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Ice Storm Slams South, Moving East; North Korea Frees U.S. War Veteran; South Africa Mourns Nelson Mandela; Defense Secretary Hagel in Afghanistan; The Return of a Solid Paycheck; Obama Met with Controversial Uncle

Aired December 7, 2013 - 07:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Flight to freedom. Right now, an American detained in North Korea since October is on a flight back to the U.S. What he said upon his release. His family's reaction, and why North Korea let him go.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: The Grammy nominations are in. Who came out on top? Who got snubbed, and one of the big shockers of the night. Your "NEW DAY" continues now.

HARLOW: Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. 7:00, this is "NEW DAY Saturday." If you're one of the millions of people dealing with this ice and snow, stay bundled up, stay in bed, stay at home with your coffee and stay with us.

HARLOW: Yeah, absolutely. Because you know what, this morning, deadly winter storms hammering cities across the country. In the southwest, rain, sleet, snow, creating very dangerous conditions for drivers, even forcing some cars to spin out of control.

BLACKWELL: Wow, that's Cincinnati. But in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, alone, the ice storm has knocked out power for more than 200,000 customers.

HARLOW: Yes, the weather is so severe, it is also causing a travel nightmare for a lot of flights. The main airport there in Dallas, canceled 700 flights Friday. The storm is already being blamed for at least four deaths across the country.

BLACKWELL: Now, in Tennessee and Arkansas, governors have declared a state of emergency and it's not over yet. Severe weather is now moving east, just as the new storm is expected to hit.

HARLOW: We're covering this story from all angles. But let's begin with Ed Lavandera in snow, cold Dallas this morning.

Officials there, Ed, have called off tomorrow's marathon because of this bone-chilling winter weather, is that right?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have. It's the first time in the history of that event it's been canceled.


LAVANDERA: And also the holiday parade. In fact, in a few days leading up to this, they've been setting up the grandstands along one of the streets in downtown Dallas. And those stands just sit there waiting for crews to clean that up again because that parade that was supposed to happen today was also canceled. But this is going to be a day of trying to catch up and get things right. Several thousand flights canceled out of the area throughout the region. In fact, some 4,000 people had to sleep at the DFW airport terminal last night.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): It's a nightmare of ice, sleet and wicked cold. This winter storm has inspired the most haunting descriptions, icepocalypse. In north Texas, ghost towns left entombed in ice. Trees encased by freezing rain are buckling under the sheer weight of the ice, bring down power lines and leaving more than 250,000 homes without power in Dallas-Ft. Worth. Crews are trying to salvage lines that are still working and the roadways are a hazardous mess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out for the person in front of you and make sure you're ready for the road conditions ahead of you.

LAVANDERA: There have been hundreds of accidents across the region -- cars slipping and sliding off roadways. Three people in Texas and Oklahoma killed in weather-related crashes. On this lake, north of Dallas, the ice crushed this marina, collapsing the roof ton boats floating underneath. And the winter storm has canceled about 2,000 flights across the region, including about 90 percent of flights scheduled to depart Dallas-Ft. Worth airport on Friday.

Just two days ago, this same area was basking in the glow of 80-degree weather but it all disappeared in a matter of hours after the sun went down, the polar express arctic blast scooping in leaving layers of ice and crunching sounds of slush.

(on camera): So, right about now, you probably wish you could escape the frigid temperatures by coming in the "Back to the Future" DeLorean and back in time? You actually don't need do that, just a few hours like 3:52 on a Wednesday afternoon here in downtown Dallas, a beautiful day for a walk in park, sunglasses on, not a cloud in the sky. Ed Lavandera from the past is here to tell you everything is going to be OK. You will be warm once again in the future. I hope.

(voice-over): Most schools and businesses shut down on Friday. The Dallas marathon and holiday parade were also canceled. The first time those events have been called off. But still, quite a few ventured outside. It's better to slip and slide on a hillside than on the highway. It will take several days for temperatures to rebound and for the ice to melt away.


LAVANDERA: And we can't wait for those temperatures to get back. You know, here's the problem that people will have today. Even though a lot of -- the ice had turned into kind of slush on the roadways, yesterday, all of that hardened overnight. Temperatures into the teens last night and here across the north Texas area. And that will, I think, make driving conditions rather are treacherous here this morning as people tried to venture out.

We'll have more on the weather forecast from Jennifer Gray in the CNN weather center to give us an update on how that's going to look like today -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that's exactly right. You know, Dallas right now, 21 degrees. So, what does start to melt during the overnight hours just refreezes. So, then, you're back to square one.

So, it's going to be icy and slushy across Dallas for the next several days. As you make your way to the east, we're seeing Atlanta at 42, 23 in Memphis, and the Northeast, Washington, D.C., at 38 degrees, and it's even cooler as you head up to the north.

Now, this system is pushing offshore. So, we are staying quiet for today. Call today a little bit of a break.

But then by tomorrow, things are going to start to change. This low lifts out of the gulf. And we are going to see more ice and snow possible across the mid-Atlantic. D.C., you could pick up anywhere from half an inch of ice accumulation Sunday into Monday, guys.

HARLOW: Sounds fun. What else do you say to that?

Jennifer, thank you. Appreciate it.

BLACKWELL: Breaking overnight, a Korean War vet van is now safely on a flight to San Francisco right now. Good news this morning. North Korea freed 85-year-old Merrill Newman Friday night, after detaining him for more than a month.

CNN's Athena Jones is covering this, from the White House.

Athena, the Obama administration, they've got to be relieved? Why did North Korea release Mr. Newman?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Victor. This is certainly good news.

North Korea said they released Newman for humanitarian reasons after what they're calling an apology from Newman earlier this morning detailing alleged indiscretions that they say he made. Newman had fought in the Korean War and wanted to go back to the peninsula. So, he's been on this what was supposed to be a 10-day organized private tour, and it was at the end of that tour, the end of October that he was taken off the plane that was heading to Beijing.

So, now, he's happy to have been released and we got a chance to catch up with him, reporters did, in Beijing. Let's listen to what he had to say there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MERRILL NEWMAN, RELEASED BY NORTH KOREA: I'm very glad to be on my way home. And I appreciate the tolerance that DPRK government has given me to be on my way.

REPORTER: How do you feel now?

NEWMAN: Feel good. Feel good.

REPORTER: What are you going to do first thing? What would you like to do?

NEWMAN: I'll go happily and see my wife.


JONES: And certainly, after Merrill Newman sees his wife, there is going to be a lot of people like us who are going to want to talk to him -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Athena, I'm sure there are people who are awaiting to see him at the airport. We know that Vice President Biden was in South Korea today. Did his visit -- was he there, was there in any capacity to try to free Newman? Did he have any role in release?

JONES: Well, the vice president says that he had no direct involvement in this, but he did say -- he did speak with Newman, and he said he offered to give him a ride home on Air Force Two. But Newman instead chose to direct the direct flight to San Francisco and Biden understood that.

I should mention that both Biden and Newman's son, Jeff Newman, talk about this other American who's been in Korea for more than a year, Kenneth Bae and urge the North Korean government to release him immediately -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. CNN's Athena Jones at the White House for us this morning -- thank you.

HARLOW: Also, a blockbuster jobs report sent the mark soaring on Friday. The Dow shot up nearly 200 points after the jobs report shows the unemployment rate hit its lowest level in five years. It is down in 7 percent now. The U.S. saw strong growth in good paying jobs. This is the difference, this is very good, in good paying jobs, like health care sector and construction.

We also saw a bump in retail and hiring which we would expect this time of year, holiday season, employees coming on board for some of that seasonal work.

BLACKWELL: This weekend, paying tribute to Nelson Mandela, with songs and dances and flowers. South Africa honors its beloved father. We're going to take you to Johannesburg ahead.

HARLOW: Also, the silver lining in jobs wasn't that people are just getting back to work, is that they were going back to a lot of high- paying jobs. We'll have one man's story coming up later this hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The story of a man whose ability to see resided not just in his eyes but in his conscience. He was a stranger to hate. He rejected recrimination in favor of reconciliation. And he knew that future demands required that we move beyond the place that he had been.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: After leaving power, he still cared so deeply about issues like AIDS and HIV, for his country, and he never gave up.


BLACKWELL: You heard there from Secretary of State John Kerry and British Prime Minister David Cameron paying tribute to Nelson Mandela.

South Africa is a nation in mourning for their beloved former president.

HARLOW: Yes. But the people there and all around the world, they're also celebrating his life, and 95 years of life. All he did. A man who helped unite his country and years and years of segregation.


CROWD: Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela --


HARLOW: People have been singing and dancing outside of Mandela's home in Johannesburg in his honor.

BLACKWELL: They've left a virtual wall of flowers there. Thousands of people have come by to pay their respects.

CNN's David McKenzie is in Johannesburg.

David, the news of Mandela's death has now sunk in for a lot of people, we're a couple days in now. He was one of the world's most revered leaders. What is the mood like there in Johannesburg?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's 10 days of mourning in South Africa. But, really, the mood is one of celebration. People are gathering together in small and large groups, Victor. They're singing old revolutionary songs some from the '80s, from the '70s. Many different religions, creeds, races, all South Africans gathering together outside of his home north of Johannesburg, and celebrating the life of this great statesman.

Nelson Mandela died at age 95 after a protracted illness. And I think because of that long illness, people were in some sense prepared for this loss. And so, that shock was there, of course, but now, it's just the celebration -- singing, dancing, holding up placards with the image on it. Bringing flowers it's almost like a pilgrimage to his house in Johannesburg, Victor.

HARLOW: And there's so many things, David, to happen before the actual funeral. We know there's a memorial service this week. But we also have just gotten word of some other events. What can you tell us?

MCKENZIE: Well, it's really 10 days of celebrating Mandela's life. Tomorrow, there will be a service from all different faith groups celebrating religious ceremonies of life and times of Nelson Mandela as they're preparing Mandela's body to lie in state. And it's very significant.

On Wednesday through Friday, he'll lie in state with thousands of South Africans or more to view his body, really symbolic that he'll be there at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, such a symbol of the apartheid regime before he came in as South Africa's first democratically elected president.

And what I'm hearing time and time again today from people of all races, is what a personal impact he had on their lives. Many born frees have come here. Children and young adults who are born after the democratic transition here in South Africa. Even the very youngest, their parents telling them they wanted to bring them to soak up some of that Madiba magic. Madiba being Mandela's clan name. People really here celebrating in a uniquely South African way.

BLACKWELL: David, we know that Mandela left office many years. I don't want to overstate because there have been elected presidents, Mbeki and Zuma and so forth. But is there been any anxiety about the future of South Africa without the man that so many South Africans have this personal connection with --


BLACKWELL: Without Mandela's presence, is there anxiety about the future of the country?

MCKENZIE: That's a very good question. I think right are now that anxiety might not be felt because of the sheer emotional feeling that South Africans have.

It's very hard to describe to people who are not South African or haven't been here during the tumultuous times since Mandela was put in prison, for more than 20 years in prison until today. You know, I actually lived two blocks down here in the '80s for two years. During the time that I lived here, black South Africans wouldn't be allowed in this neighborhood without the equivalent passport, a passbook.

Now, just to come here on a moment like this, almost 20 years since the end of apartheid, and looking at all the races celebrating together, it still brings a lump in your throat, the miracle of South Africa's democratic transition. I think that's why seem people are soaking in the life and celebration of Mandela.

What happened next -- well, yes, that is say big question. But South Africa has had a vibrant democracy since '94, and there have been troubles, but certainly now, the time of celebration. And maybe later, after this period, there will be a time to figure out what happens next. But really, it's book end of an historic time.

BLACKWELL: It will continue for at least 10 days and beyond that.

David McKenzie, thank you.

HARLOW: Yes, thanks so much, David.

You know, cities around the world are paying tribute to the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. And last night in New York, one icon, one New York icon paid homage to another.

BLACKWELL: Yes, last night, the lights atop the Empire State Building, were blue, red, yellow and green -- you recognize those colors, the colors of the South African flag -- of course, in Mandela's honor.

HARLOW: Just beautiful site.

Well, still to come on NEW DAY: we named the dog Indiana. Yes, you know what movie that's from. There's a new deal for the Indiana Jones movies. We're going to give you the details next.

Also, music time, the Grammy nominations are out. Did your favorite artist make the cut? What happened with Miley? We're going to tell you next.


BLACKWELL: Hey, if you got plans to hit the movie theaters this weekend, there's one new big release. The thriller out of the furnace starring Christian Bale.

HARLOW: But it's not expected to challenge "Frozen", that Disney movie, or "The Hunger Games", the second in that series, "Catching Fire", for the top stop. "Frozen" will take --in get this -- 38 million bucks. It will just above the "Hunger Games" sequel, "Thor: The Dark World", "Out of the Furnace," and "The Best Man Holiday" are expected to run out the top five.

BLACKWELL: I'm always amazed how they can come up with these estimates and it's still Saturday morning.

HARLOW: Yes, I have no idea how they do it. No idea.

But let's talk about this -- one of the great franchises in film history may get a new lease on life.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those people are trying to kill us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a new experience for me. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Under a new deal, Disney has just acquired the rights to distribute any future Indiana Jones movies. Now, this is the third film, "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade."

HARLOW: Disney said it doesn't have plans for new Indiana Jones films just yet, but I mean, come on, they acquired the rights. So, considering the first four took in nearly $2 billion worldwide, well, you can see the appeal of making a fifth. I'd watch it.


HARLOW: I love that song, I love Katy Perry. That's a sing in your shower or with your car windows rolled up, right?

BLACKWELL: Not to me. I guess it's a nice song.

GRAY: I'm with you on that.

HARLOW: Love, love, love it. We're talking about the Grammies, though.

BLACKWELL: I will say this, though, the Grammy voters nominated "Roar" for song of the year. So, well-deserved. People love it. Along with Pink's "Just Give Me a Reason," Bruno Mars, "Locked Out of Heaven." Lorde's "Royals."

HARLOW: I love that.

BLACKWELL: I love that song. Also love this, when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, "Same Love".

HARLOW: Which I love.

Also, the hip hop duo, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, huge night for these guys. After opening the show, they were named in seven categories, including for best new artists and album of the year, only the one and only --

BLACKWELL: Yes, Jay-Z topped them with nine Emmy nods. Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift also reserved multiple nominations.

HARLOW: So, I'm a big Jay-Z fan, really big, went to the concert last week, love it. Btu Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, that is the group of the year my opinion. Their story is fascinating. "Same Love", you know that?

BLACKWELL: Yes. It's a great song. I love it.

HARLOW: Yes, it's a great song with a big message. It's a message about equality and gay rights and something that I find interesting about them is that Macklemore was like not successful living in his parent's basement and then talks publicly about becoming sober. Said when he became sober, he became so successful. BLACKWELL: Yes, if you haven't heard that, it's "The Heist" is the name of that album.

HARLOW: What's your favorite?

GRAY: I like the "Royals" song.


GRAY: That's my favorite.

BLACKWELL: What about Miley?

GRAY: The film finger?

HARLOW: I don't know.

GRAY: "Wrecking Ball."

HARLOW: Right, did she get any nods?

BLACKWELL: And that's what I don't know, if anybody back in the booth knows this. I actually own that CD "Bangerz".

HARLOW: I think that her songs are great.


HARLOW: Yes, I really love the hits right now from Miley.

BLACKWELL: Wrecking ball is great. I don't know why she had to sing naked on wrecking ball to sit. But --

HARLOW: It was a great -- it is a great song. So, we'll watch out for the Grammys. It's February, right?

BLACKWELL: Yes, I think it's a February.

Coming up, good news, this morning.

HARLOW: Yes, an American released from North Korea. This developing overnight. We're going to bring you all the details, straight ahead.


HARLOW: Well, mortgage rates ended the week mixed. Take a look.


HARLOW: Bottom of the hour, 7:30 a.m. on the East Coast. Welcome back, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Thanks for watching this morning.

Here are five things you need to know for your NEW DAY. First, the storm that has brought ice and snow and freezing temperatures to the southern central U.S. Four deaths are blamed on the weather and more than 200,000 people are out of power. The frigid temperatures are expected to linger through the weekend. And governors of Tennessee and Arkansas have declared states of emergency.

HARLOW: Number two, police are search are for four militants believe to be behind the killing of an American school teacher. Officials say 33-year-old Ronnie Smith was gunned down while jogging in the Libyan city of Benghazi on Thursday. Smith moved to Libya a year and a half ago. And was teaching, he was planning on returning home to his family this month.

BLACKWELL: Number three, thousands of fans of "Fast & Furious" star Paul Walker are expected to attend a memorial at the site of his fiery car crash. And, of course, California police are urging people to obey all traffic rules to ensure the safety of drivers in the area and pedestrians. Police say speed may have been a factor in last week's crash.

HARLOW: Number four, take a look at this -- well, you can't see much because it's in Shanghai, China. It's wreathed in smoke. The government's air pollution monitoring site said the smog has reached the highest ever recorded there, saying it's hazardous to health and authorities have told them to keep children inside.

BLACKWELL: Up now, number five, imagine finding this waiting for you. It's a sinkhole swallowed a car in California. And police believe a sewer issue is to blame there -- still steaming there.

Hey, this is breaking overnight. A Korean War veteran is due in San Francisco in just a few hours now. He's going to have this happy reunion with his family. North Korea freed 85-year-old Merrill Newman Friday night after detaining him for more than a month.

CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson is in Beijing.

Ivan, good morning to you.

Newman seemed to be doing well when he arrived at the airport in Beijing?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Victor. He was all smiles and a free man when he landed here after being deported by the North Koreans. He was met at Beijing airport by U.S. diplomats who gave him the medication he needed to get a health checkup and to help him get a seat on the next flight back home to California.

He said he was really looking forward to seeing his wife. Take a listen.


MERRILL NEWMAN, RELEASED BY NORTH KOREA: I'm very glad to be on my way home. And I appreciate the tolerance that DPRK government has given me to be on my way.

REPORTER: How do you feel now?

NEWMAN: Feel good. Feel good.

REPORTER: What are you going to do first thing? First thing what would you like to do?

NEWMAN: Go home and see my wife.


WATSON: So, Mr. Newman there, the North Koreans have accused him of traveling as a tourist to North Korea under false pretenses. They claim that he was planning hostile acts of North Korea.

And they only let him go after televising a state confession on state TV where he confessed to killing soldiers more than 60 years ago when he himself was a U.S. soldier during the Korean War. But thankfully, this chapter of his life is over, and he will be reunited before the holidays -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Ivan Watson in Beijing for us this morning. Mr. Newman headed back to the U.S.

This just into CNN, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Afghanistan. He arrived in Kabul a short time ago in an unannounced visit. The Pentagon said he's there to thank troops for serving for the work they've done to help the Afghan national security forces.

Secretary Hagel is also planning on meeting with defense officials during this visit.

The November jobs report was one of the strongest of the year for the U.S. And part of what made it so good was not just the number of jobs added but the types of jobs. We're talking about those high-paying jobs in health care and construction and manufacturing.

Alexandra Field is following that angle of the story from New York.

Alexandra, what are we looking at just past the number of jobs added?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, Victor, certainly, those numbers show signs of improvement. But what we know now is that one group seems to be benefitting in particular. Since the recession hit, young people have struggled to find jobs. Last month, more of them started bringing home paychecks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's a big relief actually getting a paycheck, instead of work for minimum wage. I mean, I can actually do stuff now.

FIELD (voice-over): Jeff DeLorenzo graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in engineering. He was underemployed for a year serving coffee until he found full-time work in his field at Flexline, a Linden, New Jersey, manufacturer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We figured there was a great potential there, an engineering degree and we grab them.

FIELD: Young people like DeLorenzo and the recently unemployed are reaping the benefits of an economy that's adding jobs. The latest job report puts the unemployment rate at a five-year low of 7 percent. 203,000 jobs were created in November. And more of them are in higher paying sectors.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: We saw the predictable retail jobs. In leisure and hospitality, bars and restaurants because of the holidays, but we also saw things like manufacturing, business, professional services again tend to pay a little more money. So, these are broad-based jobs gains this month and that's important.

FIELD: The November jobs report was better than expected. For a third year in a row, more than 2 million jobs have been created. Still, that's not enough to make up for the 9 million jobs lost between 2008 and 2009.

FIELD (on camera): Did you think it was going to be difficult finding a job?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought I was going to be handed a job. I thought people are going to be asking me to have a job.

FIELD (voice-over): In the last year, unemployment dropped nearly a full percentage point but 11 million people are searching for jobs. And the long-term unemployed are struggling the most. In some places, people are fighting for work.

Last month, Walmart opened 2,000 stores. There were 600 jobs and 23,000 applicants.

ANNALYN KURTZ, CNN MONEY: If you looked at them with a rate of 3 percent getting hired, Harvard has a higher acceptance rate.


FIELD: All right. Hard to believe when you put it that way. The question is how the jobs report will affect public perception of the economy. A November poll conducted by CNN/ORC shows that only a quarter of people polled believe the economic condition are getting better - Victor, Poppy.

BLACKWELL: We're going to talk more about that throughout the morning.

Alexandra Field in New York for us -- thank you.

Today marks 72 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. December 7th, 1941 was the date. Japanese pilots blitzed U.S. battleships in Pearl Harbor. More than 2,400 Americans were killed in that surprise attack. Usually, U.S. war jets perform what's calling a missing man fly over during Pearl Harbor ceremonies. But that will not happen this year because budget constraints.


ALLEN BONDENLOS, PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR: I'm totally, totally disgusted. The one day of the year where we're honoring our military from World War II.

BELTON WALLING, PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR: Every year, I watch for the flight. And I have those flights on the camera. And to not see a flyover, I can't imagine.


BLACKWELL: Now, consider this, the F-22s typically you've in the flyover will be in the air for a training mission today. Even though, they won't be allowed to take part in the Pearl Harbor ceremony.

HARLOW: Well, coming up, millions, we're talking millions of people watched Carrie Underwood in "The Sound of Music". It was live this week, Thursday. No doubt, lots loved it.

BLACKWELL: But the folks on Twitter, I don't know. Instagram, too. As we saw the videos. Yes, there's a little bit of hate coming up.


HARLOW: On NBC Thursday night, the hills were alive with "The Sound of Music". We're talking about the live broadcast starring Carrie Underwood.


BLACKWELL: Twitter was alive, too, with the sound of something else, calling the reviews of Underwood's harsh is an understatement.

All right. Listen to this -- Marinka wrote, "Who knew that Carrie Underwood was also an actress? Not anyone watching sound of music."

HARLOW: And Kelly Phillips tweeted, "Did NBC forget that there would be parts where Carrie Underwood wasn't singing and we had to watch her talk?"

You know, it's just mean. It's plain mean. But I would tell you that it paid off, 18.5 million people tuned in. This was huge.

BLACKWELL: Yes. But compare it to another star, Miley Cyrus, yes, you know, this one of twerking fame. She got slammed on Twitter, too, guess how many Grammy nominations she had.

HARLOW: I was shocked by this.


HARLOW: Totally shocked by this.

BLACKWELL: Because I like the album. I like "Bangerz."

HARLOW: Me, too.

BLACKWELL: But Vevo says her "Wrecking Ball" video is the most watched of the year.

HARLOW: Me, too.

BLACKWELL: Three hundred eighty-seven million views. What's going on here? Big numbers, even though the Twitter sphere hates it.


BLACKWELL: Kim Serafin, senior editor of "In Touch Weekly" joins us now from New York.

OK, if Twitter hates Underwood, and Miley Cyrus --

HARLOW: I don't think they hate Underwood. I think they don't like the performance.

BLACKWELL: They hated the performance. We know she can sing and she's great at that. But the performance wasn't great according to folks on Twitter. Is Twitter out of touch?

KIM SERAFIN, SENIOR EDITOR, IN TOUCH WEEKLY: Well, obviously, as you mention, 18.5 million viewers tuned in to watch Carrie Underwood and the sound of music. So, obviously, some of them, yes, the hate watchers. We've heard that term a lot. Definitely people wanted to tune in to write those nasty tweets.

But, I think, you know, you have to look at the performance that Carrie Underwood did. She is an amazing singer. Everyone knew that. Nobody thought she was an actress going into this. She even said herself, she wasn't trying to be Julie Andrews. She wasn't putting herself at that level.

But this is a great risk for NBC to do. It you're a theater lover and I am. I'm a huge musical theater fan. So, I'd love this. I watched it. Yes, Carrie Underwood is not the best actress, but it was really nice to see a live musical performance on TV. It hasn't been done in 50 years.

You want to see more of these? Then you have to kind of say, yes, we have to have a Carrie Underwood fronting it, because NBC or any other network is not going to spend 9 million investing in a production with someone who maybe a great Broadway performance, but it doesn't have that name recognition. People are not going to tweet about them.

HARLOW: That's a good point. I mean, it paid off huge in the ratings. I watched part of it. I didn't see the entire thing.

BLACKWELL: Why not, though? Why did you stop watching? HARLOW: Because I didn't know it was airing. I watched it online. I watched it online yesterday. But I'm just saying I actually did not think, the part, the six minutes that I saw was bad. She did about 10,000 times better than I did but I hear the Twitter sphere.

I want to play a quick sound byte from "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper yesterday. This is from the actress who played Gretl in the original sound of music. Listen.


KYM KARATH, PLAYED GRETL VAN TRAPPER: I mean, Julie Andrews is Julie Andrews. And those are very, very big shoes to step into, big, because she's remarkable across the board. Carrie Underwood is spectacular in her own way. This was something I think someone with a little more stage experience might have had an easier time with.


HARLOW: Well, you also need someone with a powerful voice like Carrie Underwood has. What do you think this does to Carrie Underwood? Does this impact her career at all? Or should we look at the number us and ratings and what everyone's talking about?

SERAFIN: Yes, I think, if anything, it helps her career because she took on a challenge, again, who wants to be in that position where you're taking on Julie Andrews?

HARLOW: Right.

SERAFIN: I don't think a lot of people want that. Yes, I think really she does have the stage experience. I think if anything, some of the reviews mention this as well, even some of the live veterans of Broadway on this show suffer because you don't have a live audience. You're doing this live production, but there's no audience feedback. You're not getting the applause. You're not getting the laughs, some of the laugh lines.

There are strong performers, of course. Audra McDonalds who won five Tony Awards. I mean, she stood out. She's phenomenal. She can't do anything wrong. But I think from the Broadway performance could have used that live reaction from the theater.

And Carrie Underwood does have the stage experience in terms of her being a huge concert performer. She does have a huge fan base. And I think people are giving her some credit at least for taking on this.

And if anything, nobody thought she was an actress before this. I thought she did good job, certainly, a lot of people watched.

BLACKWELL: I wonder how long this sticks around if you compare this to Miley Cyrus and the twerking situation which went on for weeks and weeks --

HARLOW: You can't compare that. "Sound of Music"/twerking. "Sound of Music"/twerking. BLACKWELL: I would think that most people from what we've read from Twitter and what we saw on Instagram, they would call them bad performances, one very different from the other but are they created equal. Is this going to stick around for Carrie Underwood as long as this twerking thing stuck around for Miley?

SERAFIN: Yes, well, very different. Miley milked this for all it was worth. I think she tweeted after she was so excited that more people tweeted about her performance than they did have about the Super Bowl. She was very happy to get hate tweets. She was just raking them in and she didn't -- it didn't matter that people were upset with the performance or happy with it. She just wanted the publicity and the attention. And, certainly it has worked out for her. We've been talking about Miley Cyrus since the VMAs. Every week has been Miley week.

So, I think for Carrie Underwood, yes, I mean, publicity is great for her. I don't think she wants the hate tweets, I don't think she's happy about that. But she seemed like she was even happy with herself after the performance. And she, again, did a great job. And as I mentioned some there some other Broadway performers on the stage with her even they got reviews that were saying they didn't have that kind of electricity that they would normally have on a Broadway stage.

So, I think to put her in that position to replicate Julie Andrews to be in an iconic role alongside Broadway veterans, seasoned performers, I don't think she has anything to be ashamed about it all. And I think people will continue to watch this. I think NBC wants to play this every year.

HARLOW: I'm interested in big picture here. So, you just kill it with the ratings, right? Best Thursday, since the "E.R." finale 2009, 18.5 million viewers. Is this something that we'll see not just more often from NBC but from the other networks?

SERAFIN: I hope so. Again if you're a lover of theater and you want to see more things like this, you should be very glad they got this many viewers. It's such a huge -- I think the average for Thursday was the best since the "Frasier" finale in 2004. So, what a great thing. And, yes, I think there should be more musical like this, and getting more -- you have to have the names to carry it, there are people who don't have acting experience, but if you want to see more things like this, you got to go with the flow.

HARLOW: Yes, and they're expensive. Someone said like $9 million, the cost --


HARLOW: So, not cheap.

Kim, thanks. Appreciate it.

BLACKWELL: Stand by for Britney Spears and "The Wizard of Oz." Chris Brown --

HARLOW: Produced by victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Quick break. We'll be back.


BLACKWELL: Welcome back. Nine minutes until the top of the hour.

The Republican Party has shifted its strategy in the fight against Obamacare. Now, in the effort to combat President Obama's massive public relations effort for the Affordable Care Act, the Republican opponents have launched their own campaign to highly negative aspects of the law, a significant change from the GOP's calls to refund and repeal the law. Republican leaders are now promoting reports that people have been canceled from their low coverage insurance plans and that insurance plans in the exchanges have dropped doctors and hospital from plan options.

Also, an Obamacare critic is starting to look like a contender for the GOP president nomination for president in 2016. New York Representative Peter King will meet with a well-placed political operative in New Hampshire later this month. His name comes up on the short list of Republicans who might want to run. King tells CNN he is not asking for endorsement or donations and will not make up his mind about running, quote, "for another year and a half."

HARLOW: Well, we're going to be talking about it for the next year and a half.

BLACKWELL: Year and a half, yes.

HARLOW: We're already in election cycle I suppose.

Well, President Obama having trouble talking about a meeting with a controversial relative.

BLACKWELL: Yes, for some time, the White House said that the president never met with a Kenyan uncle who was in the United States illegally. But, now, it has new version of what happened.

Brian Todd now with more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy and Victor, this is about an uncle of the president who has gone through some legal problems with immigration and it is about the impression the White House has given, that it's keeping this uncle at arm's length. But White House aides say they weren't doing that.

(voice-over): He is a 69-year-old man who works in a liquor store near boston. He is now caught up in the president's political migraine. The man's name, Onyango Okech Obama, also called Omar, the president's uncle. "The Boston Globe" cited the White House as the president and uncle had never met.

The White House press secretary now says this. JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president said he, in fact, had met Omar Obama when he moved to Cambridge for law school and stayed with him for a brief period of time, until his -- the president's apartment was ready.

TODD: In recent days, the uncle said Barack Obama stayed with him for three weeks in the 1980s. Why the differing accounts?

CARNEY: Back when this arose, folks looked at the record, including the president's book and there was no evidence that they have met.

TODD: Jay Carney says it was when he asked the president in person, that he president acknowledged he stayed with his uncle.

It could be simple semantics. But the White House was first asked about the relationship a couple of years ago, after the uncle had been arrested for drunk driving and it came to light that he was fighting deportation. That's given ammunition to Republican critics.

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It goes back to the thing of the White House not being completely forthright with facts with the public. It's what to his trustworthiness numbers going way down.

TODD: And political observers say something else could be lingering.

MATT BERMAN, NATIONAL JOURNAL: I think it definitely does raise an interesting question about whether or not the White House is confluent with this idea that he has relatives that had trouble with DUI or immigration problems or other else. There are other politicians with relatives with similar with some more issues.

TODD (on camera): A White House official pushed back on the idea that the president not being comfortable with members of his family, pointing out that he wrote extensively about them in his book, "Dreams From My Father" -- Poppy and Victor.


BLACKWELL: Brian Todd, thank you.

We just finished up Hanukkah. A couple of weeks from Christmas, the holiday season is in full swing. And even President Obama is getting into the spirit.

HARLOW: Coming up next, we're going to show you the highlights from last night's national Christmas tree lighting.


HARLOW: It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Washington. Mariah Carey, singer Mariah Carey performing at the national Christmas tree lighting. President Obama and the first lady did the grand honors.





BLACKWELL: That is nice. Nice tree.

The president was joined by star studded lineup. We mentioned Mariah Carey. Also, Aretha Franklin was there and the band Train. At one point, you see him here, the president showing off with I think can be described as dance moves.

HARLOW: Do you think he got rhythm?

BLACKWELL: Yes, he is dancing with a 4-year-old elf.

HARLOW: Oh, so cute, I wish you could see it. There you go.

BLACKWELL: You can't criticize, because, you know, a kid dancing is different.

HARLOW: Love that. Those in attendance were treated to the spirited rendition of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" performed by, yours truly, the first lady.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen!

PUPPET: To the top of the porch!


BLACKWELL: OK, a couple of them were right. The president also took a moment to remember the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Donder. That's a new one for us.

HARLOW: Is that --

BLACKWELL: Yes, it's a new one. It's hard to keep them straight.

Thanks for starting your morning with us.

HARLOW: Yes, we've got much more ahead on NEW DAY SATURDAY which continues right now.



REPORTER: First thing, what would you like to do?

NEWMAN: Go home and see my wife.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Coming home. New this morning, an American detained in North Korea since October is on a flight back to the U.S. his journey and his first words as a free man and why North Korea let him go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Start sliding sideways and got real close to the house. I thought I better stop and go ahead and get a wrecker out here.

HARLOW: An ice storm grips the south just as a new storm is preparing to shock the Northeast. Cars swerved down streets, cities are paralyzed and hundreds and thousands of people are without power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big relief actually getting a paycheck instead of working for minimum wage.