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Christmas Comes to Washington

Poinsettias and politics mixed and mingled at Sunday's Christmas in Washington holiday concert as President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama watched a glittery lineup of artists treat guests to festive performances at the National Building Museum.

Rob Thomas, Mary J. Blige, Sugarland, Neil Diamond, Usher and Justin Bieber were on hand to sing holiday tunes new and old to a crowd of about 500 at the museum, which was festooned with all the things that make a Washington Christmas: sparkling trees, bright red poinsettias, twinkly lights and Secret Service agents.

"Welcome to Christmas in Washington, where Santa is a registered independent," host George Lopez joked at the start of the show.

During the show's rehearsal Saturday, Diamond paused and pointed to a person seated in the audience. "You are sitting where the president of the United States is going to be sitting tomorrow, so I am going to go like this," Diamond said before doing a little dance.

Diamond opened the show with a rousing performance of Joy to the World, Winter Wonderland and his original song Cherry, Cherry Christmas.

Blige, clad in a fitted shiny sheath dress, sang a soulful rendition of The Christmas Song.

Introducing a special performance by YouTube sensation Justin Bieber, Lopez pointed out, "Like you, Mr. President, this young man has many fans trying to shake his hand without permission." The 15-year-old sang Stevie Wonder's Someday at Christmas, a song sure to have delighted the Obamas, who are fans of Wonder.

"I'm Mr. Christmas," Thomas joked before the show. Thomas, who performed at the ceremonial lighting of New York's Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, came to Washington to sing his original song A New York Christmas, which he wrote after 9/11 and benefits his charitable foundation, Sidewalk Angels.

Even though a holiday album was never an option for his band, Matchbox Twenty - "Our bass player was Jewish and never wanted to do a Christmas record" - "now that I've started to do more solo stuff, then maybe I could. And at 37 it sounds like more fun than it did at 27. At 37 you don't care about being cool."

Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, who recently released a holiday album of their own, sang the title song, Gold and Green. "We wanted to try our hand at least at writing Christmas classics in the style of Bing Crosby, where it's orchestrated," Nettles says. Adds Bush: "Melodies you'll never forget. If you think about it, they're like nursery rhymes for grown-ups."

Nettles, who was in the nation's capital a week ago to sing at the Kennedy Center Honors, joked that between that and her performance at Obama's inauguration, she has it down when it comes to singing for the president: "I'm pretty sure at this point I can just come over and knock on his door with a casserole."

At the end of the program, Obama thanked the performers "for sharing wonderful holiday spirit this evening." As he named each of the artists, Obama mispronounced Bieber's name. Correcting his error, Obama explained his mistake by noting "he was just discovered," and the crowd laughed.

The program concluded with the Obamas joining all of the artists in singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

The show will air at 8 p.m. ET/PT Dec. 20 on TNT. Christmas in Washington benefits the National Children's Medical Center.

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