'Hope For Haiti Now': The telethon's 10 best performances

Tonight’s George Clooney-organized, multi-network Hope For Haiti Now telethon was a subdued, classy affair, thankfully free of any awkward “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” moments. In all, the two-hour telecast included 19 musical performances, most of which were terrific. I could name two female artists who were a bit out of their league, but since they were singing for charity, I won’t. Instead, I’ll run down what were, in my humble opinion, the 10 best numbers of the night. (You can download them all, by the way, on iTunes.)

10. Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris I confess I’d never heard of Matt Morris before. But after his and Timberlake’s sensitive, almost half-tempo duet performance of Leonard Cohen’s oft-covered “Hallelujah,” I’m a convert.

9. Bruce Springsteen The Boss recorded Pete Seeger’s protest anthem “We Shall Overcome” for his 2006 Pete Seeger Sessions release. But I was crazy about his choice of instrumentation tonight: guitar, accordion, four backup singers, and trumpet.

8. Stevie Wonder Time constraints surely forced him to perform an abridged version (no pun intended) of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” But Wonder conveyed deep emotion (not to mention amazing vocal range) in half the time.

7. Wyclef Jean The Haitian native began his medley with the reggae classic “Rivers of Babylon” (from one of the best albums I’ve ever heard, the soundtrack to 1972’s The Harder They Come) and ended it with an hard-driving number that felt kind of like a commercial for Anderson Cooper 360 (the anchor, who ably cohosted tonight, received two shout-outs). But it was the perfect ending to the evening.

6. Christina Aguilera We’ve always known Xtina was a gifted singer. But her belt-tastic performance of her new ballad “Lift Me Up” (a track from her upcoming Bionic CD) was reminiscent of Whitney Houston in her prime.

5. Beyoncé There was so much to love about her stripped-down version of “Halo.” For starters, there was Chris Martin on piano. And the lyric change from “Baby, I can see your halo” to “Haiti, I can see your halo” was appropriate and lovely.

4. Alicia Keys The ridiculously talented singer-songwriter opened the telethon with the plaintive “Prelude to a Kiss” from her As I Am record. Her impassioned wailing at the end represented all the crying victims we’ve seen in the streets of Haiti.

3. Sting Just when the show was starting to get a little too ballad-heavy, out came Sting to perform a seminal uptempo Police track from 1980, “Driven to Tears,” complete with horns. Leave it to one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring musicians to have the tightest band of the night.

2. Jennifer Hudson The Oscar winner’s take on the Beatles’ “Let It Be” was part soul, part Caribbean, all diva. This is a woman who knows pain and heartache, and it showed.

1. Mary J. Blige I’ve loved Stephen Foster’s Civil War lament “Hard Times Come Again No More” ever since I heard Mare Winningham perform it in the 1995 film Georgia. (Bob Dylan is perhaps its most celebrated interpreter.) But Blige brought it 150 years forward with her incredibly moving rendition. If this didn’t get people watching to call and offer help, I don’t know what will.

Who was your favorite performer of the telethon?


Comments (399 total) Add your comment
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  • AnthonyCW

    I also thought Shakira was amazing, but I’m defending that opinion already on Twitter, lol. She sounded great singing “Stand By You” with the Roots.
    twitter.com/anthonyw_dmn

    • DVaRmy

      Shout out to the Roots….they were the band performing with Mary J, Sting, Shakira and J Hudson. The Roots are a talent filled, entertaining and generous band.

      • abracadabra

        The Roots were fantastic!!

    • Alan

      I agree. I thought Shakira was really good as well. People don’t often see such a stripped down, ballad-y version of Shakira.

      • Cathy

        Shakira was great, it’s nice to hear her sing a ballad.

      • Shana

        agreed. it was one of her best performances.

    • Preston

      Good to hear about Shakira’s performance. Her new album is mostly fast paced uptempo dance pop, but I liked that she switched it up to perform a ballad for this special Hope For Haiti Now telethon.

    • Lucy

      I’m with you! I lved Shakira’s version and didn’t think she had it in her.

    • llevinso

      Completely agree. She was one of my favorites of the night.

      I actually liked it best when singers sang songs that were NOT their own, like Justin, Shakira, Stevie, Jennifer, etc…

      Although I did LOVE Christina’s song. Such power there.

      • naynay

        Agree. That is the best I have ever heard her sing. She was amazing, as was Mary J Blige and I usually don’t like her, but she killed that song!

    • Nancy

      Shakira was one of my favorites as well, but there were lots of great ones, and I also enjoyed Rihanna & Bono, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake w/ Matt Morris (I wondered who he was…). I was “driven to tears” many times, myself. Donated last week, which my government (Canada) has matched. Heartbroken, and worried about a few old friends. My prayers to the people, and particularly the children, of Haiti.

  • bj

    Someone’s smoking crack!! Jennifer Hudson sucked, Beyonce was over the top as always, and Springsteen was boring. Oh yeah and you forgot the best performance of the night Jay-Z with U2! Stop smoking crack it’s rotting your ears.

    • Catherine

      Agreed!

    • Patty

      Was the song JayZ, Rihanna and Bono performed an original? or was is a twist on a song he already sings? Either way, it was great to see performers feeding off each others energy, slightly improved, and a bit vulnerable. It was my favorite because it was more upbeat with positive message.

      • LadySolitaire

        I believe it’s an original song, written especially for Haiti.

      • leo

        I loved that song for sure. It was a favorite as was JT and Matt Morris’ duet and Christina Aguilera.

      • J.B.

        I think Jay-Z took the style and tone of American Dreamin and reworked it with lyrics about Haiti.

    • eloy

      I also agree, more like the worst 10

    • Jonathan

      LOL. Wow. There’s really no denying the fact that personal tastes are, well, personal. I came to this page because I was so overwhelmingly impressed Jennifer Hudson tonight that I felt compelled to see if others were feeling the same way. And I’m still so strong in my conviction about it that I don’t even feel the slightest need to defend it or try and convince anyone who doesn’t feel it. I just feel a little sad for them.

      • Jessica

        I started tearing up when she started singing. It was amazing

      • llevinso

        Jennifer Hudson was beyond awesome last night. Her voice is soooo powerful. You could just feel the emotion.

      • starchild

        I’ve learned when you really enjoy something, it’s best not to wear comments about it. There are people in this world that feel it’s their duty to s*** all over everything. She was wonderful. Almost unrecognizable, too and becoming a truly great singer. She sometimes has a tendency to belt a bit much but last night, she was just awesome. Lovely.

    • Anita

      Couldn’t agree more! Loves that song!

    • Brett

      Given that you thought Jay-Z was the best performance of the night, I wouldn’t be pointing fingers since you obviously supplied the crack pipe at the party.

      • BJ

        I don’t really care for the e-mail bickering but this was an awesome comment about the crack pipe,lol!

    • Edz

      Loved Bono, The Edge, JayZ and Rianna together!!!! Best of the night! Also LOVE Shakira singing balads (ala Love in the Time of Cholera)

    • lin

      apples to oranges.talent conquers all.

    • Susan

      Jennifer Hudson sang a song that basically says “leave it alone, it will work itself out” at a telethon trying to get people involved? What a dumb&(#@$%^. And she slaughtered one of the best songs in the history of music. I had to turn it off. My ears hurt.

  • cns

    who was that who just performed with Neil Young?

    • LauraBC

      Dave Matthews

    • MiaRW

      Some nobody ;) I think his name is Dave Matthews….

    • lu

      that’s so funny — i didn’t have my glasses on, and, at first, i couldn’t figure out who was singing with dave matthews!

      • Annie

        lol me too – I was like who’s that with Dave Matthews?

      • Melissa

        lol…same here! i kept thinking that old guy keeps making the weirdest faces and body movements. it wasnt until he was on conan that i found out who he was! opps!

      • Richard

        My 75 year old Dad said, “Check it out, Neil Diamond is singing with some other guy.” Well, at least he had the Neil part right…..

      • Jen

        Richard, so funny — my 73 year old Dad calls him Neil Diamond, too. He also calls Neil Diamond, Neil Diamond and he knows Young and Diamond are different people. But it doesn’t seem to matter to him.

      • kim

        I’m thinkin’ some people need to brush up on their musicians…Neil Young and Neil Diamond sound NOTHING alike.

  • anikes

    Jennifer hudson really moved me and so did Mary J, the thing that moved me the most though was the young man who lost three cousins and couldn’t understand why he survived and they didn’t. It’s all just so sad.

  • eilsel

    Justin Timberlake by far. That was so heartfelt and emotional and just completely stunning. Just beautiful.

    • Zod

      Agreed. One of the best covers of Hallelujah I’ve ever heard.

    • VickiH

      That was by far my favorite of the evening, it gave me goosebumps.

    • JFI

      AGREED!…By a 1000 miles Justin and Matt had the most beautiful and heartfelt performance

    • js

      My thoughts exactly.

      • Mrs. Timberlake

        JT & Matt Morris were amazing. That performance just goes to show you how amazingly talented (& adorable) Justin is!!!

    • BJ

      Agreed and I purchased the song and play it over and over again, So touching!

  • tweed suit

    Christina Aguilera was by far the best and most moving performance to me, although Beyonce was great as well. Madonna performing Like a Prayer was also wonderful. The only thing though, I wish they had Regina Spektor performing “Laughing With”. That would seem kinda appropriate, don’t you think? But since she’s not a big star or a legend, I guess it would be wishful thinking…

  • Shane

    Let me guess Madonna and Taylor Swift were out of their leagues.

    • KWise

      I second this (in terms of vocals, at least. My guess is Madonna’s never out of her league in any other regard)

    • Rich

      You think??!?!

    • james

      You know how many teeny boppers tuned in just to see her who also have cell phones who can text $10 to 90999 so it was smart to include Taylor Swift. Even if she lacks when she sings live.

  • eloy

    Shakira was the best! No question

    (looked to me Christina Aguilera’s performance was a lip sync)

    • DVaRmy

      That song, originally sung by Chrissie Hynd of the Pretenders, gets me every time, it is a beautiful song.

    • Yolanda

      You’re crazy if you think Christina’s performance was lip-synced. If that wasn’t a live performance (and a damn good one), then I don’t know what is.

      • Number1amazment

        YOU SAID. Christina’s performance was the farthest thing from lip-synced…ppl as usual are just hating and don’t know real singing.

      • eloy

        Well, you can call me what you like. I’m saying it looked that way to me.

        BTW Coldplay was 2nd best after Shakira.

      • Jase

        There was one point during the second verse where her band started to slightly drown her out, and her voice got quiet. If a track was playing it would have stayed the same volume. She was not lip synching, and she was by far the best of the night imo. Great song.

    • wWoWw

      Christina DID NOT lip sync. Stop lying.

      • AcaseofGeo

        He said “LOOKED LIKE IT”. So he wasn’t lying in his opinion. Stop being whatever it is you’re being when you wrote “Stop lying”.

    • llevinso

      Nobody was lip syncing last night. That was why they had to only ask people that could actually SING for this telethon. Notice they didn’t ask for Britney or anything. Only people with actual voices.

    • Danny

      if u think christina lip synced then she must have been pretty good, my favorite performance of the night was hers. she wouldnt lip sync for things like this she hardly ever lip syncs anyway. but i liked shakiras second best

    • Rae

      People have watched Britney lip sync so much they’ve gotten confused! Christina has pipes, the girl is gifted.

  • Travis Toth

    i thought this was one of alicias worst performances she ever did..

    • Patty

      Agreed, her first ‘wails’ were painful, she seemed ‘off’ tonight….but glad she participated.

      • Nancy

        Yup. I second that. She’s still a great talent. She was pitchy with the wails. But they served a point.

    • drsaka

      she sounded like she was flat for most of the song; it was a bit painful.

      • Al

        agreed

    • llevinso

      Yeah, I know Alicia is a great singer, but she sounded horrible last night. I don’t know if she was sick or hoarse or something, but it sounded like she was shouting instead of singing. And I was so excited when I first saw that she was opening the show. Oh well, I know she can do better.

      • llevinso

        I wanted to add that regardless I want to say that I think it was awesome that she participated in this telethon. Everyone should be commended for that. It was fantastic.

    • Lizzie

      She was so aweful that I had to mute her. Shakira was a bit off, too. Mostly the rest was good–Springsteen was great, JT was great, Hudson was good.

  • i’m a lady

    i didn’t like the alicia keys number, specifically for the wailing at the end. those were simply bad vocals. the coldplay tune was far better, and i’m not even a coldplay fan. but the timberlake and aguilera performances were very moving.

    • jj

      I agree. She was screaming.

      • Sam

        Alicia Keys always does that, and it is always guaranteed to be shrill and off-key.

      • i’m a lady

        yes. she is very limited as a vocalist, and doesn’t seem to want to work within her limitations.

    • Chris

      I agree too, she sounded like poo. Super screechy

    • Libby

      Agreed. AK wandered desperately all over the musical grid, searching for her notes and rarely finding them.

  • LD

    Christina Aguilera brought tears to my eyes. So fitting for the evening. I’ll definitely buy it on iTunes.

  • Amber

    Jay Z’s performance, Haiti, Mon Amour, with Rihanna and Bono(?) was great. Otherwise your list is pretty spot on. I wish I could erase T. Swift’s caterwauling from my brain. Ouch.

  • Rokker25

    Christina Aguilera should be #1 on your list EW! That was a master class performance. I cannot wait for her new album.

  • Enzo

    Christina and Lift Me Up was the BEST performance of the night! Best voice of the bunch!

  • musicvagabond

    Here’s the video of Jay-Z, Rihanna and Bono debuting their new song “Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour)”:

    http://www.gotchamediablog.com/2010/01/jay-z-rihanna-and-bono-debut-new-song.html

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