Grace and her mom and her grandma and her choir teacher take a school bus to the competition because apparently their other cars couldn’t fit them or something. Maybe the movie’s quirkiness level wasn’t high enough and Zooey Deschanel wasn’t available so they resorted to this. When they finally arrive at the hotel in Pigeon Forge, there’s a Christmas tree in the distant background! Do you see it? I swear it was there. Don’t tell me I hallucinated it.
Anyway, they’re greeted by a nice fellow who immediately assumes that Grace and her mother aren’t related because Grace is half black, and when he’s corrected he says, verbatim, “Oh, I think that’s so special!” Commence eye roll in 3… 2… The race comments just get more and more frequent from there, because apparently pointing out that there’s a black person in your country music competition is the new black.
Of course Grace’s father shows up to support her and proceeds to turn into a blubbering mess begging for forgiveness and lamenting his own lack of success as a musician. Even though he and Grace make up and all seems to be mended, he and the mother still manage to get into an argument over who hugs Grace first before she goes on stage because they’re still the absolute worst. Dolly Parton witnesses this awkwardness and goes into Grace’s dressing room to give her a pep talk. I can’t decide if this would be embarrassing or inspiring if it happened to me, but I would really like Dolly Parton to say I’m a “precious little gem” when I’m sad, so I wouldn’t complain.
So the contest begins with a dozen Christmas trees on the stage to remind us that this movie is about Christmas even though the holiday hasn’t been mentioned for an hour and a half. Grace’s competitors are an annoying country caricature named Mary Lou Memphis (Camille Sanders) and a cute cowboy-hat-wearing Texan who plays the piano named Jamie Warner (Dillon James Galanski) Jamie and Grace share so many flirty glances I thought they would be married by the end of the movie, but we don’t get to see that part. Of course Mary Lou and Jamie sing goofy, stereotypically country songs called “Fiddlin’ Around” and “Dirt Road Dream” while Grace goes the Taylor Swift route and sings “Miss You, Miss Me,” an extremely literal ballad about how much her parents suck that includes the lyric “You didn’t dee-vorce me” and turns her name into a pun at least twice.
Thankfully the judges make the right decision and crown Jamie the winner. But of course Grace is the real winner in her horrible parents’ eyes. And those parents, by the way, get back together at the end of the movie, because apparently divorced couples are incapable of staying divorced by the end of movies. We end the movie singing “Silent Night,” but that still doesn’t make this a Christmas movie. At the end of Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret, Jodi sings “O Holy Night” like a creeper but they didn’t name it Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Christmas Secret.