By Ray Rahman
Updated December 22, 2012 at 04:22 PM EST
Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Tonight marked the airing of the 31st “Christmas in Washington” gala, the country’s annual seasonal celebration benefiting the Children’s National Medical Center. Every year, the event brings in the lion’s share of D.C. VIPs, including the POTUS, the FLOTUS, the VP, and this year… PSY.

But we’ll get to that in time. First, to open up the TNT telecast of the event (which took place Dec. 9), was Diana Ross. Backed by a merry, scarf-clad chorus, the legendary diva opened the night with a tone-setting medley of seasonal standbys that included Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” “Jingle Bells,” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Barack and Michelle Obama and their family watched on with smiles as wide as the National Mall.

With the tone set for the evening, host Conan O’Brien took the stage. “Good evening Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, Mr. Vice President, and friends,” opened O’Brien, who’s helmed this shindig before. “It’s good to see that both the president and I were given a second term. Congratulations to both of us!” The joke gave Barack a good laugh, though Sasha didn’t seem amused. How irrelevant does it make you feel to realize that Conan — Conan! — is just another old person to the younger First Daughter?

First Daughterly approval aside, though, O’Brien powered through his monologue, milking jokes out of red-state marks like Honey Boo Boo and Speaker John Boehner’s complexion, as well throwing a broader barb regarding the fiscal cliff. (It’s unnerving that that joke is still relevant two weekends after the event’s actual taping.)

But enough with the gags: O’Brien soon surrendered the stage to Smash star Megan Hilty, who ably delivered a few soothing verses of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Which was nice and all, but the Bombshell bombshell couldn’t hold a Yankee candle to the next act: top-billed Demi Lovato, who delivered an impassioned “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Simply put, the X Factor judge nailed it.

O’Brien then introduced the next entertainer, singer Chris Mann, who may or may not just be Michael Bublé in disguise. With help from the Naval Academy Glee Club, he touchingly dove into “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” — a wise, fitting selection for a nation in wartime.

American Idol winner Scotty McCreery brought the mood back up with a rollicking run through Elvis Prestley’s “It’s Christmas Time Pretty Baby,” which prompted some measured headbanging from the President and the First Lady. (The daughters, however, once again proved to be tougher to please. Maybe they had finals on their minds?)

The next performer, though, was one that a billion people of all ages can recognize: K-pop sensation PSY. Even Coco couldn’t help but chuckle as he introduced the YouTube-crushing rapper, who came out in a glitter-festooned red sweater and similarly blaring pants.

The viral star initially PSYched everyone out with a traditional, English-language rendition of “The Christmas Song,” but those chestnuts did not roast for long. “No, no, no,” he protested mid-verse. “This is not the reason I’m here.” And so commenced PSY’s raison d’etre: “Gangnam Style,” Christmas Edition! Yes, that’s right — PSY’s did his goofy little invisible-pony dance and rapped in Korean in front of an assembly of bemused Beltway officials, including the leader of the free world. And any concerns about the singer’s potentially anti-American past didn’t seem to worry the audience, who gave PSY some the loudest cheers of the night.

Well, almost the loudest. Obama, of course, was the show’s biggest star. After a sweeping encore that brought back all of the night’s non-PSY performers, the president closed the night with a special Christmas message. With the house on its feet, Obama reminded the crowd — and the nation — of the altruistic message at the heart of the holidays.

“So yes, tonight’s about Conan and Diana Ross and Santa and all the other talented folks on this stage,” Obama concluded. “But it’s also about the Americans who are spending this holiday on a hospital bed or shelter or protecting our freedom in a battlefield far from home.”

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