premiering December 7. She has also recorded five new Christmas songs that have been released as an EP available on iTunes.
Mary J. Blige – Iconic Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress and philanthropist, Mary J. Blige is a figure of inspiration, transformation and empowerment making Blige one of the defining voices of the contemporary music era. With a track record of eight multi-platinum albums, nine Grammy Awards (plus a staggering 29 nominations), a 2012 Golden Globe nomination, and four American Music Awards, Blige is a global superstar. And in the ensuing years, the singer/songwriter has attracted an intensely loyal fan base—responsible for propelling worldwide sales of more than 50 million albums. In October 2013, Blige for Matriarch Records/Verve Records/Interscope Records released her 11th studio album titled “A Mary Christmas,” making it her first-ever holiday album and collaboration with legendary producer and Chairman of The Verve Music Group, David Foster. Blige’s holiday album features her soulful interpretation of classic holiday tunes including “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “The Christmas Song.” Blige is joined by a number of A-list guests, starting with Barbra Streisand, who duets with Blige on “When You Wish Upon A Star,” along with Jessie J on “Do You Hear What I Hear.” The Clark Sisters join Blige on “The First Noel,” and “Noche de Paz” is a Spanish collaboration with Mark Anthony. Next, Blige will star as Platinum Fro, a mysterious guardian angel in the Kasi Lemmon-directed “Black Nativity,” a contemporary adaptation of Langston Hughes’ 1961 play. The holiday musical film drama hit theatres on November 27, 2013 with an all-star cast including Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, and Tyrese Gibson.
Toni Braxton – The distinctive, sultry vocals of six-time Grammy Award-winning recording artist Toni Braxton – singer, songwriter, record producer, and philanthropist – have been celebrated internationally ever since she was first introduced to the world by Babyface and L.A. Reid in 1992. Her self-titled debut album released the next year was a 10 million-selling phenomenon that generated Braxton’s first Grammys in 1994, for Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal (“Another Sad Love Song”). The album’s longevity led Braxton to win her second Best Female R&B Vocal Grammy the following year (for “Breathe Again”). Her second album, “Secrets,” arrived in 1996, and history repeated itself with 15 million worldwide sales. At the Grammy Awards in 1997, Braxton became only the second woman in history (beside Dionne Warwick) to win Best Female Pop Vocal (“Un-break My Heart”) and Best Female R&B Vocal (“You’re Makin’ Me High”) in the same year. She returned to the Grammy podium in 2001 to claim another Best Female R&B Vocal award (“He Wasn’t Man Enough,” from the double-platinum album “The Heat”). Into the millennium, Braxton blossomed into an acting career with Broadway musical roles in “Beauty And The Beast” and “Aida,” and a dramatic turn in the Lifetime movie “Twist of Faith.” She and her sisters currently enjoy huge success in “Braxton Family Values,” one of WE tv’s flagship reality series, which returned for a fourth season in November 2013. Raising her two sons Denim and Diezel, Braxton balances her career demands with the high priorities of family, heath, public service, and charity work, particularly on behalf of the two diseases that have impacted her family directly – she is living with Lupus and her youngest child is living with Autism. Early detection and intervention has helped both Braxtons to be role models on how to live normal lives with these conditions. Braxton is also a proud spokesperson for Autism Speaks. She and Babyface will release “Love, Marriage & Divorce,” their first album of duets together, in February 2014.
Mariah Carey – Mariah Carey is the best-selling female artist of all time with more than 200 million albums sold to date and eighteen Billboard #1 singles (seventeen self-penned), more than any solo artist in history. With her distinct five-octave vocal range, prolific songwriting, and producing talent, Carey has defined the modern pop performance. As a singer/songwriter/producer, she has been recognized with five Grammy Awards, 21 American Music Awards, Billboard’s “Artist of the Decade” Award, the World Music Award for “World’s Best Selling Female Artist of the Millennium,” and BMI’s “Icon Award” for her outstanding achievements in songwriting, to name a few.
Kelly Clarkson – Grammy Award winner Kelly Clarkson has released five studio albums (“Thankful,” “Breakaway,” “My December,” “All I Ever Wanted,” “Stronger”), one Greatest Hits album, sold over 20 million albums worldwide, 10 million albums in the U.S. and has had 10 singles in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. She is the recipient of three Grammy Awards, four American Music Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards, one Country Music Association Award and 12 Billboard Music Awards. Clarkson’s last studio effort “Stronger” debuted at #2 on both the Billboard Top 200 and Digital Albums Chart. The album produced the smash singles, “Mr. Know It All” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” which marks Clarkson’s 9th and 10th Top 10 hit. “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” was #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart for two consecutive weeks (three weeks total) marking her third #1 on the Hot 100 chart. Clarkson’s “Stronger” was certified Platinum by the R.I.A.A. and won the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album. She spent the summer touring with Maroon 5 and recording her very first Christmas album, “Wrapped In Red,” which was released in October and features five original tracks as well as some Christmas favorites. Clarkson was recently nominated for two CMA Awards as well as two ACA Awards.
Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds – Ten time Grammy Award-winning recording artist Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds has been revolutionizing the contemporary pop/Urban music landscape ever since scoring consecutive multi-platinum landmark albums with “Tender Lover” (1989), “For the Cool in You” (1993) and “The Day” (1996). Edmonds is the recipient of numerous awards, including Soul Train Music Awards, BMI Awards, NAACP Image Awards, and American Music Awards. He received the third BET Walk of Fame Award (following previous honorees Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston), BET’s Entertainer of the Year at the First Annual BET Awards, and most recently was honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Edmonds’ caring and generosity has earned him several accolades, including the Essence Award for Excellence, The City of Hope Award and Variety Magazine’s “Top of the Town” Award. As co-founder with L.A. Reid of Atlanta’s LaFace Records in 1989, Edmonds nurtured the careers of megastars TLC, OutKast, Goodie Mob, Usher, and Toni Braxton. Into the ’90s and ’00s, Edmonds lent his talents to an abundance of hits with other artists, resulting in more than 125 Top 10 R&B and pop hits, 42 R&B #1 hits, and 51 Top 10 Pop hits (including 16 #1’s) under his belt, which have generated cumulative single and album sales of more than 500 million units worldwide. Most recent production work with other artists includes Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Keri Hilson, Ledisi, Ariana Grande and Aretha Franklin. Babyface is also an active touring artist, performing concerts across the U.S. and around the world on a regular basis. He and Toni Braxton will release “Love, Marriage & Divorce,” their first album of duets together, in February 2014.
Goo Goo Dolls – Multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated Goo Goo Dolls recently released their 10th studio album, “Magnetic.” The album debuted at #8 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart, and their new single, “Come To Me,” is Top 20 and on the air in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston, Seattle and many more. The Buffalo trio celebrated the album’s release with a performance on “Good Morning America,” and they have recently appeared on “The Tonight Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Live with Kelly & Michael,” “CBS Saturday Morning,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and “Rachael Ray.” Goo Goo Dolls have sold over 10 million albums worldwide, with 14 Top 10 Radio hits, more than any other artist in the history of the Hot AC format. They are the only artist to have three songs on Billboard’s “Top 100 Songs from 1992-2012” including the Number One slot, for “Iris.” John Rzeznik has been honored with the Songwriters Hall of Fame Hal David Starlight Award and they have been inducted into Guitar Center’s Historic Hollywood Rock Walk.
Ariana Grande – Ariana Grande has become a bona fide pop phenomenon. 2x-platinum single “The Way” initially debuted Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and seized the #1 spot on iTunes Overall Songs Chart as soon as it was released. Meanwhile, the track also resonated immensely with the Latin audience. The single’s Spanish version climbed to #5 at Latin Radio, showing that she could not only bridge the generational gap but cultural barriers as well. Everything laid the groundwork for “Yours Truly” to actually reach #1 on the iTunes Pop Albums Chart and on the Overall Albums Chart based on pre-orders alone. “Yours Truly” arrived at #1 on the Billboard Top 200. It was the first time since January 2010 that a debut record from a female artist topped the chart. Not only did it bow at #1 on the Top 200, in addition, it was the #1 album on iTunes Overall Albums Chart and #1 on the Digital Albums Chart.
Jewel – From the remote ranch of her Alaskan youth to the triumph of international stardom, four-time Grammy nominee Jewel, hailed by the New York Times as a “songwriter bursting with talents,” has enjoyed career longevity rare among her generation of artists. Whether alone with her guitar or fronting a band of ace musicians, Jewel has always been a charismatic live performer, earning the respect of other singer-songwriters such as Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, who, not only invited her to open their shows, but mentored her in the early phases of her career. After a tremendous amount of success as a singer-songwriter and over 27 million albums sold, Jewel released a Greatest Hits album in 2013. The album features a collection of her most known songs as well as two new duets with Kelly Clarkson and The Pistol Annies, in addition to a new track called “Two Hearts Breaking.” She also starred as June Carter Cash in the Lifetime biopic “Ring of Fire,” which earned four Emmy nominations. In December of this year Jewel will join NBC’s “The Sing Off” as a new judge as well as release her much anticipated follow-up holiday album, “Let It Snow.” The acclaimed American singer-songwriter-poet will not only debut 10 holiday favorites but will also feature two new original songs, “Blue Crystal Glow” and “It’s Christmastime.” Produced alongside some of the music industry’s greatest composers, Steve Skinner, Robbie Kondor and Joe Mardin, the album features country, indie-pop roots with a classical twist. Vince Gill, Country Music Hall of Famer and 20-time Grammy Award winner, also joins Jewel on the guitar for an extraordinary rendition of “White Christmas.” Jewel currently lives on a working ranch in Stephenville, Texas with her husband, World Champion bull-riding superstar, Ty Murray and their baby Kase Townes Murray.
Leona Lewis – Multi-platinum singer and songwriter Leona Lewis took the music world by storm with her 2008 debut album “Spirit,” which featured the best-selling #1 “Bleeding Love” and was nominated for three Grammy Awards. Leona has sold over 20 million albums and singles combined worldwide. She was the winner of the “The X-Factor UK.” She was signed to her record deal following her “X-Factor” win jointly by Simon Cowell of Syco Music and Clive Davis (formerly of RCA and now Chief Creative Officer, Sony Music Entertainment). Lewis’ first ever Christmas album, “Christmas, With Love,” a selection of seasonal classics and three new original songs, will be released on December 3.
Audra McDonald – With a record-tying five Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, and a long list of other accolades to her name, Audra McDonald is among today’s most highly regarded performers. Blessed with a luminous soprano and an incomparable gift for dramatic truth-telling, she is equally at home on Broadway and opera stages as in roles on film and television. In addition to her theatrical work, she maintains a major career as a concert and recording artist, regularly appearing on the great stages of the world and with leading international orchestras. An exclusive Nonesuch recording artist, McDonald recently released her fifth album for the label, “Go Back Home,” marking her first solo disc in seven years.
The Rockettes – The Rockettes are a legendary dance company best known for their grace, glamour and precision technique. They have entertained millions in their starring role in the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.” The 2013 “Christmas Spectacular” production, running now through December 30, continues to lift spirits and create lasting memories for new audiences as well as for families that have made this cherished production a holiday tradition. Radio City Music Hall is decked out for the season and the Rockettes shine like never before in dazzling dance numbers, classic favorites and a breathtaking new number, “Snow,” that transforms the Great Stage into a glistening winter wonderland.
New York based award-winning journalist Audrey J. Bernard covers entertainment, fashion & beauty, film, lifestyles and travel for the Electronic Urban Report and other outlets. Contact her via: [email protected]