REMOTE ACCESS IN-DEPTH: ‘Idol Gives Back’ makes powerful pleas, great music and a few errors in judgment
If you didn’t laugh much at Ben Stiller or Robin Williams on last night’s “Idol Gives Back” special, you should still applaud them for giving their time and (possibly too much) effort toward the larger-than-life telethon.
The moving footage of families of all kinds in Africa and the United States made for gripping, emotional montages. I teared up with Annie Lennox when she said goodbye to four orphaned African children who would return to raising each other. And when Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus headed to the poor sectors of Appalachia, my sight became cloudy again.
It’s become clichÃ© to say, but millions of people need help. And say what you will about the behemoth that is “American Idol.” For better or worse, the honchos recognize the national and international influence they wield, and in this case, they’ve decided to dedicate that energy toward charity these last two seasons.
This isn’t to say the special and its premise don’t have their flaws. The series is neither angelic nor transcendent when exploiting emotionally unstable contestants in the opening rounds of auditions. Some of the corporate sponsors and one Los Angeles Laker to appear on the special need the good P.R. The special teetered on absurdly tactless when the logo of a dilapidated Chevrolet truck in Appalachia was pixelated into a blur just because Ford was one of the show’s, and charity’s, biggest sponsors. And, let’s face it, the nearly three-hour special was just too damn long.
But even I’ll defend that last point because I realize that a longer special means greater exposure to a larger audience that’s already tops in the country, meaning there’s that much more of a chance for more money to be donated to some amazing causes.
Bonus points go to the celebrities who traveled to learn more about and promote the “Idol Gives Back” causes in video montages, including Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, Bono, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Annie Lennox, Celine Dion, Forest Whitaker, Keisha Whitaker, Reese Witherspoon, Alicia Keys, Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus, Brad Pitt, Chris Daughtry and his band. (Also: Fantasia Barrino and Elliott Yamin, whose “Idol Gives Back” African trip was highlighted in an earlier episode.)
“Idol” gave back. And for that, we should all take notice and give something of ourselves to the needy and deserving.
Sometimes a few solid Jimmy Kimmel jokes at the expense of a good-natured Simon Cowell can help us take a tiny step toward a better world. Or at least a buttoned-up shirt.
A semi-chronological breakdown of last night’s show is after the break.
For as much as I complain about the “American Idol” contestant group numbers, I actually thought they did a decent job opening the show singing Rihanna’s “Please Don’t Stop the Music” while the “So You Think You Can Dance?” answered the rhetorical question in their show’s title.
I wouldn’t have recognized NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson if he didn’t introduce himself to the camera, one of only two soliciting celebrities whom I didn’t immediately identify. (The other was a screaming “Mary Murphy,” who I’m guessing is just an excited, regular “Idol” audience member.) I’ll spare my NASCAR jokes, though, because Johnson seems like a nice enough guy who pitched in to help the special.
I liked that George Lopez’s Spanish plea was not subtitled; Kylie Minogue’s Australian accent could have used that treatment. (Just kidding.) By the way, the latter celeb—a breast cancer survivor—looked fantastic. OK, fine, Lopez looked great, too.
Maria Shriver’s speech bored me, but the end saved her.
I like the guy most of the time, but Ben Stiller’s awkwardly titled album of Whitney Houston cover songs and subsequent attempt at comedy were cringe-worthy.
Jennifer Connelly’s video promoting the need for clean water initiatives was perfectly executed.
Whoever had money on “Snoop Dogg eventually performing while wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo of a cheesy singing competition” can now collect their millions for their $1 bet back in 1994.
Kobe Bryant. Awkward.
WWE stars Triple H and John Cena recorded PSAs that actually worked pretty well.
I know I pick on Paula Abdul a lot. But I do think she has a good heart, as was evidenced by the footage of her and Randy Jackson hanging out with rural California schoolchildren.
To use some “Idol” parlance, Teri Hatcher took a risk and did a half-decent karaoke job on the high notes of Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” with some group called “Band from TV.”
OMG! The Jonas Brothers! Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
The comedy exchanges between Billy Crystal and Miley Cyrus were slow to build, but had a decent payoff when the 15-year-old predictably inquired “Are you in show business?”
Bono continues to be one of my favorite people on the planet. His interactions in Tanzania with Eusebia, a volunteer who helps HIV survivors battle the disease that claimed three of her children, and Deloy, an orphan whose tangible memories of his parents are contained in a shoe box, were almost as inspiring and touching as they were.
Julianne Moore looked great and always makes me smile.
OK, Fergie (of Black Eyed Peas fame) for me is either hit or miss. And her overwrought solo with the underutilized John Legend, who provided piano service but no silky vocals, gave me dÃ©jÃ vu because the same scenario happened at the Grammys.
That said, I absolutely loved her duet with Heart on “Barracuda.” And, whoa, it takes guts to wear leather pants as tight as the ones Fergie was wearing. Or rather, a lack of a gut. But she managed to sell that song and the pants with as much smoothness as her one-handed cartwheels.
Adam Sandler has a sleeping dog. But enough about his next movie. (Hiyo!)
OMG! Posh and Bex! Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Annie Lennox’s song was my favorite performance of the night, hands down. Best combination of emotionally charged and vocally brilliant. Incredible talent.
Kiefer Sutherland uses the term “24” while making his plea. Not original, but does the job.
Jimmy Kimmel absolutely killed, but I’m not surprised considering his background in roasts. He also probably used up the quota of the word “nipples” for the remainder of “Idol’s” run.
Carrie Underwood delivered my second-favorite performance of the night while wearing a beautiful dress that impossibly shifted between green and pink, depending on how the light hit it. It’s too bad she limits herself to country, because she’s super-talented.
Next pleas came from Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres (who didn’t cohost due to schedule conflicts, reportedly) and Sarah Silverman, whose throwaway joke about Keisha Whitaker potentially being a “monster” was risky but hilarious.
Gloria Estefan was fine, but I thought Sheila E. did a masterful job of looking like a pro despite her cymbals falling off her platform and crashing to the ground a foot below. The solution? More cowbell, of course.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged that his country would donate 20 million malaria nets at $10 apiece toward the cause. That’s a $200 million commitment. Whoa.
Keith Urban’s from New Zealand? I didn’t realize country music’s international alumni included anyone other than Shania Twain.
Of all the remaining Idols in the competition, why was the mic belonging to Kristy Lee Cook the one that was wayyyy too loud compared to the other seven on “Seasons of Love”? Unfortunate.
Speaking of the contestants, it was nice to see the remaining members of the Top 12—Chikezie, Ramiele Malubay, Amanda Overmyer and David Hernandez—answering phones during last night’s infrequent live footage. Too bad that’s not much of a stretch from what they’ll be doing once the show’s over. (Kidding! Kidding. Mostly.)
Dane Cook. I don’t know what to say or feel about this guy anymore. But I’ll give him a break because he appeared on “Idol Gives Back.” I’m in a forgiving mood, I guess.
“High School Musical” stars Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale gave their plea. Interesting that Hudgens would be on the show, considering Ryan Seacrest made an innuendo as host of the Emmys about her (allegedly) naughty photos. That said, I’m wayyy too old to like Tisdale’s “He Said, She Said,” but it’s a guilty pleasure of a song.
And while we’re discussing songs I’m wayyyy too old to be liking, how about Miley Cyrus’ “See You Again”? The song’s worth the listen for each chorus’ syncopated “my heart/will rest/till then/whoa-oo-whoa-oo-oh” alone. Does she have the world’s greatest voice? No. She probably wouldn’t even have made the Top 12 this season (but possibly the Top 24, I’ll admit). But she seems to be a pretty girl with a positive attitude and great stage presence for a 15-year-old. And despite a few provocative dance moves that might make some parents squeamish, she seems to be a decent role model. And who isn’t happy for Billy Ray Cyrus? Just seems like everyone wins, doesn’t it?
I’m surprised Robin Williams’ initial character name of “Ivan Yakinov” made it past the censors. His shtick as the fake winner of “Russian Idol” came off more like Borat Lite about two years too late, but the dude’s a legend. Plus, his “Live on Broadway” special from HBO a few years ago made me laugh so hard, he earns a lifetime pass from me for that unto itself.
Rob Schneider’s joke about Bono only having half the money needed to save Africa first made me bristle then made me laugh a few seconds later. The same can be said for his request to send him some money, too.
Tyra Banks got to use the word “fierce,” much like Kiefer Sutherland got to use the number “24.” All we needed was for Emeril Lagasse to emerge and ask viewers to donate money with a “Bam!”
David Spade is funny. I’m tired of writing this post… but we’re nearing the home stretch!
Brad Pitt, who might be more handsome than ever if that’s possible, probably received the loudest and longest ovation among anyone to appear in front of the live audience. Interpret that as you will.
The biggest laugh-out-loud moment of the night didn’t come from a professional comedian; it came from a young boy Pitt met in New Orleans. The child said another boy (I’m guessing his brother) wanted “to be the first baseball player and lawyer in space.” Hysterical.
The second-biggest laugh of the night from me: When Pitt’s mic failed, the female stagehand walking on and confessing, “I just needed a reason to touch him.”
Mariah Carey, who will return to “Idol” soon to serve as mentor to the remaining contestants, sang well while Randy Jackson played an arbitrary bass guitar in the background. The bass might not even have been plugged in for all I know. It could have been strictly ornamental.
And the show closed with confetti falling on the Top 8. Whew.
Sorry I decided not to rank their Tuesday performances among the rest of the “Idol Gives Back” performers. Chronology wound up being a better format for this post.
Cliff’s Notes version of how I rank Tuesday night’s performances:
1. David Archuleta—Best song choice and execution.
2. Syesha Mercado—Best pure vocal of the night.
3. Jason Castro—Not original, but Castro connected with that alternate Hawaiian version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
4. David Cook—As Simon Cowell would say, “Indulgent.” While vocally OK, the song itself just didn’t work. His first total misfire in about a month and a half.
5. Carly Smithson—Terrible song choice; could be in trouble. Nooo!
6. Kristy Lee Cook—Her best song yet.
7. Michael Johns—“Dream On” wasn’t bad, but the competition’s heating up and mediocre won’t cut it for much longer.
8. Brooke White—Pleasant but forgettable. The latter’s the part that could get her in trouble.
This week, I’m predicting a Bottom 3 of Michael Johns, Brooke White and Carly Smithson, with White heading home in a shocker.
Post your comments about “Idol Gives Back” and your predictions for the results show below. I’ll be back from vacation next week to post my follow-up thoughts.
(Photos Gary Moyes and Ray Mickshaw/FOX.)