This weekend, certain celebrities are flocking to Disney World for the annual taping of the Christmas Day Parade. The parade is usually filmed way before the actual Christmas Day, along with any promotions, specials, and interviews Disney may do with the stars of their Disney Channel shows, and other family-friendly performers.
Last year, Disney began taping concerts at all four of their parks for a Thanksgiving TV special (some of these concerts were also shown during the 2016 Disney World Christmas Day Parade). Eric and I happened to visit the parks during this weekend, and in front of every park was a sign that read, “Holiday Taping Scheduled Today.” We had no idea that we’d get to participate in one of these tapings.
The hosts last year were Derek and Julianne Hough, and some of the performers included Alessia Cara, Kelly Clarkson, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, Jordan Fisher, and Sofia Carsen (of Disney’s Descendents). We were lucky enough to see JoJo, who, until that night, I had no idea was one of my husband’s personal favorite singers.
We began our day at Epcot for a quick sampling of the 2016 International Food and Wine festival, along with a peek of the Chase Lounge for Disney Chase cardholders. The lounge was in the American Adventure pavilion, and it was my first time going into a “special” lounge (sadly, I’m not DVC- yet). It was cool, to me at least. There was free (FREE) soda, air-conditioned seats, outlets to charge your devices, and stations to make FastPasses. It was nice, but crowded, and there was a line to get in, so that the cast members could keep the lounge from overcrowding.
Then we went to Animal Kingdom, where I was excited to try all the new nighttime stuff. I was most excited for the Tree of Life awakening show. Until…darkness fell, we made our way to the front of the park, and- record scratch- saw bright studio lights shining on Animal Kingdom’s magnificent icon.
I remembered the “Holiday Taping” sign we had passed on the way into the park, and my hopes plummeted. I was not going to get to see the show tonight. A cast member was busy putting up ropes nearby, and was directing people around the tree. I overheard other guests ask “Who’s performing?”
“Jojo,” the cast member answered, without much enthusiasm.
The other guests seemed confused. None of them had apparently heard of her.
I remembered exactly two of Jojo’s songs, and remembered her from the movies Aquamarine and RV. However, I didn’t consider myself a huge fan. I noticed that crew members were setting up a stage in front of the Tree of Life, complete with a piano, candles, and fake presents decorating the scene. It was very Christmasy, even though it was only the first week of November.
I was ready to leave, as we had reservations at the Boathouse at Disney Springs later in the evening, and I was starting to get hungry and a bit cold. All I had had since leaving Epcot was a Starbucks from Creature Comforts. But then, I saw the look on my husband’s face.
He looked excited. I could tell he wanted to stay and catch a glimpse of Jojo, so we waited, along with a bunch of teenage (and tween-age) girls. We hadn’t exactly been planning on being part of the audience, but apparently, the crew didn’t think there were enough guests waiting anxiously for Jojo to appear.
As the night grew darker, the Animal Kingdom day guests dispersed, and only those picked to stay for the holiday taping remained, huddled around the makeshift stage.
I fully expected us to get kicked out, until a cast member poked his head out, and yelled into the wave of guests streaming out of the park, “Does anyone want to be a part of the audience? We have a few spaces left!”
They had more than a few spaces- the audience was half empty. Nevertheless, Eric grabbed my arm and practically bowled over all the little girls waiting anxiously for the performance. Suddenly, I found myself shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of families with young kids. A few flashing lights were passed around to us, in colors of blue and white. Apparently, we were supposed to put these lights around our fingers and wave them in the air when Jojo sang, like when people used to wave lighters in the air at concerts.
I hoped the concert would be quick, but again, my hopes were dashed. I was starving by this point, and it seemed like it would be a while before Jojo came out. However, as the Ghost Host would say, there was no turning back now. We were stuck in the crowd.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, the hype man keeping the crowd entertained disappeared, and more crew members walked the stage, testing the lighting and adjusting the camera. I distinctly gave myself the once-over, realizing how un-Christmasy and disheveled I looked next to everyone else. I also didn’t have a young child with me, which seemed essential for this performance. However, this didn’t seem to matter to the crew. All that mattered was the appearance of a full house.
Jojo herself came out soon after, and she stood right next to us in a glittery gold gown. She looked beautiful, but nervous and slightly aloof. I didn’t blame her- I would be nervous too if I was on display like that, getting ready to perform live for a crowd at Disney World. Sofia Carsen soon came out to join her, and she looked a little more relaxed. She smiled at a few kids and gave them hugs.
Her and Jojo read out some Christmas-themed interview questions from a nearby teleprompter. Sofia asked questions like, “what is your favorite holiday tradition?” Every time they finished their round of questions, the audience was instructed to cheer and clap. They repeated this routine three times, before the director decided they were done. Sofia gave Jojo a hug, promptly disappeared, and then Jojo took the stage.
It took another half an hour to get the lighting right, and then Jojo belted out a warbled rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Then she sang it again. And again. Each time she did better, but my arms were getting tired waving those damn finger lights over and over.
Eventually Jojo thanked the audience and left. She looked relieved for the performance to be over, and I was too. I wanted dinner at the Boathouse. Alas, the audience was not done yet.
The crew played back the recording of Jojo singing, and now focused their cameras on the audience so they could get B-roll shots of us cheering and waving our arms around. At one point, recorded-Jojo sang a high note, and a lady told the audience to “whoop” loudly.
After at least three hours, we were done, and were told to look for the performance on ABC on Thanksgiving Day.
It was freezing, and Animal Kingdom was empty. However, my husband looked happy to have seen his favorite singer, and I was happy to finally enjoy some food at Disney Springs.
Fast-forward to Thanksgiving that year, and we watched the special on TV. Jojo’s part lasted only a few minutes, and the audience was barely shown. Her interview with Sofia Carsen didn’t even make the cut, and Eric and I weren’t seen at all. However, it was a neat glimpse into the filming process that goes into making these specials. No viewer at home would ever know that Jojo sang repeatedly, and that we were there standing around for hours.
Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience. I’m looking forward to watching all the 2017 Disney Holiday Specials from the comfort of my own home this year.
For anyone wondering what the concert ended up looking like, here’s a YouTube Video:
Has anyone else seen a Holiday Taping at a Disney park?
Hugs and Fishes,