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5 Key Moments From the Kennedy Center Honors Including George Clooney and … Borat

Get the inside preview on America’s top culture awards show airing Dec. 28

spinner image Kennedy Center honorees U2 members Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., The Edge and Bono along with Amy Grant, Gladys Knight, George Clooney and Tania León
(Top row, left to right): U2 members Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., The Edge and Bono. (Bottom row, left to right) Amy Grant, Gladys Knight, George Clooney and Tania León.
Gail Schulman/CBS

A slew of famous faces descended upon the nation’s capital on Dec. 4 for the glittery, star-studded 45th Kennedy Center Honors, back in full swing after the pandemic challenges of past years. This year’s recipients, George Clooney, Amy Grant, Gladys Knight, Tania León and U2, sat alongside President Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden as they were celebrated by an A-list ensemble onstage, a top-secret surprise to the honorees until showtime. Here’s a sneak peek at what you’ll see when the gala performance airs Dec. 28 (8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS):

The biggest applause of the show

spinner image Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi at the the 45th Kennedy Center Honors
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (middle) and husband Paul Pelosi (right)
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

The cheering crowd gave a standing ovation to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul Pelosi, in his first public appearance since he was attacked in their San Francisco home in October.

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Garth Brooks sings Gladys Knight’s greatest hit

spinner image Gladys Knight at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors
Gladys Knight
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Patti LaBelle called Knight “my sister friend, my everything for six decades.” “She’s no ordinary star,” said 2017 Kennedy Center honoree LL Cool J. “She connects with you on a deeper, spiritual level. … I once heard her sing her ABC’s and I thought I was in church!” Garth Brooks, who received the honor last year and was feted by Knight, returned to repay the favor. “What was once ‘Midnight Plane to Houston’ — true story — became ‘Midnight Train to Georgia,’ ” he said before performing her classic hit. (Knight is a Pullman porter’s granddaughter from Atlanta who always took the train in her early touring days, so the title change was apt.) Mickey Guyton sang “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” while Ariana DeBose rocked out with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

George Clooney gets kudos from Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and his beaming dad

spinner image George Clooney at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors
George Clooney
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Julia Roberts appeared onstage in a dress emblazoned with photos of her friend Clooney. “This old thing?” she joked. “I’m here for Gladys Knight, can’t you tell?” She said Clooney is a “Renaissance man” who’s “profoundly present and attentive to the world around him.” His father, Nick Clooney, joined Roberts onstage, which was designed to look like a bar. “He has never stopped surprising me,” said the actor’s proud dad. Friend and costar Matt Damon said when it comes to working with Clooney, he has “loved every minute of it. … He is one of the most talented people I have ever met.” Said actor Richard Kind, “Humanity — that is the secret to his charisma.”

Chita Rivera and Sheryl Crow hail Amy Grant’s God-given talent

spinner image Amy Grant at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors
Amy Grant
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Singer-songwriter Amy Grant became the first-ever contemporary Christian music artist to receive the honor. Chita Rivera said Grant’s success came “without ever compromising her faith or individuality.” Katie Couric said,  “She’s always remained grounded, humble and grateful. She has never lost sight of the things that really matter: faith and family.” Singer Sheryl Crow said Grant “taught me that it was possible to be funny, irreverent and Christian all at the same time,” before performing Grant’s hit “Baby, Baby,” Grant’s 1991 love song to her then-infant daughter Millie.

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Tania León makes a ‘Stride’ for women and modern dance

spinner image Composer Tania Leon at the 45th Kennedy Center Honor
Tania León

Composer and conductor Tania León, who left Cuba as a refugee in 1967, was honored by ballet dancers from the Dance Theatre of Harlem, which she helped found. The Kennedy Center Orchestra performed from her 2021 Pulitzer Prize-winning work, “Stride,” inspired by women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony. “She knows exactly what she wants, and she trusts you to get it,” said jazz pianist Jason Moran, who along with his wife, singer Alicia Hall Moran, and cellist Sterling Elliott played one of León’s works, “Oh Yemanja.”

Borat, Eddie Vedder, Brandi Carlile and Sean Penn honor U2

spinner image Adam Clayton, Bono, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr. of U2 at the 45th Kennedy Center Honors
(Left to right) Adam Clayton, Bono, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr. of U2
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Sasha Baron Cohen drew lots of laughs during the U2 tribute as he took to the stage in character as Borat, who pretended to mistake Biden for Trump and joked, “Kanye tried to move to Kazakhstan … but we said no … he’s too anti-Semitic, even for us.” As for U2, he had a request: “Your band fight oppressions from around the world. Stop it!” Irish rockers Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr.’s U2 is just the fifth band to receive the honor, which used to be awarded solely to individuals. Sean Penn hailed them as “four scrappy Dublin punks.” Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder performed their hits “Elevation” and “One,” while — after some technical difficulties you won’t likely see on TV — singers Brandi Carlile, Irish musician Hozier and Ukrainian singer Jamala wrapped up the show with their rendition of “Walk On.”

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