Last night, Ryan warned us that the Idol Gives Back episode might run long. He didn’t tell us that the Oscars would seem like a 20 minute sitcom in comparison. With a jarring juxtaposition of comedy, tragedy, documentary, results show, and epic musical, The American Idol: Idol Gives Back crew did their best to grab donations from the home audience. While some enlightening moments showed the actual good work that Idol Gives Back can accomplish, the length and high-low extremes of the show may have acted against message.
American Idol Gives Back — The President of the United States
The Idol Gives Back show opened with a message from President Obama and his wife Michelle. They asked for help with the good work that Idol Gives Back accomplished, and then Obama quoted Randy and said “You’re all my dawgs,” while Michelle urged our favorite cranky judge, “Simon, be nice.” This was one of the better moments of the show.
American Idol Gives Back — Ryan Seacrest vs. Queen Latifah
American Idol host Ryan next offered an introduction to the Idol Gives Back charity, carefully stressing that aid goes to the needy at home as well as around the globe. Ryan introduced his co-host at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, where she’d be introducing most of the live musical acts for the night. Queen Latifah had the 2000 fans (did anyone else notice they all seemed to be white?) whipped into a delirious frenzy, and it looked like Ryan looked almost intimidated. Straining his voice to shout at his own crowd in the American Idol theater, he unsuccessfully attempted to reach the level of noise the Queen had gotten. Honestly, it wasn’t really the kind of night for frenzied excitement, anyway.
American Idol Gives Back — Jennifer Garner & Victoria Beckham
Next up on American Idol Gives Back was a video on Jennifer Garner visiting an impoverished family in Kentucky, where the mom heats the trailer with kerosene when she can, and the oven when she can’t. Strangely, this segment focused on how Idol Gives Back gives books for children who can’t afford them. I’m hoping that this segment was here to pull on heartstrings, and that afterwards they bought this woman some kerosene.
Victoria Beckham, looking frail and teary-eyed, visited the American Idol set with her own story. She also brought along two students from the California Save the Children program, where impoverished children get help obtaining books and improving their reading and writing skills. Jennifer and Victoria had staggering statistics about how 1 in 5 children live in poverty, and kids in these rural areas have 1 book per 300 kids. Both had tales of how the kids helped by the program improved their scores and abilities, and also helped them wish for bigger futures than they’d previously dreamed of.
American Idol Gives Back — Comedy That Falls Flat and Takes Up Space
I think it may have been one of Entertainment Weekly’s backstage American Idol blogs that mentioned Ryan Seacrest recording his half of the Jonah Hill/Russell Brand before tonight. Ryan didn’t seem convinced he’d come off well, but he didn’t need to worry–Hill and Brand came off worse. The spectacularlyy unfunny segment about a celebrity phone bank with no celebrities seemed conceived by a 12 year old, and had awkward appearances from former Idol drama queen Tatiana DelToro and the Octomom–with some of her kids. Slash and Jim Carrey appeared for 3 seconds apiece. Did I mention it wasn’t funny?
American Idol Gives Back — Idol Chatter
Ryan then wasted some more time on a show that would run over by 25 minutes to ask some of the American Idol contestants useless questions. The best was one about Lee being teary-eyed before performances–Lee looked like he wanted to evaporate from the stage, after punching Ryan in the nose. Lee did his best to soldier through the question, saying he tries to get into the mood of the song before hitting the stage.
American Idol Gives Back — Black Eyed Peas
1. The Black Eyed Peas sound great on the radio.
2. The Black Eyed Peas sound terrible live.
3. The Black Eyed Peas would be nothing without Fergie.
4. Were those Metropolis robots on stage?
4. Nothing says “Idol Gives Back charity” like a snakeskin leotard and over-the-knee matching boots.
American Idol Gives Back — George Lopez
I think there may have been a group number, with the American Idol Top 12 all in white, but I don’t really remember it. This means it wasn’t as bad as last week’s. Ryan then announced the high bidder for Idol Gives Back, a Mr. Lopez, got to come up and host the Results Show segment. George Lopez bounded onto the stage and then picked Ryan up–poor Ryan is going to have back issues between this and Big Mike’s antics. George asked Ryan: “Don’t you have four other shows to take care of?”
After he played with the lights and made the contestants stand up and sit down, I was hoping they weren’t going to make a mockery of a contestant going home tonight. Thankfully, George slid over to roast the judges instead. He called out Randy for his overused “pitchy” comments, and said his friends over at the dog pound didn’t use the word “dawg” as much as Randy. Randy laughed enthusiastically.
Kara was less enthusiastic when George quoted her “what do you think” and told her to “formulate your own thoughts”. She lightened up when he riffed on her name, “Kara, Karla, DeGuido” and said he’d papered his walls with her recent nudie photo. Then he jabbed again, telling her she was safe, but that “No cute boy on the show is”. The camera of course flashed to Casey.
George soft-balled Ellen, just mentioning her enthusiastic praise and common phrases like “Simon, stop touching me.” He then moved on to Simon, going through his frequently used “rubbish” and other phrases, including “Ryan, stop touching me.” Simon laughed along when George told him to try wearing a “large t-shirt” and then strayed into non-PG territory when he asked “saline or silicone”?
Ryan jabbed back at the end, thanking “Erik Estrada”. Honestly, this might have been a fun segment on the finale, but I don’t know what it had to do with Idol Gives Back.
American Idol Gives Back — Product Placement
We couldn’t have an American Idol results show or an American Idol Gives Back show without a Ford commercial. This one used Matrix-style freeze-framing and involved making a mess of things. The beginning had no sound, and it was clear throughout that Ryan and George’s mics had never gotten turned off. Oops.
American Idol Gives Back — Two of the Bottom Three
Crystal Bowersox and Casey James were called to the center of the American Idol stage. The camera panned to Simon, who had his hand propped against his face and seemed to be giving America–or Ryan–the middle finger. After a moment–and probably a glance at the monitors–he quickly changed position. Oops again. Back to Ryan, who said one was safe and one was in the bottom 3. Casey practically laughed, rolling his eyes to show he knew exactly who was who. Crystal headed back to safety and Casey to the silver chairs of doom.
Next we got Aaron Kelly and Lee DeWyze. Lee looked petrified as always, but he was safe. He quickly headed over to the safe chairs, probably before he collapsed. Aaron joined Casey, where the two would have to sit through eons more of Idol Gives Back before they could discover their fate.
American Idol Gives Back — Joss Stone and Jeff Beck
1. I miss Joss Stone’s wavy hair. With the super straight hair and long gown, she looked too pageant-y and not like herself. Also: couldn’t tell if she was barefoot.
2. Joss and Jeff rocked out to “I Put a Spell on You” and seemed to enjoy themselves.
3. The song didn’t entirely suit Joss Stone’s voice, however, and she sounded a little strained.
4. Why did we only get profile shots of Joss? Is this her preferred “good side” for the cameras?
American Idol Gives Back — Morgan Freeman and Randy Jackson
The American Idol judge accompanied Morgan to Mississippi, to talk about the initiatives there to help kids learn as well as stay active. Morgan, who himself attended public school, said that fewer kids are graduating these days. Those that do finish are still, on average, way below the academic levels of kids in other developed countries. Here in Mississippi, Idol Gives Back was helping with programs to get these kids a better education and keep them healthy and in shape at the same time.
American Idol Gives Back — Alicia Keys
American Idol mentor Alicia Keys next took to the stage for Idol Gives Back, in an unfortunately unflattering blousy satin pantsuit number. As the third off performance of the night, it began to lend credibility to the idea that maybe the sound engineering was screwed up. We all know Alicia Keys has a phenomenal voice, but tonight she was flat quite often and seemed to be struggling for the bigger notes. Her medley of “Un-Thinkable: and “Empire State of Mind (Pt. II) Broken Down” picked up more at the end, but it just wasn’t a solid Alicia night.
American Idol Gives Back — Carrie Underwood
The bad American Idol performances streak was broken when Carrie Underwood hit the stage for Idol Gives Back. Introduced by Queen Latifah and Common, Carrie strode out in a strapless black flouncy hemmed gown and sang the heck out of the song “Change”. The lyrics matched the Idol Gives Back theme, and Carrie’s vocals soared high into the theater rafters. Once again, an American Idol contestant outshines more established professional performers. After her performance, Carrie also said that some “change” from each of her tour tickets sold would go to Idol Gives Back. Those pennies should add up quickly.
American Idol Gives Back — Ellen DeGeneres and David Arquette
Apparently Ellen didn’t get the memo on wardrobe for this segment about Feed America, since David Arquette showed up in a suit and Ellen was wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. Perhaps she wanted to seem more accessible. The frightening part about David’s segment was about how this program helps take care of middle class families as much as poor ones. Idol Gives Back focused on a hard-working family, where the father is a teacher, and yet he can’t always afford food for his three children.
We got a moment of levity in the factory where the donated food was stored, when Ellen started to close the door of a freezer on her co-host. The panicked “Ellen!” from David was very real, and she quickly opened the door again. David was good-natured enough to laugh with Ellen, then, at his momentary freak-out.
American Idol Gives Back — Bill Gates
In one of the least effective segments ever, Ryan interviewed Bill Gates and his wife Melinda about the Global Health initiative. Ryan brought up the obvious question of how people in this struggling economy can be expected to give money away to people in a far-off country. We were then told how very little money is needed to buy food or vaccines for those in need, and that a few dollars can save a life.
This is an important point, but it’s hard to accept billionaires telling struggling families to “give all they can”. I realize even Bill Gates doesn’t have enough money to solve the world’s problems, but he’s got a heck of a lot more than the average American Idol viewer. The Gates did a little better when they showed video of themselves on site, where the money goes, verifying what the charity does and making sure it doesn’t go to “some dictator” but directly to the people in need.
American Idol Gives Back — Wanda Sykes
In another American Idol Roast segment, Wanda Sykes contributed her jokes to Idol Gives Back. She struggled at first when she talked about Simon looking bored and “playing with his nipples”–again, not exactly family-friendly material. She did better when she talked about enjoying American Idol’s meanness, of having the contestants sing after they’ve been voted off: “Sing and remind them why they didn’t vote for you–go ahead, show them why they’re right!” The contestants and audience seemed to enjoy her candor, in the “we shouldn’t be laughing, but she’s SO right” way.
She also talked about the farewell montage: “Let’s look at a video of happier times, before we crushed your dreams, when you thought you were going somewhere!” She also joked about Big Mike’s American Idol Save: “Who’s gonna tell the big brother he’s goin’ home? Ryan, you go home! Seacrest out!” Wanda then wound up her routine, and congratulated everyone on their American Idol successes.
American Idol Gives Back — No Surprises
Ryan then got in a little more of the American Idol results, bringing Siobhan, Mike, and Tim to the center stage. He sent Siobhan back to safety first, then Mike. Mike and Tim slammed into a heartfelt hug, and then Tim headed over to join rest of the bottom three. Tim looked more watery-eyed than doe-eyed tonight, clearly aware that his time on American Idol was winding down.
American Idol Gives Back — David Cook
In an Idol Gives Back video segment, singing with an acoustic guitar at a girl’s school in Ethiopia, David Cook sounded better than most of the Idol Gives Back stage performers. David also appeared live on the American Idol stage to talk with Ryan about his trip, where he discovered “the nicest people you’ll ever meet, who have an underlying sense of hope”.
The video segment showed how amazing hope could be in such a hopeless situation, where young girls from rural areas come to town to attempt to make money that will support their families. They also come to escape early marriages, with some girls as young as five years old. Men stand around the streets, waiting for women who want to go into domestic servitude–although, not surprisingly, many of the girls end up in the sex trade.
David visited to one of the schools that Idol Gives Back supports, where young girls are able to get an education that will help them strive to better themselves. Many of the girls want to become doctors, lawyers, and teachers themselves. David was genuinely moved, and seemed to really bond well with these amazingly strong children.
American Idol Gives Back — Annie Lennox
Annie Lennox was prevented from leaving London by the Iceland volcano ash problem, so she was forced to send her message via satellite, across the pond. Annie told the tale of a 7 year old girl who had AIDS, which she inherited from her now deceased mother. This 7 year old was the weight of a 1 year old, and we got gratuitous close-ups of her bare and emaciated torso. Annie said that the tragedy was that this little girl would be well and her mother alive, if her mom had gotten the antiretroviral drugs when she was pregnant.
Leaving the girl in unstable health with a shaky prognosis, Annie returned months later to find the little girl looking radiant, healthy, and a normal weight. No one would have known it was the same child, but for her same bright eyes and sweet smile. This girl is definitely a fighter.
After the Idol Gives Back video segment, Annie performed live from London, superimposed in front of a theater-like setting. If she was singing live, and not recorded, she sounded even more amazing than usual. She was wearing her now trademark “HIV Positive” shirt, which is about removing the stigma from the disease and raising awareness–not a reference to her own status.
American Idol Gives Back — Stairway to Heaven
Mary J. Blige followed the Black Eyed Peas alien/robot theme with a severe blond bob, giant black sunglasses, and a black one-piece number with giant mirrored shoulder pads. Hello 80s, here we come! We could hear the American Idol judges in the back of our minds going, “I’m not sure that was the right song choice” as she belted out “Stairway to Heaven”. Her voice was phenomenal as always, and she didn’t miss any notes, but she doesn’t quite have that wailing range that the song requires. Her back-up band was filled with an array of performers including Orianthi, Randy Jackson (!), and Travis Barker. I rank it as one of the better moments of the night.
American Idol Gives Back — Simon the Nice Guy
Once again Idol Gives Back showed us the very direct ways that the money helps people in need. American Idol judge Simon Cowell headed over to Douglas, Arizona to meet with Dr. John–the first pediatrician the community has had access to. Dr. John showed Simon his fully stocked medical motor home, which allows him to bring his practice to areas that don’t normally have access to this kind of health care.
Simon and Dr. John also visited on of the doctor’s patients, a young girl with a genetic disorder who’d previously had pneumonia five times in one year. The parents tearfully said that the quality of their daughter’s life was only made possible by the treatment Dr. John provided. Simon was visibly affected by the girl getting oxygen, and he named Dr. John a true saint.
American Idol Gives Back — Sir Elton John
Things were already way over time when we got to Queen Latifah’s introduction of Elton John. Thankfully, Elton did not pull out “Candle in the Wind”, but instead sang a heartfelt “Your Song”. His voice doesn’t have the strength it once did, and he hit a few wobbly notes, but overall it was still a fine performance and the audience loved it.
Once again, anyone that had their child watching Idol Gives Back might have been surprised to hear Elton start talking about wearing condoms. To be fair, he was discussing his years-long involvement in AIDS awareness and prevention, and the global issue it has become.
American Idol Gives Back — American Idol Results
I got ready to switch over to In Plain Sight, already in progress, when I realized we hadn’t even gotten to the American Idol Top 7 Results. Ryan sent Aaron back to the safe seats first, leaving Casey and Tim. We all knew what would happen next, and Ryan announced that Tim’s American Idol journey was over. As positive as ever, Tim smiled and gave himself some victory fist pumps.
The show is going to seriously lose a chunk of its cheerful vibe once this kid is gone. As they rolled his farewell video, Tim grinned and laughed over moments in the montage–such as him “fixing” Casey’s hair while he was in the make-up chair. There’s just no stopping the cheer on Tim Urban, and here’s hoping his positive attitude takes him far in life. Landing in the top 7 spot on American Idol isn’t too shabby, and there’s a good bet some kid’s TV show will nab this adorable tween favorite.
Since the show was so far over time, or perhaps due to Wanda Sykes admonishments, Tim didn’t get to sing a final song. He seemed happy enough, and perhaps it would have been too unfair to have to be the end performance on a night of superstars.
American Idol Gives Back — The Verdict
This Idol Gives Back was WAY too long, and it seemed odd of American Idol to let us know it could “run over” time, and then have it be nearly a half hour longer than expected. Those who set their DVRs are peeved, as are those of us who really wanted to catch our favorite 10/9c shows. Honestly, an hour would have been plenty of time. The results show could have been kept to its usual formula, except instead of nonsensical banter and bad group numbers, we could have gotten a couple amazing star performances and a selection of the Idol Gives Back videos.
Personally, I’d rather see an Idol Gives Back segment every results show, than have 2 1/2 hours of randomly inappropriate comedy and a torrent of heart-wrenching videos and pleas for donations. Some of the videos about victims in Africa were extraordinarily grim, with only a vague promise of “helping”. The camera zoomed in so close that we were only seeing magnified parts of faces of people who were dying, and this seemed invasive, voyeuristic, and macabre.
The American Idol audience gets it. They donate money; they’ve been donating money. There doesn’t have to be such a wall of pressure that’s claiming to be an entertainment show. Many message boards have been mentioning the Annie Lennox segment, illustrating the power that just one segment can have on an audience.
The message Idol Gives Back was attempting was one of hope. They wanted to stress that a little can go a long way, and that the money was actually doing something to help those in need. But when we were exposed to video after video of poverty and strife from each end of our own country and to other countries, it became overwhelming. When you keep rolling out the death toll numbers in the millions, and how there are still tens of millions more remaining that are suffering from a variety of terrible conditions, the problem seems insurmountable and infinite.
Watch American Idol on FOX, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Check local listings for times, as they can vary (and run over!)