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April 9, 2008
Idol Chatter: Giving back - again


There must have been some serious anxiety for "American Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe: How do you condense "Idol Gives Back" into a measly two and a half hours?

Well, he did it. Period.

Wednesday night's second annual charity drive was just as emotional, just as gut-wrenching, just as uplifting as last year's. And just as star-studded. But of course.

And guess what? Whatever bad stuff going on in most of our lives pales in comparison to what's still going on in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and in Africa with epidemics of AIDs and malaria. And then, there's the ridiculousness of poverty in our own rural backyards, plus the lack of health care on the streets of New York.

These were the areas most touched upon in the show, which certainly hopes to surpass last season's fundraising efforts of $75 million.

This season's "Idol Gives Back" drew some amazing talent, from comedians Billy Crystal and Robin Williams to amazing musical performances by Fergie and Heart sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson (my husband knows Nancy - hah!), Carrie Underwood, Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus and Gloria Estefan with Sheila E.

The three "Idol" judges - Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell - did their own profiles on after-school programs for disadvantaged kids outside L.A. and families with no health insurance in New York. (Just when you thought Simon might be cold as a cucumber, think again.)

But, certainly, the videos of celebs visiting children suffering from HIV and malaria in Africa and poverty in the U.S. are what this show is all about. Props to Annie Lenox, who was on last season's show and who this year visited Tanzania and a family of four brothers - orphans - about to be tested for HIV.

And to the amazing Alicia Keys for journeying to Africa to raise awareness about the need for medical supplies; to Miley and her dad, Billy Ray, for helping get books to kids in rural Clay County, Ky., (where Billy Ray grew up), and to actor Forest Whittaker and his wife, in Africa urging the need for mosquito nets.

FYI: Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, pledged 20 million nets in the malaria effort.

There was Bono, Ben Stiller, Ellen DeGeneres, the NBA's Kobe Bryant, Celine Dion, Jimmy Kimmel, NASCAR's Jimmy Johnson, David and Victoria Beckham, the NFL's Eli and Peyton Manning, Whoopi Goldberg and - get your hands up for...the first lady of California, Maria Shriver, who said, "We are the ones we've been waiting for," in her effort to drum up support for volunteers working with charitable organizations.

Then add an amazing clip of Daughtry (i.e., Season 5's Chris and his band), visiting and performing in Africa.

The final eight "Idol" contestants (pictured) sang and manned the phones, taking donations throughout the show.

The show ran over, but it was worth it. Mariah Carey closed with "Fly Like a Bird," with Randy J. on guitar. Guess we finally figured out why the contestants aren't supposed to sing Mariah songs.

Some of the charities that will benefit? The Children's Defense Fund, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Make It Right (the campaign launched by actor Brad Pitt to help New Orleans rebuild homes and recover from Katrina), Malaria No More, Save the Children, and the Children's Health Fund.

Oh, and for the actual "Idol" competition? I'll be back Thursday with possible fund-raising figures and, of course, a quick look ahead to Thursday night's live results show (at 8 p.m. on Channel 40).

One last thing: Even after tonight, you can still donate at and download performances at iTunes.

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