McKnight, Williams Illuminate Soul Train Starfest

Christmas came early this year as Motown legend Smokey Robinson, gospel diva Yolanda Adams, and Young and the Restless hottie Shemar Moore hosted the 3rd Annual Soul Train Starfest Special Monday evening.

Brian McKnight kicked off the all-star, two-hour Christmas show with his up-tempo original "Home for the Holidays" then jammed with Boyz ll Men on a vibey R&B version of "Let It Snow" — a song the quartet originally recorded on its 1993 LP, Christmas Interpretations.

McKnight, calling himself the "Christmas Special Boy" because of all the yuletide shows he's doing, says his December agenda is busy. "I did [specials with] SHeDAISY, Christina Aguilera, and there's still three or four that I still have yet to do," he tells Wall Of Sound.

On the other end of the spectrum, young singer Kelly Price made her "virgin performance on the holiday scene" with the Mel Tormé classic "The Christmas Song." The soulful singer told the audience, "[This is] the first time I've ever actually done any Christmas special of any kind, and that makes it special for me."

Robinson stepped up from his co-host role to perform a soulful medley of "Oh, Holy Night" and "Silent Night." Backstage, the 60-year-old R&B veteran — who released a comeback album, Intimate, last year — said hosting the show was fun for him. "I'm looking forward to perhaps doing another one."

Glamorous Vanessa Williams, with a little help from her friend George Duke and his orchestra, brought new life to the traditional "What Child Is This" by adding what she described as a "new flavor to it with a jazzy swing arrangement."

Smooth-voiced Lou Rawls, veteran singer Peabo Bryson, funk-soul singer Jeffrey Osborne, gospel's Donnie McClurkin, and the young Donnell Jones also stepped in to raise their voices in the spirit of Soul Train and the Christmas season. This year's Soul Train Starfest Special airs in syndication Dec. 2 through 17.

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