Ariana Grande seems to have taken the constant comparisons in stride. From “the new Mariah” to post-millennial Mariah Carey, the cherub-cheeked 20-year-old has been giving fans M.C. flashbacks since she dropped her breakthrough “The Way.” But on Wednesday (December 4), viewers got to see the diva and her heir apparent share a stage as they gave back-to-back performances during NBC’s tree-lighting special.
With an introduction from “Today” show hosts Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker and Natalie Morales, “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” kicked off live from the New York City landmark with a performance by Carey, whose “All I Want For Christmas” is now a holiday classic on par with “White Christmas.”
Draped in a sequined white gown and matching opera gloves, Carey launched into a gospel-infused “Joy to the World,” even hitting her signature whistle tone in a soaring crescendo. She was flanked by a dancing tween chorus in red-and-white robes, and the set was decorated with frosty white Christmas trees accented by the NYC landmark’s famous gold Prometheus sculpture.
For her second turn, Carey upped the glam, donning black leather opera gloves, a slinky red gown and a white fur stole. And she delivered what fans braving the December chill and viewers at home wanted to hear: an upbeat performance of her seasonal staple “All I Want for Christmas.”
But the massive crowd lining the plaza from 47th to 50th streets was clearly impressed with Grande too. Though she can’t yet lay claim to a “new classic,” the Nickelodeon star-turned-singer has been vying for a permanent spot on your December playlist with a string of releases that will eventually comprise her four-track EP, Christmas Kisses, due December 10.
“She’s ’the voice.’ When you think of a singer, you think of Mariah Carey. … And I’ve been compared to her my whole life,” Grande has said, adding that she considers any comparisons to the pop superstar to be a major compliment.
Her rendition of “Love Is Everything” on Wednesday only confirmed the similarities. Rocking her signature half-ponytail, white gloves and a cape, Grande glided easily and impressively between her vocal registers, but eschewed the gymnastics that marked Mariah’s performance. A group of bomber-jacket clad teens joined her on the chorus of the track, which celebrates love as the best gift you can’t wrap.
In the lead-up to the annual Christmas tree lighting, Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige, Leona Lewis, and Toni Braxton and Babyface filled out a robust lineup of powerhouse vocalists during the one-hour special. All of the artists have holiday albums on the way. The Rockettes, Jewel the Goo-Goo Dolls were also among the show’s highlights.