Up with something
I’m not going to make fun of Celine Dion for playing paddycake with AIDS patient kids in Africa. I’m just not. The Idol Gives Back special is, by any measure, A Good Thing: the highest-rated TV show in the country making a big event out of reminding everyone that crippling poverty still exists and that they should maybe give some money to people who need it. And this year’s show was pretty tastefully low on self-congratulation, at least by the admittedly low standards of celeb-jammed telethons. Last year’s show was billed as, among other things, an Idol results show, with Ryan Seacrest teasing a Jordin Sparks elimination before making the big bait-and-switch announcement that nobody was going home this week. This year, they added a Thursday night results show, so they were free to run this thing as a celebrathon and nothing else. I’m not going to make jokes about the clips of Bono or Alicia Keys or whoever in Africa. But this was still a huge mass-media love-in, and there’s still fun to be had. For instance, there’s this Times story about how all three presidential candidates taped messages for the show but the show somehow ran out of time and didn’t air any of them. Any TV special that makes room for Fergie but not for the next president is not immune to one of these running diaries.
8:00: Seacrest forgoes the “This is American Idol!” bit entirely because this show doesn’t actually have much of anything to do with American Idol.
8:01: Oh wait, all the contestants are here after all! And they’re singing “Don’t Stop the Music” while herky-jerk dancers (the ones from So You Think You Can Dance, apparently) go batshit all around thim. See, this is why American Idol is such a weirdly anachronistic show; the singers always look profoundly uncomfortable singing some actual hard-stomping new pop music rather than the goopy throwback ballads that are this show’s bread and butter.
8:05: And the first big transcendent celebrity of the show is … somebody from NASCAR.
8:10: George Lopez speaks Spanish! Kylie Minogue reminds us of her existence! Truly, this is some dazzling starpower.
8:16: Ben Stiller gets way less screen time than last year, which is a good thing. I miss The Ben Stiller Show.
8:18: Snoop Dogg has the good taste to not do “Sensual Seduction” on this show. Instead, he and Uncle Charlie Wilson do an abbreviated version of “Can’t Say Goodbye,” the really nice soul-rap power-ballad that ends Ego Trippin’, while Snoop’s pee wee football kids wave their hands behind him. Hey, this was pretty good! Is this the first time we’ve had a rapper actually rapping on American Idol?
8:21: This is definitely the first time we’ve had a pro wrestler on American Idol. Triple H has two words for ya: “please give.” Ha.
8:23: Paula and Randy visit a town where the per capita income is less than $9000. Jesus.
8:26: As part of some halfassed comedy bit, Teri Hatcher sings “Before He Cheats.” Can this end, please?
8:29: It’s Mary Murphy! I don’t know who that is. She’s screaming.
8:32: The Jonas Brothers get an Archuleta-level scream just for showing up onscreen.
8:35: Billy Crystal introduces Miley Cyrus, who still doesn’t care about American Idol. She plugs her album. And her movie. And makes fun of Billy Crystal. She also sings, thus ably demonstrating why she wouldn’t make it past the first-round auditions on this show.
8:42: Hey Chikezie is back! And he’s pretending to answer phone calls! If this is the last we’ll see of this guy, that’s pretty sad.
8:52: Fergie and John Legend team up again, and they’re not any less boring than they were at the Grammys. These two get exponentially lamer as they get closer to each other, and it’s not like they both started out with cool to spare. Fergie hits one big note, anyway; I wonder how the judges feel about it.
8:54: Oh snap, it’s Heart! Apparently, they’re Fergie’s idols. I wonder how Ann and Nancy Wilson feel about Idol contestants singing their songs at least three times a season since forever. Or about having to let Fergie sing half of “Barracuda.” I guess Fergie is allowed to pull stunts like this because she has leather pants on. And does one-handed cartwheels. This is goofy as all hell. Fergie sounds good and everything, but we shouldn’t be allowing stuff like this to happen.
8:57: Whoa, and now it’s John Cena, definitely the first rapping wrestler to ever be featured on American Idol. Here’s hoping we get the entire WWE locker room before the show ends. “…And now, a very special message from the Boogeyman.”
9:06: Mannings. Urg.
9:11: Beckhams. Ha.
9:16: Annie Lennox, who we just saw crying in Africa in a video package, sings “Many Rivers to Cross” on mostly-unaccompanied piano and just murders it the same way she murdered “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the special last year. These days, Annie Lennox’s main function seems to be showing up on Idol Gives Back specials and singing songs about metaphorically crossing bodies of water. It’s a good role for her.
9:18: Kiefer Sutherland shows up, and he doesn’t even look drunk.
9:22: Jimmy Kimmel roasts Simon Cowell while Simon tries not to look pissed. I’m enjoying this.
9:27: Carrie Underwood has apparently replaced Kelly Clarkson as the poster child for this show, the one all future Idol contestants should watch very closely. She sings some big, stately string-drenched ballad, and doesn’t actually do particularly well with it (her voice is all wrong for this stuff), but she looks like a star doing it. Still, Kelly Clarkson did better in this spot last year.
9:35: Gloria Estefan sings “Get On Your Feet”! This song rules! And Sheila E totally knocks overt her hi-hat during the breakdown! Still, it’d be nice if they could have somebody performing a vaguely salsa-inflected song without surrounding them with bugged-out salsa-dancers.
9:43: Pretty jarring transition there between uber-snarky Sarah Silverman and uber-sincere Forrest Whitaker there.
9:47: So they don’t have time for the next American president but they do have time for the current British prime minister? Weird. Britain is buying a whole lot of mosquito nets. Pretty insane how cheap it is to actually keep people alive with those things and how many people still die without them.
9:53: Another Idol contestant group-sing, and right now it’s “Seasons of Love,” which, as both a goopy ballad and a show-tune, is pretty much the perfect song for an Idol contestant group-sing.
10:05: More Miley Cyrus, this time singing “See You Again” and making heavy use of Bond-movie-intro silhouettes and laser-lights. None of this particularly screams give to charity. “See You Again” sort of rules in a post-Clarkson new-wave crunch-pop way. And it’s interesting that someone involved in the production of Idol has some idea of what American pop music sounds like these days, even if Simon’s ideas of what “contemporary” is don’t look much like anything I’d recognize. Miley and Billy Ray also do a video-package on poverty in Kentucky.
10:15: Robin Williams does a bit as the winner of Russian Idol. It is not funny. The judges look uncomfortable.
10:23: David Spade completes the random-ass early-90s SNL trifecta after Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider. Nobody called Ellen Cleghorne? Spade manages to introduce a Brad Pitt video-segment without making fun of Brad Pitt.
10:26: Ah, Brad Pitt is here. That’s why Spade didn’t make fun of him. He introduces a video of Daughtry playing unplugged in Africa, a blatant attempt to recreate that Carrie Underwood “I’ll Stand By You” thing from last year. This is not going to blow up the way “I’ll Stand By You” did because it’s not very good. The waving African kids surrounding Daughtry seem to enjoy it, though.
10:35: Mariah Carey sings some big gospel-choir ballad that I can barely notice because the previous two and a half hours of ballads have totally numbed me.
10:40: One last final all-Idol group-sing, this time with everyone dressed like angels. Apparently it’s some fundamentalist Christian song, but I’m past paying attention to lyrics now. I know the poor are getting paid and all, but I’m really ready for this to end.