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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
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
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
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.”