Interesting gatherings are in many people's holiday plans, and Ellen DeGeneres has a big one on tap.
The award-winning comedian and syndicated talk show star spends a "Christmas in Washington" by hosting the annual TNT variety special Friday, Dec. 17. Taped the previous weekend at the National Building Museum in the nation's capital -- before an audience that was slated to include President and Mrs. Obama -- the program features Mariah Carey, Annie Lennox, Andrea Bocelli, Morrison ("Glee"), Miranda Cosgrove ("iCarly") and Maxwell as showcased performers.
"It's going to be fun ... I can't wait," DeGeneres says of her added television duty for the holidays. "I'm just going to be me, and I think the reason they asked me to do it is that they think I can. It's a great group of talent, and I'm thrilled that I get to witness it myself. I'm there as a fan as well. I love all these people, and it's going to be amazing, an incredible event.
"I don't feel intimated by it at all," adds DeGeneres. "It's not heavy lifting for me, a pretty easy gig as they go. I think it's going to be a fun night, just like the Grammys, the Oscars or any other special I would host. I like (the Obamas) very much. I've met them both, and I certainly have respect for them. I know the first lady watches my show, and it makes me feel good that she's a fan of mine. I'm happy to be there and be around them."
Many familiar tunes can be expected from the latest "Christmas in Washington," which is again under the stewardship of veteran producer George Stevens Jr. Carey is particularly versed in sounds of the season, having recently released her second holiday album, "Merry Christmas II You."
DeGeneres says her favorite holiday songs include "all of Mariah's, just to be safe. And if anybody else has had a Christmas album, all of theirs, too. Whatever they're going to play, I'm going to be really happy with. I'm going to be in Washington, so I'm starting to be political."
Even the most casual "Ellen DeGeneres Show" viewer knows the weekday program gets into the holiday spirit big-time, but its host maintains she always has that feeling: "I've never understood a New Year's resolution, or Thanksgiving being the day to be grateful. I'm grateful every day, I really am. I try to make a resolution every morning when I wake up, and I try to live my life in a kind way."
Many guests of DeGeneres' show are likely to consider "kind" an understatement when it comes to her. "I've been giving cars away," she notes, "and giving money to people who have been in these horrible situations. It reminds me how lucky I am. Every single day, I get to meet people who show me what's really going on, and it makes me so happy that I can help alter someone's life or give them hope -- or even make someone smile by doing the show every day."
DeGeneres has an ongoing relationship with Turner Broadcasting, which owns TNT, through specials she's done for TBS' Comedy Festival the past several years.
"They've been very good to me," she says. "It started out with me doing just one special, and that went well and people liked it, so I made a deal to do more. I like to do different things; I don't think I could just be a talk show host. With having done stand-up, traveling as much as I did and even doing a sitcom and movies, it's nice to challenge myself and get outside the comfort zone."
"Every time I think my life can't get better, in work or relationships or anything, every year surpasses the last," DeGeneres claims. "I'm constantly surprised by the love that pours in from fans and people that I had no idea that I impact. First and foremost, I'm happy, which I think translates and makes other people happy. It's been just an incredible year ... the best year so far, I think."
One thing DeGeneres is leaving behind in 2010 is "American Idol," and she has no regrets about departing the Fox talent competition after her one season as a judge. "I think it needed to be a whole different show, and I knew when I was still a part of it that they didn't think they could just get one person to replace Simon (Cowell, who also left 'Idol' this year). That was going to be a lot of pressure on that person.
"I realized it was too much of a workload for me, but it wasn't just that," DeGeneres explains. "No matter if I tried to be funny or whatever I said, I was crushing someone's dreams, even if it was true and they shouldn't have been onstage or it was the wrong direction for them to go. You can say you're helping somebody by that, but I know what rejection feels like. It doesn't feel good in a room with two people, much less on national television. That was harder for me than I imagined."
With Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler joining returnee Randy Jackson at the "American Idol" judges table starting next month, DeGeneres says, "I think the whole vibe will be different. I hear there's not the meanness that was there before, and that's probably a good thing. I think there's enough negativity in the world."