So this is a little weird, PopWatchers. I’m about to deliver my On the Scene experience at last night’s Idol Gives Back for y’all, but it’s for an episode you have yet to see. And you definitely should see it when it airs this Wednesday; beyond the fact the event benefits some powerfully worthy causes, it promises to be a rather terrific night of television — from my vantage-point waaaaay up in the third balcony of the Kodak Theater, anyway.
Which is why this is a little weird. Normally, I’d have no problem talking about the joke Jimmy Kimmel made about… well, about the chest area of one of the judges, because you’d've already seen it, so I wouldn’t be ruining the punchline. But this time, I’m concerned that if I talk about it — and about so-and-so’s surprise appearance, and that what’s-her-name’s performance was surprisingly meh — it’ll ruin the show and prove a disincentive to watch the actual thing. Which doesn’t really so much help out those charitable causes I mentioned earlier. (Okay, one tidbit: Brad Pitt, pictured, was in the house.)
This is probably an example of when my parents say I worry too much, but, regardless, I propose a compromise: After the jump, I’ll give you all the advance scoop on Idol Gives Back. If you do not want to know about the show in advance, for the love of Kelly Clarkson, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER. If you do click below, however, you’ve got to promise to watch at least some of the real thing on Wednesday, or at the very least log onto Idol‘s website that night and give a donation, however large or small. I may get paid to toss a healthy helping of observational snark Idol‘s way, but these causes deserve nothing but your and my support. So, click below, and you’re committing at the least to flipping to your Fox channel Wendesday night, and hopefully opening your wallet as well. Deal? Awesome. Let’s do this thing.
I wasn’t kidding about the third balcony. It’s up there, andthough will call tickets snagged by my best friend Biz and I were frontrow, center, it did take a good 45 minutes or so to acclimate to thedifference in altitude. Seriously, I got dizzy. And I also couldn’t somuch scout the celeb scene as well from up there, but from what I couldsee, the audience wasn’t exactly teeming with famous people. Sure youhad your Camryn Manheim, Elliott Yamin, Ryan Cabrera, Geri "GingerSpice" Halliwell and Jordin Sparks. But all the real star-wattage wasfor the show itself. The pre-recorded clips of celebs urging you todonate alone were all with the bold-faced-namery: Kobe Bryant, TheGame, Whoopi Goldberg, Julianne Moore, John Cena, The Jonas Brothers(this made Biz frighteningly happy), Adam Sandler, David and VictoriaBeckham (the first time, I realized, I’d ever heard David Beckhamactually speak, and I’ll just say it was not what I expected), Dolly Parton, Kiefer Sutherland, So You Think You Can Dance‘sMary Murphy, Ellen DeGeneres, George Lopez, Keith Urban, VanessaHudgens and Ashley Tisdale, Rob Schneider, Tyra Banks, Jim Carrey,Eddie Izzard, and Kylie Minogue.
But let’s step back to right before the show began. First of all, I’m thrilled to report there is no Idol Gives Backmosh pit. And while Corey the Warm Up comic was in the house, and didgo through pretty much his entire opening routine, his threat to comeup to the balconies went unrealized. There just wasn’t any time; NigelLythgoe and Co. kept things moving at an impressively brisk clipthroughout. Right as we were about to start, Nigel came out andpromised us this much, and a 15-minute intermission to boot. He alsooffered a few ominous hints at what was to come. "Feel free to cry, ifyou wish," he
commanded said. "We’re going to bereally using your emotions…. I’ve been in tears for weeks now." Afterasking if there were any Republicans in the house (there were, but nottoo many — this is Hollywood), Nigel apologized for the poor quality of the video John McCain had made for the broadcast, passing the buck explaining that Idolhad nothing to do with it and that they’ve requested a new video fromthe McCain campaign for the Wednesday broadcast. Barack Obama andHillary Clinton also made videos — more on all three in a bit.
The judges came out and sat in the front row with all the regularaudience members. Ryan introduced the show, and the crowd erupted soloudly, I couldn’t hear what he was saying at all. Suddenly, whatsounded like Rihanna’s "Don’t Stop the Music" began pumping through thespeakers, but I honestly didn’t pay too much attention to the songbecause I was too busy freaking out that Nigel had employed the So You Think You Can Dancers— from all three seasons — to start the show! That’s right: Benji,Danny, Travis, Nick, Donyelle, Heidi, Hok, Lacey, Pasha, Dmitry, Lauren— and that’s all I could make out; there was at least a dozen more. Theremaining eight Idols emerged early to sing a few verses of "Don’t Stopthe Music," but they quickly moved to the side to give the dancerstheir stage. Who killed it. I know, I’m biased, I write the SYTYCD TV Watch, but if you don’t believe me, Biz has never seen a minute of SYTYCD and she was over-the-moon crazy for them. Rawk!
Like last year’s Idol Gives Back, the rest of the showalternated between on stage performances, a few comedy "skits," andvideo packages from areas in both the U.S. and Africa underlining theneed for immediate aid. If I went through all of it in detail, thispost would be 10,000 words long, and I’d be stealing Michael Slezak’sthunder when he recaps the Wednesday show. So forthwith, I’ll give youa brisk(ish) breakdown of the evening, with occasional highlights fromthe press room by the illustrious Shirley Halperin.
The First Lady of California, Maria Shriver, brings over 100volunteers on stage to kick off the charity portion of the night. Shethen presents a video package of Jennifer Connelly, demonstrating theimportance of access to clean water, something more than one billionpeople don’t have.
Snoop Dogg raps, sporting a mic with a blinged-out Snoop logo and backed by kids from the Snoop Football League.He tells the audience to wave their arms. Pretty much everyone does,except for Simon Cowell. (And, okay, us jaded journalists in the thirdbalcony. Biz waved her heart out.)
BACKSTAGE IN THE PRESS ROOM from Shirley Halperin: AsSnoop leaves the press area, he sees Dolly Parton on the monitor andsays to himself and posse, "Dolly Parton’s up in this mother…"
Paula and Randy introduce a package of their visit to a ruralCalifornia community aided by the Save the Children foundation, one of Idol Gives Back‘s main charities.
Ryan says he’s "headed to the Idol studios," which translatesto "we can’t just cop to the fact that this is pre-taped, so we’regoing to pretend I’m racing between the Kodak and CBS Television Cityinstead."
John Legend rips through "Show Me," and then introduces Fergie, whosoars through "Finally." She introduces Heart. Biz comments that "Halfthe kids here are like who?" But it doesn’t matter after Fergiejoins their riff on "Barracuda," looking hella fierce in tight leatherpants and demonstrating some unexpected gymnastic skill with twoone-handed cartwheels. (If you were wondering, yes, as always, thejudges talked during these performances too.)
BACKSTAGE IN THE PRESS ROOM from Shirley Halperin: Heart’sAnn and Nancy Wilson talk about Paula. Nancy: "I like the [new] single.It’s lovely. She’s a Jackson, she’s got a lovely voice. Oh Paula Abdul,right. Friends of Jacksons have lovely voice." Ann: "That’s the bane ofher existence, isn’t it?" Nancy: "Sorry, Paula!"
Billy Crystal and Miley Cyrus engage in a mildly funny sketch about howneither knows who the other one is. They manage to slip in plugs forthe Disney Channel and CBS, but for some reason I’m thinking that mightget cut. Miley then sings "Good and Broken," the first time Biz and Ihave seen her perform. Neither of us believe a girl this self-possessedcould be 15.
Bono shows up in a video package about an AIDS worker in Tanzania.The only possibly snarky thing I could say here is that Bono manages toget through almost the entire clip without any kind of eyewear.
BACKSTAGE IN THE PRESS ROOM from Shirley Halperin: Fergiereveals that her pants were actually pleather, and she calls cartwheels"walkovers." Continues Fergie: "Thanks to mom for taking me to allthose gymnastics classes all those years. I actually do that song formy show and I do the walkovers during the huge guitar solo, so Idecided to throw it in there for my fans. And why not?"
Peyton and Eli Manning come out to introduce a package of their visit to a school in New Orleans, their hometown.
Bono passes the video baton to Annie Lennox in South Africa. She’staking four brothers, who have literally lost every single familymember they have to AIDS, to get tested for HIV. When Annie loses it oncamera, I lose it too. Then she comes on stage and sings a version of"Many Rivers to Cross" that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
Jimmy Kimmel comes on stage and riffs on Simon Cowell and his"nipples the size of pepper mills." Again, the bit goes on a bit toolong. It’s actually by way of introducing Simon’s video package, whichfollows his visit to a New York City single mother struggling toprovide health care to her two children. Back on stage, Simonintroduces Carrie Underwood, who sings the George Michael ballad"Praying for Time," and brings us to our intermission.
During intermission, a massive line forms in front of Jordin Sparksfor autographs and photographs. It gets so crushed and crazy thatsomeone with a headset eventually takes Jordin out of the theater untilthe intermission is over. Alas, no one really bothers Elliott Yamin.
BACKSTAGE IN THE PRESS ROOM from Shirley Halperin: CarrieUnderwood sticks up for Simon Cowell. "Somebody’s’ gotta do it. He’snot the bad guy, but that’s what he’s there for. It always drives menuts when contestants sit there and argue with him. I’m like, that’swhat he’s paid to do. I took it, you stand up there and take it like aman!"
We come back from intermission to Gloria Estefan telling us to "Geton Your Feet," which we all do. (Except for Simon and Randy.) The So You Think You Can Dancerscome back on stage — we’re talking Dmitri and Pasha with their shirtscompletely unbuttoned — and Sheila E gets a little, er, passionate withher drums.
Just when it looks like Sarah Silverman is going to be able to getthrough her introduction of Forest and Keisha Whitaker’s video packageabout malaria without making me laringe (that is, laugh and cringe),she somehow manages to disparage Mrs. Whitaker. In a laringe-y way.
After Forest Whitaker finishes explaining that it only takes a $10mosquito net to protect people in sub-Saharan Africa from the ravagesof malaria, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pops on screen andpledges that his country will donate 20 million mosquito nets, $200million worth of aid. Your pledge to watch and/or donate to Idol Gives Back doesn’t seem all that taxing in comparison now, huh?
Reese Witherspoon comes on stage, the crowd roars with excitement,and we have our first gaffe of the night. Just as Reese begins tospeak, Debbie the Stage Manager races on stage and asks Reese to do herentrance again. "Pretend you didn’t see me," chirps Witherspoon. We do;if anything, the audience is even louder for her second entrance.Witherspoon introduces a video of her visit to a Freedom School in NewOrleans, an after-school program administered by the Children’s Defensefund.
Dane Cook introduces a clip from a longer film of Alicia Keys’ journey across three African countries.
BACKSTAGE IN THE PRESS ROOM from Shirley Halperin: Dane Cook talked about why he got involved with Idol Gives Back."I watched this from the comfort of my bed last year. I’ve seen andbeen a part of many charity events throughout my career, but I don’tthink I’ve ever been so rocked by what I saw. Nigel got in touch withme and I said, ‘Don’t even finish the sentence. If it’s not the show,if it’s an offshoot, if it’s a show I can do at a comedy club, I wouldlove to help out.’"
After the most complex stage set-up of the night, Miley Cyrus takesto the stage once more, this time singing "See You Again." Two of hersix (!) fog machines malfunction and never fire.
BACKSTAGE IN THE PRESS ROOM from Shirley Halperin: AsLennox talks to the press, she notices people are distracted and askswho’s on the monitor. It’s Miley Cyrus. Annie jokes: "You can switch itoff then? I’m on stage [here]. Just being silly!"
Miley introduces a video of a trip she and her father took to ruralKentucky, during which the crew sets up a judges’ table on stage. Ryanthen introduces the winner of the new "Russian Idol": Robin Williams ina loud, Moscow-meets-Liberace shirt. Needless to say, this routinewears out its welcome, though not before Williams suggests Paula couldeasily win Russian’s newest reality competition series, So You Think You Can Drink.
David Spade (?) introduces a video of Brad Pitt working in NewOrleans to rebuild people’s homes. Then Pitt himself comes on stage,and the audience enters into a near meltdown. After everyone finallycalms down, Pitt’s mic malfunctions, forcing Debbie the Stage Managerto come out and fiddle with it. She also provided the night’s bestline: "I just needed a reason to touch him."
His mic fixed, Pitt introduces a clip of Daughtry (the band)traveling throughout Uganda while performing "What About Now" to asingle village.
BACKSTAGE IN THE PRESS ROOM from Shirley Halperin: Miley Cyrus makes a shocking confession. "I’m so excited to be here but I’ve never seen an episode [of Idol] ever. I never have time to really get into it and see every episode. I kind of read about it in the magazines. Dancing with the Stars — that’s the only [show] I got involved in."
Bono’s back, and he’s impressed that Chris Daughtry got his entireband to come with him to Uganda. "I have got to speak to the Edge aboutthis," chuckles the U2 frontman, who then goes on to introduce thelong-promised videos of support from Hillary Clinton, John McCain andBarack Obama. McCain’s video isn’t as awful as Nigel suggested, but theaudio is so echo-y that it’s hard to understand him. The productionvalue for Clinton and Obama’s videos aren’t exactly Spielbergianeither, but they do just fine.
The judges are no longer in their seats, and won’t be for the rest of the night.
Forest and Keisha Whitaker share another video of their time visiting the cement shack that plays home to three Angolan orphans.
For the penultimate performance of the night, Mariah Carey sings"Fly Like a Bird." The audience is, in a word, underwhelmed. This couldbe because Carey’s mic was under-amplified, or that everyone wasdistracted by Randy accompanying Carey on bass. Whatever the reason,the performance doesn’t so much captivate the restless crowd, andthere’s only a smattering of polite applause when she’s finished.
In the final performance of the night, the eight Idols return to thestage wearing all white. Backed by a gospel choir (and, oddly, the So You Think You Can Dancers),they perform "Shout to the Lord" — interestingly, David Cook and CarlySmithson, standing center, get the choice solos at the end, as theentire stage is showered in white ticker-tape. (I sure hope theyrecycle all that paper.)
And that, in a very large nutshell, was Idol Gives Back. Fergie and Annie Lennox alone are must-see reasons to tune in. I really hope you do.