‘American Idol’ notes: Kellie Pickler interview for ‘Christmas in Graceland,’ Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, David Archuleta

As interim school superintendent Eve trims budgets, and now she’s in her hometown where it’s personal. Her handsome neighbor Liam is a music teacher and Eve feels his program must be cut. But luckily her friend is married to an IT guy, who’s created a website for donations directly to save the Arts program. Launched during the tree lighting ceremony, where Liam’s students will perform, the website could provide the Christmas miracle the town needs. Already the Universe is cooperating. Eve is back home and she, Liam and his daughter look like they might be celebrating many a future Christmas.  Photo: Kellie Pickler, Wes Brown  Credit: ©2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Katherine Bomboy

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As interim school superintendent Eve trims budgets, and now she’s in her hometown where it’s personal. Her handsome neighbor Liam is a music teacher and Eve feels his program must be cut. But luckily her friend is married to an IT guy, who’s created a website for donations directly to save the Arts program. Launched during the tree lighting ceremony, where Liam’s students will perform, the website could provide the Christmas miracle the town needs. Already the Universe is cooperating. Eve is back home and she, Liam and his daughter look like they might be celebrating many a future Christmas. Photo: Kellie Pickler, Wes Brown Credit: ©2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Katherine Bomboy

Originally posted Friday, November 16, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

In a world where dozens of original Christmas movies are pumped out by networks such as Lifetime, Up, Freeform, Bounce and TV One, Hallmark is the true elf factory in terms of pure volume. The challenge: differentiating one from another.

Fortunately, Kellie Pickler in her first starring acting role has a major star in Elvis Presley. Sure, the King of Rock and Roll hasn't been earthbound in four-plus decades, but his home Graceland remains a major tourist attraction and is a focal backdrop for the film.

For the first time in ages, the estate of Elvis allowed filmmakers to shoot on the grounds and his music is very much the backdrop of the thoroughly charming “Christmas at Graceland.” It airs on Hallmark at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 17.

“I got to learn the whole history of Elvis, the person behind the songs I know so well,” said Pickler in a recent interview.

Pickler plays against type in a sense as a Chicago commercial banker and single mom Laurel, who travels to her hometown Memphis to close a bank purchase deal that pits money vs. mom-and-pop spirit.

While showing Graceland to her adorable seven-year-old daughter Emma, Laurel naturally bumps into a former singing partner and love interest Clay, played by Hallmark movie vet Wes Brown.

As a concert promoter for the Graceland Christmas concert, he sets up a private tour of Graceland for her. She has chosen the banking path because it’s practical but (not really a spoiler alert given that this is a Christmas movie) Clay rekindles her love for music and... him.

“It’s just a sweet little love story,” Pickler said.

No surprise to say Pickler gets to sing some classic Christmas carols as Laurel including a cool “Silver Bells”/“Silent Night” mash-up with Clay. And if you are playing Christmas movie trope Bingo, here’s an early teaser: Christmas S’mores? Yummy. Tree decorating? Sure.  Ice skating? You bet! Snow angels? A hot cocoa stand? Christmas caroling? Check, check and check! And you’d have to be a Scrooge not to expect a Scrooge reference.

And since this movie revolves around Graceland, Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” pops up.

Plus: snow is always on the ground in this movie, though that isn't typically the case in Memphis in December.

Pickler did not audition. Hallmark, she said, approached her and offered her the role. “I said, ‘Are you sure about that?’” she said. “I read the script, loved the story. It was sweet. This was a really good way to see if I can enjoy acting.”

The answer: she did. “I loved it!” she said. “If the right opportunities come in the future, I’ll do it.”

For now, she still does tour dates and hosts a syndicated talk show with Ben Aaron out of Nashville called "Pickler and Ben." (It airs in Atlanta on WATL-TV at 8 a.m. weekdays.)

At this point in her career, 12 years removed from “American Idol,” a talk show is a perfect use of her adorably likable persona following many goofy appearances on “Ellen” and her appropriately titled CMT reality show “I Love Kellie Pickler.”

"We've really created a family here at 'Pickler and Ben,'" she said. "We look out for each other. We take care of each other. It's really amazing." 
The show is lighthearted and happily spirited, with New Yorker Ben a contrast to small-town North Carolina native Pickler. "It's never a dull moment with Ben," she raved. "He's such a nut. I've found a big brother I never had."

Pickler has always had a fraught relationship with technology. I recall interviewing her years ago when she lamented constantly losing her cell phone. She said her current one has a screen that looks like a spider web. And she admits she does not post often enough on Instagram, the home of choice for most celebrities. (She has 511,000 followers.)

After I spoke with her on November 6, she has since posted there three times, including her looking fab on the red carpet of the CMA Awards.

Speaking of Pickler, she will appear on NBC’s annual “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” special airing Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 8 p.m.

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NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 14: (FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Singer Carrie Underwood poses with award during the 52nd annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 14, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

Credit: Terry Wyatt

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 14:  (FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Singer Carrie Underwood poses with award during the 52nd annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 14, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

Credit: Terry Wyatt

Combined ShapeCaption
NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 14: (FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Singer Carrie Underwood poses with award during the 52nd annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 14, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

Credit: Terry Wyatt

Credit: Terry Wyatt

Carrie Underwood won CMA Female Vocalist of the Year for the fifth time Wednesday night.

There was no shortage of "Idol" related folks on the show, which is no surprise since it aired on ABC. The Entertainer of the Year was former "Idol" judge Keith Urban, presented by current "Idol" judge Lionel Richie. The opening act was current "Idol" judge Luke Bryan.

The opening monologue features Carrie pregnant (it's a boy!) and Brad Paisley singing a parody song called "A Star is Bored," the "Flossing" dance and jokes about celebrities in Nashville with their own bars. Best joke: "2018 has been a great year for men in country music," Brad said. "Yah... finally!" Carrie exclaimed.

Lauren Alaina lost Best New Artist to Luke Combs. Why is she still a new artist? Who knows...

As part of a cross promotion, three "Idol" hopefuls for season 2 (or 17 depending on your point of view) vie for your votes. Here's the winner Meghan Woods, a small town girl from North Carolina. Maddie Poppe announced her on "Good Morning America."

Pickler does some backstage work and Carrie performs her latest single “Love Wins.”

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And since I'd be remiss not to mention Pickler again, David Archuleta performs "Christmas Every Day" on "Pickler and Ben."

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Steve Carell, on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon," recently finally met Kelly Clarkson, whose name he uttered spontaneously while getting his chest waxed in that classic scene in "The 40-Year Virgin" 13 years ago. "We accosted her," she said. "She couldn't have been nicer. I thought she'd be mad at me about that. Is he making fun of me in anguish? I love Kelly Clarkson."

This has plenty of curse words far worse than “Kelly Clarkson!”

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Jennifer Hudson has released a video for her song "I'll Fight" for the documentary "RBG," about Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The video features footage of women's liberation marches through the decades.

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Clay Aiken Tweet of the Week

He gets a laugh from a little topical humor tied to his loss 15 years ago...