Is it to help sell the new American Idol Christmas CD? Or is it to build anticipation for the third season of Idol, which will debut in January 2004? Or, just maybe, is it an effort to help the Fox network during the November sweeps?

Contestants from the first two seasons of Fox's American Idol, including winners Kelly Clarkson and Ruben Studdard and platinum runner-up Clay Aiken, will perform classic holiday songs for a one-hour Christmas special airing Tuesday, November 25 (8 PM ET/PT) on Fox. The same performers will appear on this special, tentatively titled American Idol: Christmas Songs, that appear on the new CD American Idol: The Great Holiday Classics: Kelly, Ruben, Clay, first season third-place finisher Tamyra Gray, second season fourth-place finisher Kimberly Locke, and first season sixth-place finisher Christina Christian.

The CD, which currently ranks in the Amazon Top 50 even though Christmas remains over 2 months away, includes one solo performance by each of the seven artists (two by Kelly), two duets, and two performances by the entire ensemble. The songs on the CD, which will probably correspond to the songs on the special, include the following:

1. The First Noel - Clay
2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Ruben and Tamyra
3. O Come, All Ye Faithful - All
4. Silent Night - Tamyra
5. Silver Bells - Clay and Kimberly
6. Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town - All
7. The Christmas Song - Kimberly
8. I'll Be Home for Christmas - Justin
9. Winter Wonderland - Christina
10. This Christmas - Ruben
11. Oh Holy Night - Kelly
12. My Grown-Up Christmas List - Kelly

While there are some songs that we're always happy to hear again, we find it difficult to believe that the Idol crew can add anything to the legendary performances turned in by artists such as Bing Crosby ("Silent Night," "I'll Be Home for Christmas") and Nat King Cole ("The Christmas Song"). We also don't understand why Idol impressario Simon Fuller chose to sign Christina to a recording contract with his 19 Entertainment Records imprint -- and her performance on this CD does nothing to dispel our puzzlement. Maybe the TV special will offer a hint.