Saturday, April 12, 2008

American Idol: Idol Gives Back 2008

Well, this is what you've all been waiting for, right? What's that? Finale? Yeah, I guess that'll be cool, too. But if you've listened to Ryan all season then you know TONIGHT is really what it's all about! If you're looking to find out who got eliminated by vote last night you're going to have to wait until tomorrow. But if you're looking for two-and-a-half hours of entertainment chock full of celebrities and song and charity, then you're looking for "Idol Gives Back."

Last year's inaugural edition was very good, and Kristin's report of the Idol Gives Back taping from this past Sunday was also very positive. We don't have any pesky (non) eliminations to deal with like last year, so just kick back, donate and enjoy. And, if you want, join us online and chat about it in real-time with other giving Idol fans.

"If AIDS got half ... half of the attention the media gives to celebrity dramas, this issue would be well on its way to being solved. So I want to ask you, shall we be the generation that says no more injustice to the poor. Shall we commit to eradicating AIDS, extreme poverty and more. Or shall we continue to allow ourselves no voice in the world our children will inherit." --Alicia Keys

Tonight's show was a hybrid of new material interspersed with the recorded segments from this past Sunday. But in true Idol tradition, they pretended that all were happening at the same time. They set up the Top 12 on stage with laptops to take live calls from donors during the show; a nice touch. Even Ryan bantered with a few of the callers live throughout the show.

One of the things I learned from the night is that there are just so many different places in the world in need for so many different reasons. How can there still be so many problems in a world were there are people with billions of dollars, nations with health care for everyone and all the medical technology we've uncovered? If the peoples of the world would just stop and care enough about everyone we share a planet with, couldn't we make so many of these things go away?

Even if Idol Gives Back doesn't raise the level of money they're shooting for, $100 million, at least they're doing a tremendous thing in raising awareness for the various causes spotlighted. The weird thing for me now is that by removing the Results portion of the show, like they had last year, it no longer feels like an episode of American Idol at all. Now it truly is just a charity special, so it became sort of an odd fit for the series. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great thing for a show of this magnitude to do, it's just a weird thing now to air a special completely unrelated episode between the performance of the Top 8 and the elimination of one of them. But maybe that's just me.

There was a ton going on in the show, starting off with that great So You Think You Can Dance piece with the Top 8 singing Rhianna's "Please Don't Stop the Music." And if I'm not mistaken, that was SYTYCD contestant Hok's entire dance crew there toward the end.


The show was filled with celebrity appearances, some introducing video segments and live performances, while still others got more actively involved in the various charities and causes promoted throughout the night. California first lady Maria Shriver opened the show surrounded by more than a hundred volunteers at various organizations in California. Shriver was there to encourage you to find a way to volunteer in your community

Ben Stiller introduced a Jennifer Connolly dramatization where she served water from a lake to kids. 1.1 billion people don't have access to clean drinking water was the message. It was a nice piece and effectively sold its message, but as it was the only dramatization of its kind, it was a little weird comparatively on the night

Paula Abdul & Randy Jackson came out to talk about childhood obesity in America. They went to Goshen School, less than 200 miles from the Idol stage, but in a community mired in poverty. The per capita income is less than $9,000 per year. The community has no resources to make safe places for kids to play, and due to gang violence and fear, most just stay at home. Save the Children runs a promotion where kids can come, get homework help and most importantly be kids.

Jimmy Kimmel came on to introduce Simon Cowell's video segment, and did so in the fashion of a celebrity roast. There are over 50 million people without necessary health insurance, 15 million of which are children. He hooked up with the Children's Health Fund, a van of roving health care that brings needed assistance to families without insurance. We meet a family where the mother has lupus, the daughter has rheumatoid arthritis and the son is just recently out of a wheelchair. This poor family has lost their home already due to medical costs. Honestly, this is an area of this country that I am unable to fathom, how we disenfranchise so many people in a first world nation that thinks itself the leader of the free world from affordable health care.

Miley Cyrus and her dad Billy Ray Cyrus went back to Clay County in Kentucky, where Billy Ray hails from. Fifty percent of the children in this region live below the poverty line. The Cyrus' met a family living in horrific living conditions. There is a Save the Children after-school program there that is helping kids learn at appropriate levels. The program even delivers books to families that could never afford them.

Eli & Peyton Manning came on to talk about how the communities of their hometown New Orleans and the surrounding region are still struggling with the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina three years later. We learned about the very real horrors that the children of the area were subjected to. The Mannings went to a community center to talk and play with some of the kids in the area.

Reese Witherspoon came on to spotlight The Children's Defense Fund, which focuses on education for children. Reese went to an impoverished region of New Orleans where she met a single mom raising her thirteen-year old daughter. She told a story about a four-year old who shot himself. Could that possibly be suicide? Surely it was an accident. How could a four-year old want to die so badly? Freedom School is an after-school program that's available there and keeps the daughter out of trouble and helps her become a better person. It's one thing to see suffering in Africa, and yes it's horrible, but when you hear the statistics of how many children are suffering right now here in America it just breaks your heart.

David Spade introduced Brad Pitt's efforts in New Orleans to find homes for familes who lost theirs. 275,000 homes were lost in Katrina. Over 200,000 people remain displaced from their homes even now. Even former President Bill Clinton helped Make It Right, an organization that helps build affordable homes for the people. I'm not sure why he got a standing ovation when he hit the stage. I liked when his mic fell and the woman who came out said "I just needed a reason to touch him," while fixing it. Ad lib humor better than Ryan usually manages.

Brad Pitt introduced Daughtry's trip to Uganda, Africa. This journey was presented in the form of a music video for Daughtry's single, "What About Now?" filmed in Africa. He performed it for a huge crowd of kids and invited them to sing the chorus with him. He went in affiliation with, a unity of charities to enhance the good they can do. Ryan told us Bono would tell us more about that tomorrow night.

Bono traveled to Africa to meet children and people ravaged by AIDS. We met Sophia, a 14-year old girl suffering with AIDS, and our funds keep her in the medicines she needs. I couldn't help but wonder if Sophia could understand him when he talked to her, but nevertheless it is inspiring. Esophea (sp?) volunteers her time and efforts to help so many in her community after losing three of her own children to HIV. Keep a Child Alive is a global organization that deals with AIDS in Africa. Later, Dane Cook introduced a portion of Alica Keys' African journey with this group, the entire video of which is available for download at

Bono's second report of the night was about the children and people of Africa striving to remember those they've lost to AIDS. It also served as an introduction to Annie Lennox's journeys in Africa where she too finds so many people who've lost everyone they've known and loved to AIDS. She found a group of brothers, all children 15 and under. The eldest now is the caretaker for the family. Annie took them to be tested and all were negative. And these losses could be preventable as most who die from AIDS do so from lack of diagnosis and available treatment. After the video, she came on stage to perform and play piano.

Sarah Silverman did what she does and you either like her or you don't before getting into her bit on malaria and introducing Forest Whitaker's video. He went with his wife to a community ravaged by this disease. Malaria takes more lives in Africa than anything else. They met Maria who suffered from a severe case of malaria. A thing as simple as a ten dollar mosquito net could have prevented this illness. So many families don't even have access to the facilities that saved Maria's life.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown followed up on Forest's bit by announcing that the UK will pay for 20 million more malaria nets for Africa and will urge other world leaders to do the same. That's $200 million donated by the UK to this worthy cause. Now we've got a lot more people in the US than they do in the UK, so if we can't match that donation we're going to look pretty damned cheap, people.

Robin Williams was introduced as the winner of the latest Russian Idol. I'm sorry but this was a pretty stupid bit for me. Robin was pitchy in places and it went on forever and ever. After bantering with Ryan a bit he stood in front of Randy, Paula and Simon to "audition" for them. He sang a horrible "My Way" Russian mess and then got "critiqued" by the panel. Why did this get an entire segment?

There were tons of other celebrity recordings interspersed throughout the show by Jimmy Johnson, George Lopez (who gave his promotion in Spanish--a very cool move), Kylie Minogue (who did hers in the Queen's English so that British people could understand the message, too), Kobe Bryant, Triple H, Mary Murphy (who said she would scream as she does on So You Think You Can Danceuntil someone donated), Nigel Lythgoe (who begged us to give so Mary would stop screaming), The Jonas Brothers, Julianne Moore (who should have taken the time to learn her lines, or at least gotten her teleprompters closer to the camera), John Cena, Adam Sandler (whose bulldog donated), David and Victoria Beckham, Kiefer Sutherland, Celine Dion, Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres (though I would have much rather had her do the co-hosting she was supposed to), Keith Urban, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale, Rob Schneider and Tyra Banks


Snoop Dogg w/ Charlie Wilson and the Youth Football League of LA - "Can't Say Goodbye"
You gotta give props to Snoop for having his logo and name crested onto his mic. I don't think I've ever seen a mic with bling before, so mad props to one of the original "dawgs" of modern rap.

Teri Hatcher w/ "Band from TV" - "Before He Cheats"
This was introduced in a cheesy clip of Carrie Underwood getting plumbing help in her dressing room by James Denton from Desperate Housewives. That was enough to get Teri Hatcher jealous. "If you're going to steal my man, I'm going to steal your song." I liked the "Band from TV" schtick as I recognized James Denton behind her on guitar, Jesse Spencer (Chase from House) on violin and, Greg Grunberg (Parkman from Heroes) on drums. Teri, however, was not good on vocals. t the end, Carrie herself came onto the stage to give the charity numbers.

Miley Cyrus - "Good and Broken"
Billy Crystal came on to introduce and make a dream come true for a talented newcomer who dreamed of singing on the Idol stage, and then mispronounced Miley Cyrus' name. They had a cute enough dialogue back-and-forth where Crystal tried to offer her career advice and she showed him up with her recent success. The only connection they had was that he was the voice of Mike on Monsters, Inc. When she corrected him on pronouncing her name, he got star-struck realizing who she was. She sang well enough, but there's something funny about seeing her throw her hair and body around like a rock star up there. Admittedly, I've never paid a few thousand dollars to go to one of her actual concerts, so maybe she does this there and it's amazing. I wonder if Hannah Montana was jealous that Miley was invited to be on the show and she wasn't.

Fergie w/ John Legend - "Finally"
Heart w/ Fergie - "Barracuda"
Fergie hit us with an Idolpower note during her performance. Maybe the stage brings those out of singers. Her performance served as an introduction to Heart who performed "Barracuda." Ann Wilson may be heavier than we've ever seen her, but she still sounds absolutely amazing. Fergie came back out and sang with Ann on the track, and gave every bit as much as Ann on the song. How many times have we heard Idol wannabes butcher Heart, and here's Fergie almost perfectly nailing the required vocal intensity and prowess of the song. Fergie wore the tight leather pants that the Wilsons don't wear anymore (thank goodness) and even did two one-handed forward cartwheel.

Annie Lennox - "Many Rivers to Cross"
What can you say? Annie is a legend and is just as amazing a vocalist and performer now as she's ever been in her amazing career.

Carrie Underwood - "Praying for Time"
It's a shame that Carrie couldn't get her dress from the dry cleaners in time. If only she could have she wouldn't have had to wrap the drapes from her dressing room around herself. Carrie again proves why she was versatile enough to win American Idol. Even though she's a country singer, just as she was able to nail Heart on her season, she effortlessly takes on George Michael, himself an amazing vocalist. Can I say that I liked Carrie more with a bit of meat on her bones. Celebrities are too skinny! And why couldn't she get up, did she forget to take out the curtain rods?

Gloria Estafan w/ Sheila E. - "Get On Your Feet"
I'm not sure how she did it, maybe she drinks Dick Clark's blood, but Gloria Estafan is virtually ageless. She hasn't lost a bit of her voice either, and her performance featured another welcome return of those SYTYCD dancers.

American Idol 2008 Top 8 - "Seasons of Love"
This was one of the better group performances of the season for the Idol contestants, and I think it has more to do with the lack of awful choreagraphy than anything else. Wow, they're so much better to listen to when they're not being forced to do bad "boy band" routines across the stage. Take notes, Idol folks.

Miley Cyrus - "See You Again"
Miley came out again with a high-octane performance. I'll give the girl credit that she knows how to put on an entertaining show at fifteen years old. But is she a rock star? Certainly fans seem to react to her like she is, so maybe I'm just too old for her. I did like the dancers in boxes background thing she did. But why did Miley get two performances and a video segment? Is FOX courting her for a show on their network?

Mariah Carey - "Fly Like a Bird"
With our own Randy Jackson on bass behind her, word has it that Mariah is next week's celebrity mentor. Mariah is just amazing, and that didn't change tonight as she closed out the show. If they're going to do Mariah's songs, then this could be the most challenging week ever in Idol coming up.

Top 8 - "Shout to the Lord"
To wrap up the show, the Top 8 put on their purest white garb for this number, though why Syesha translated that to mean white shorts I'm not sure. I'm also not sure why the SYTYCD kids were back with the choir. They're not singers. It was overall a nice performance and a nice show, though again it no longer fits quite right as just another episode in the middle of the season. Maybe it should be a special after the finale. They could air it that next Saturday or Sunday, like a Pro Bowl and bring back all of the Top 24.

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