This week, our leading presidential candidates all dropped holiday videos designed to spread cheer and score votes. Sure, they’re shameless but, hey, it’s the holiday season and there’s no shame at Christmas. This is something celebrities have understood for decades. Stars pull stunts at Christmastime that they could never get away with the rest of the year. And thanks to wonder of YouTube, we get to enjoy them all year long!
Here are a few of my favorite pop culture Christmas opportunists. Feel free to re-gift.
Heidi Klum, “Wonderland”
Remember a few cycles back on “America’s Next Top Model” when Tyra Banks decided she was going to be the next Jody Watley and had all the contestants appear in the music video for her debut single “Shake Ya Body”? Well, that album never dropped but that dream sure did. I think that if Tyra had put out a holiday song, that dream might still be alive.
Heidi Klum seems to have learned from Tyra’s misstep and the result is “Wonderland,” a song that was written for a series of German TV spots and recorded by Heidi last year. The proceeds from the single were donated to a children’s charity in Germany, which is brilliant because Heidi can pretend she’s doing it for the children when the truth is she wants to be Carrie Underwood so bad she can taste it.
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Heidi has a surprisingly pleasant voice and the song itself is crazy-catchy, like cold sore catchy. Just when you think you’ve shaken it, you have another outbreak. What’s irksome about “Wonderland,” however, is Heidi’s half-hearted effort in the video. It looks like she gave the director 10 minutes of camera time, then pulled a Tim Gunn and said, “Make it work.” Who does she think she is, Britney?
The first verse features Heidi in the studio singing the words off a lyric sheet. I know it’s her second language but I still think if you’re trying to cross over into a new showbiz arena, you should learn the words. There’s also some footage of Heidi looking amazing in a lovely white holiday get-up, but the same shots are used over and over and never once does she mouth the word “wonderland,” which leads me to suspect that the shots were repurposed from another endeavor.
Still, it seems to have worked for Heidi. She got her foot in the door with some yuletide cheer and she’s still singing. She recently crooned a duet with Seal at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and guess what, she was off book! Tyra must be thrilled for her.
Kathie Lee Gifford, “Kathie Lee’s Rock ‘n Roll Tots Café: A Christmas Gift”
Regis’ former co-host pays homage to “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” in this holiday special from the 1990s. Kathie Lee plays a waitress with a bouffant, an attitude and a need to rap. That’s right, I said rap.
“Come on, let’s hip hop!” she says to the café o’ tots before bursting into a rap version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I think this is the first time I’ve heard “hip hop” used as a verb, but I kind of dig it. It’s a shame that didn’t catch on. During the rest of the clip, Kathie Lee rocks the mic, busts some moves and basically hip hops her butt off. Can a Timbaland collaboration be far behind?
The “Star Wars” gang, Bea Arthur and Jefferson Starship, “The Star Wars Holiday Special”
I had heard tell of this not-available-on-video debacle for years, but I’d never gotten to see if for myself until YouTube came along. What’s more, some guys from the sketch comedy group Late Night Explosion were nice enough to edit the entire two-hour special into a five-minute best-of sizzle reel that fits nicely into any Christmas stocking.
It’s hard to say who were the biggest Christmas opportunists here because everyone involved likes to act like it never happened. “Star Wars” creator George Lucas has since been quoted as saying, “That’s one of those things that happened, and I just have to live with it.”
One of the show’s writers, Bruce Vilanch, remembers Lucas being more hands on: “It was between ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and George Lucas wanted to keep the flame alive,” the former “Hollywood Square” told the Combustible Celluloid Web site. “He pulled the story out of the vault… and the Wookiees were the central characters. Unfortunately, all the Wookiees can’t speak, so they’re tough to write for. So I said, ‘Well, we have to load this up with stars who sing and dance and do shtick to cover up that the story is about these walking carpets.’”
And boy, did they. Jefferson Starship does a number and Carrie Fisher brings it home a ballad about “Life Day.” My favorite musical moment comes courtesy of Bea Arthur who plays a barmaid at the Cantina on Tatooine and sings “Goodnight, But Not Goodbye” to a roomful of boozed-up aliens.
“I was asked to be in it by the composer of that song,” Arthur later told the Portland Mercury. “I had no idea it was even a part of the whole ‘Star Wars’ thing. I just remember singing to a bunch of people with funny heads.”
God, I miss the ’70s.
Ozzy Osbourne and Jessica Simpson, “Winter Wonderland”
This duet was taped for “The Osbourne Family Christmas Special” a few years back when Ozzy and Jessica were both MTV reality show stars. Truth be told, I can watch Jessica Simpson sing all day long. Her vocal and physical mannerisms are like Lay’s potato chips to me. Once I start in, I can’t stop. My favorite line of Jessica’s comes near the end: “To face unafraid the plans that we made.” It’s got it all: the breathy purr, the bent notes, the reinvented vowels. It’s Jessica-tastic.
But more than the singing, I’m obsessed with Jessica’s flirtatious performance, particularly in the early part of the video. She cannot turn down the sex kitten shtick for two seconds, even when her scene partner is cranky, old and married like Ozzy Osbourne. In fairness, maybe the horny subtext was set up in a previous sketch and makes sense in the context of the whole special, but I like thinking it’s just her regular M.O.
Midway through the clip, Jess and the Oz-man are seen outside building a snowman together. First off, I don’t think they really built that snowman. I think it was someone in the art department. Second, I love the moment where Ozzy takes the carrot from the snowman’s face and jams it in its midsection, giving their creation a roaring case of holiday priapism. Did Joe Simpson sign off on that or was he off somewhere finalizing Ashlee’s TV deal? I wonder.
Ali Lohan, “Christmas Magic”
Last year, Lindsay’s look-alike little sis, Ali, released a Christmas album called “Lohan Holiday.” I’m not sure if the title refers to a holiday with the Lohan family or a holiday from the Lohan family but I’m on board either way.
There’s blatant Christmas opportunism afoot here but I’m not blaming Ali, who was just 12 at the time. Mom Dina’s surely behind it. Where some parents say, “You’re grounded” or “Go to your room!” Ma Lohan probably said, “You’re cutting a Christmas album, young lady, and I don’t want to hear another word about it!”
As for the song, the production is a bit of early ’90s Casio-keyboard heaven. In the video, Ali bears a striking resemblance to Lindsay and she has that same kind of grown-up huskiness to her voice. Her hair looks great, too, very shiny and manageable, like in a Pantene commercial. I kept waiting for Ali to turn to the camera and say, “Just because your big sister misbehaves… doesn’t mean your hair has to.”
Overall, Ali is sweet and likable in her debut video, though she does seem a bit tentative, as if she’s thinking, “How did I get here?” She knows the words, though, and is perfectly happy to lip-sync them, which is more than we can say for a certain other Christmas chanteuse.
So who are your favorite pop culture Christmas opportunists? I’d love to check them out. Anything to get that “Wonderland” song out of my head.
Dennis Hensley is the author of the books, Misadventures in the (213) and Screening Party and co-host of the nationally syndicated radio show, Twist. http://www.dennishensley.com/
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