Can Bruce Springsteen end Kennedy Center Honors winning streak at Emmys?

The race for Best Variety Special certainly is living up to its name this year, with a grab-bag of nominees including a kudosfest, a concert, a stand-up comedian, a sit-down comedian and a Weekend Update desk.

Kennedy Center Honors” is the obvious frontrunner as this annual CBS special has prevailed four years in a row (2009-2012). But, hold on just a moment — there’s a serious dark horse this year that has the star power, the emotional impact and the production values to take down the reigning champ. And it’s all thanks to… 2009 Kennedy Center honoree Bruce Springsteen?!

The Boss is the opening act of “12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief,” the benefit concert that aired following Hurricane Sandy’s destruction of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut last year. Springsteen performs for half an hour at the start of the show before the opening titles even begin rolling.

Airing on 39 American networks and to a projected audience of 2 billion viewers worldwide, the big man behind the event was Oscar-winning uber producer Harvey Weinstein. This nearly six-hour concert brought out dozens of other celebrities including Bon Jovi, Billy Crystal, Roger Waters, Susan Sarandon, Brian Williams, Kanye West and Paul McCartney.

“People come together in disasters,” says Crystal near the start of the night. More than $50 million was raised that night to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. It’s all very reminiscent of a similar event that aired following the tragedy of 9/11, “America: A Tribute to Heroes.” That show went on to win the Emmy for Best Variety Special in 2002.

Concert for Sandy Relief” is so massive that it appears on four separate discs sent out to Emmy voters. It’s by far the longest nominee up for Best Variety Special, but it’s not the only horse in this race.

Four-time champ “Kennedy Center Honors” is back in the hunt for Emmy gold yet again. This year’s honorees include Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman and Led Zeppelin, while special appearances by Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and President Barack Obama keep the two-hour event smoothly sailing. It’s such a classy, intimate event that there’s really no surprise it keeps winning here year after year.

Many of our experts are torn between “Kennedy Center Honors” and Louis C.K.‘s HBO comedy special from last April titled “Louis C.K.: Oh My God.” The stand-up show reaped three Emmy bids for C.K.: writing, directing and editing for a Variety Special. He won this same writing category last year for his stand-up special “Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater.”

Mel Brooks Strikes Back” is a much more intimate comedy show, as comedy legend and EGOT champ Mel Brooks sits down with Alan Yentob to discuss his lengthy career in movies and television. HBO aired this 60-minute special back in December to mostly positive reviews, but it might be a bit too subdued and quiet to compete against the tough competition.

SNL Weekend Update Thursday” is the final contender in this year’s Variety Special race. Seth Meyers hosts the night from his Weekend Update desk as the familiar “Saturday Night Live” players get together a couple days earlier than usual to make fun of the 2012 presidential election.

Do you think “Kennedy Center Honors” will win a fifth Emmy in a row in this category, or will something else prevail? Vote below in our easy drag-and-drop menu.

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