THE EVENT "The 36th Annual Kennedy Center Honors"
WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS/2
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Kennedy Center Honor is the highest award America bestows on its performers -- the equivalent of getting knighted in England or receiving the Legion of Honor in France. This year, rockers Billy Joel and Carlos Santana, jazz great Herbie Hancock, actress Shirley MacLaine and opera singer Martina Arroyo received the award in Washington, followed by a celebration they watched while seated with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
The other great thing about the Kennedy Center Honors is that it may be the only lifetime achievement award show that needs a spoiler alert, since all those paying tribute are a surprise to everyone in attendance, including the honorees themselves.
MY SAY So, well, spoiler alert. There were so many surprises at the event on Dec. 8 that I couldn't (shouldn't) possibly spoil them all, though even knowing who will appear and what they perform doesn't quite capture how well all of it was handled. (I haven't seen the edited version of the ceremony viewers will see Sunday night.)
Perhaps the more unexpected appearance was Levittown native Bill O'Reilly, who honored Hancock.
"I know," the host of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" said, reacting to the audible gasps at the Kennedy Center when his name was announced as a speaker. "I was surprised, too."
Like the tribute to Joel, which ranged from Panic! At the Disco's Brendon Urie doing "Big Shot" to Garth Brooks doing a medley of "Only the Good Die Young," "Allentown" and "Goodnight Saigon," Hancock's tribute was also remarkably eclectic, from Snoop Dogg to a stunning collection of jazz greats that included Wayne Shorter and Terence Blanchard.
Another unexpected choice was having Sonia Sotomayor pay tribute to opera singer Arroyo, who the Supreme Court justice called "my kind of diva." The great Harry Belafonte jokingly used Santana as an example of how Mexican immigrants were taking away American jobs, adding that if it wasn't for Santana, calypso could have made a big comeback. "We should've built a bigger fence," Belafonte joked, though his tribute quickly turned serious as he told Santana, "Your music teaches us to be happy."