'Michael Buble's Annual Christmas Special': Mary J. Blige and Cookie Monster can scat

Michael Buble, the smooth singer with the Rat Pack sensibility, has a contagious love of Christmas.

He's sharing that again in NBC's "Michael Buble's 3rd Annual Christmas Special" on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey and Cookie Monster.

"It has now become a tradition, and NBC and I are happily married, and I will keep doing this," Buble says to Zap2it. "The fact is I would not have a third annual Christmas special if I did not genuinely love this holiday."

The trick is keeping the special, well, special and continuing to make it familiar and homey without being repetitive.

"We live in a very cynical world and times in every way," Buble says. "And I just hope I take people away for an hour and help fill them with the spirit of this beautiful holiday. It is a time when moms and dads can sit with their kids, and the whole family can watch. It is edgy enough for the adults and educational and sweet enough for the kids to watch without any worries."

"And you can be cuddled up on a couch with a couple of cookies," chimes in Cookie Monster, the blue furry Muppet who jumps on the call with Buble.

Each Buble special has featured a "Sesame Street" character. First was Oscar the Grouch, then Elmo, and this year, Cookie Monster makes an appearance.

"Me was sitting by the phone for a year waiting for the phone to ring," Cookie Monster says.

"I got to work with some of the greatest, most iconic monsters ever," Buble says. "For me, Cookie Monster, to say it was an honor is an understatement. I have been a fan of Cookie since I was a little boy. He can sing. He is a triple threat. He has a big heart. He is funny and one of the best cookie-eating monsters I have ever seen."

As they chat, the two play off each other. Cookie invites Buble to Sesame Street, offering to buy him lunch at Hooper's. Buble volunteers that Cookie is a "very good jazz singer." Cookie says, "Me could do a little bit of scat."

Not to disparage Cookie -- for some things in life are sacred -- one of the special's other guests, Mary J. Blige, can scat with the best of them.

"I hope people take away that Mary can scat," Blige says of her talents, and that viewers react: "Wow! We didn't know."

Blige, who is promoting her Christmas album, sings "The Christmas Song."

"I sing 'Chestnuts' with Michael Buble, not as smooth as Nat King Cole," she says of the man she thinks sang it best.

Blige also does a solo of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Overall, she keeps the arrangements traditional, Blige says. But she added something special with "Rudolph."

" 'Rudolph' was the only one we did different," Blige says, "because it is big band, but still traditional, jazz and big band. With 'Rudolph,' I thought about Ella [Fitzgerald] and Aretha [Franklin]."

Though Buble gushes about listening to Christmas songs throughout the year, Blige says she's "not going to lie" and does not tune in. Like most people, she starts listening to Christmas music just after Thanksgiving.

She does, though, have her favorites, including "The Christmas Song," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland."

Incidentally, Cookie Monster has his favorites, too.

" 'Blue Christmas,' " he says. "And me have a fuzzy blue Christmas without you."

Buble spars with Cookie Monster. It's clear the Canadian singer, a new dad to Noah, is enchanted by the Muppet and most of all by Christmas.

His first NBC Christmas special featured Justin Bieber and Kellie Pickler. His second had one of the all-time great opening numbers, which could serve as a travel commercial for his hometown of Vancouver.

His guests recognize how genuine Buble is about Christmas.

Blige says she hopes they take some of "the Christmas spirit and how much Michael cares about everyone, and what they should be feeling around Christmastime."

Blige recalls watching animated Christmas specials growing up but not the annual shows featuring singers. Buble, though, has seen them and says he loves them and wants his to honor that tradition while forging his own.

"Every year will be a little different," he says. "Last year we had a cold opening where we had produced this opening segment of 'Let It Snow' while landing in Vancouver. And of course, this year I don't want to give it away. It's as authentic.

"There is no better grass-roots way to make music than the way I started this special," he continues. "It started as an accident. I was sitting backstage and rehearsing a song with a couple of the boys, and the producer came and said, 'This is so cool, just how real this is.' And I thought, 'What a great opening!'

"This year what is really special for me p- and having done it a few years -- is I am really comfortable, more than I ever was before on the stage and with this audience, and [it] allowed me to be present and enjoy the moment."
Photo/Video credit: NBC,