Billy Joel says he's excited about Sunday night's Kennedy Center Honors gala, in part because he has no idea what to expect.
In keeping with the Kennedy Center Honors' 36-year tradition, the details of the celebratory gala are kept secret from the public and the honorees.
"They kind of ask you in a roundabout way: 'Is there anyone you would be interested in to perform your songs?' " Joel said of his interaction with Kennedy Center organizers. "OK, well, let me reach for the moon: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Pink, Steve Winwood . . . probably a couple of other people I can't remember right now. I just threw a bunch of people's names in there, people whose music I like. But I have no idea who will actually be doing it. Maybe none of the above."
"The whole thing is going to be a surprise," he added. "I'm probably going to be in shock during the whole thing."
Joel and his fellow honorees -- rock guitarist Carlos Santana, jazz great Herbie Hancock, actress Shirley MacLaine and opera singer Martina Arroyo -- are receiving America's highest honor for performers.
Before attending the gala Sunday, they will be the guests of honor at a White House reception. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will accompany the honorees to the Kennedy Center gala. (The ceremony will be broadcast Dec. 29 on CBS.)
Preparations were underway at the Kennedy Center Saturday, where the red carpet had already been cordoned off in the center's Hall of States.
Rehearsals for the gala were running in the Opera House, which will host the event, where the sound of the MacLaine version of "If My Friends Could See Me Now" from "Sweet Charity" could be heard in the halls, even with the doors closed.
Photos of the honorees, as well as a replica of the medallions that signify the Kennedy Center honor -- the American equivalent to British knighthood or France's Legion of Honor -- sit in a case outside the Opera House, across from the 8-foot-high bronze bust of President John F. Kennedy by sculptor Robert Berks.
Organizers added another layer of preparation as they braced for an ice storm forecast to hit the Washington area just as the gala arrivals were scheduled to start.
Joel said he was thrilled by the honor and happy about the structure of the event. "That's the upside of this," he said, laughing. "I don't have to say a damn thing. I don't have to make a speech. I'm just a spectator at this . . . I just hope my suit fits right and they do a nice tailoring job."