Screengrab from the 2020 music video for Carrie Underwood and John Legend's Christmas song, "Hallelujah"
Screengrab via YouTube

'Hallelujah': The Story Behind Carrie Underwood + John Legend's Holiday Duet

On paper, Carrie Underwood and pop superstar John Legend teaming in 2020 for a song titled "Hallelujah" reads like another Leonard Cohen tribute waiting to happen. If you jumped to that assumption, your next thought might've been a confused "What's that song got to do with Christmas?" or a heartfelt "Thanks, Shrek!"

Instead, it was a new song, written by Toby Gad and John Stephens and suggested by Legend to Underwood and My Gift producer Greg Wells. Its inclusion upped the holiday album's star power while adding something fresh to a project anchored by a version of "Little Drummer Boy" featuring Underwood's son, Isaiah.

The song's music video debuted on Nov. 19, 2020, and it shows the duo performing in a winter wonderland with only the doves of peace as company. Just a few weeks later, the song reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Christian Songs chart for the week of Dec. 26, knocking Underwood's "Favorite Time of Year" off the top spot.

Underwood quickly knew that "Hallelujah" would fit her Christmas album, especially if it led to a duet with Legend, a 12-time Grammy award-winner.

"I was deep into making the album, and this one kind of came in. He sent it to us kind of at the end," the country music star said on an episode of Today's Country Radio With Kelleigh Bannen on Apple Music Country. "It was like, 'Well, I love the song. I feel like this is a puzzle piece I didn't know was missing, but now that I've heard it, I have to have it. And so we just put the ask back, 'Thank you for sending, do you want to sing a part with me, too?'"

Wells also brought invaluable experience and star power to Underwood's first full-length Christmas album. He's written and produced high-charting singles by Celine Dion, Keith Urban and Pink.

"I've always wanted to make a Christmas album and it's been a long time coming," Underwood said in press statement. "I knew this would be my next music project after wrapping my tour last year, and I think it's turned out to be the perfect time for an album like this, in this period of such personal and spiritual reflection.  For me, it's more important than ever to focus on the true meaning of Christmas in a project like this.  Even though it has been a tough year for all of us, sometimes I feel like the greatest realizations can be inspired by the most difficult times, and make us more grateful for the things we do have and for what truly matters."

My Gift won Top Christian Album at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards. The album has since been certified gold and gotten the deluxe edition reissue treatment, with the addition of three new songs.

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This story previously ran on Dec. 24, 2020.