“Idol Gives Back” had an ambitious goal on Wednesday, asking its viewers to open their wallets for worthy causes in both the United States and Africa. But if I had a bunch of extra cash to donate to where it would really do some good, I know exactly what I would do with it.
I’d buy everyone associated with “American Idol” a watch.
Ryan Seacrest did warn everyone that the show was going to run long, and he wasn’t kidding. He kicked things off at 8 p.m. ET, and 144 endless minutes later, we finally said goodbye to Tim Urban.
The show tried its best to keep the energy up for the expanded timeslot, but didn’t succeed. Even the four “Idol” finalists who weren’t in the bottom three and got to sit in comfort looked bored by the end, as if they wanted to go home, get some sleep and start working on next week’s number already.
It was a shame anyone had to be kicked off at all, not to mention the extra time it took to complete the execution. Not that there weren’t people who deserved to go — Aaron Kelly survived, but he probably shouldn’t cancel those prom reservations yet either — but it seemed unfair to eliminate someone on a night a bunch of really rich people spent the evening asking us for money, especially since it occurred in such an offhand way.
A bunch of people performed; Urban, Kelly and Casey James were announced as the bottom three; we saw musical acts and more heartbreaking videos; and then Urban was gone. We saw the customary montage of his “Idol” highlights, but he didn’t even get a chance to sing one last time, since apparently, 10:24 p.m. was an OK time to end the show, but 10:28 p.m. would have been unacceptable.
However, Urban kept on smiling the entire time. Say this about his “American Idol” experience: There has never been a contestant with a better smile, or one who showed it as often. He was always just happy to be there, even when he was being ushered out the door.
Long though the evening was, it wasn’t that there wasn’t a lot to see during that time. Among the musical acts, Mary J. Blige was great on “Stairway to Heaven,” and Joss Stone and Carrie Underwood were enjoyable as always. Fergie pranced around the stage dressed like she was auditioning for a “Xena: Warrior Princess” revival, and Alicia Keys was worth watching.
Among the other entertainers, Queen Latifah shared the hosting duties with Ryan, leading the Pasadena portion of the concert and hopefully causing Fox to save her business card in case Seacrest asks for too much money in the next contract negotiations.
George Lopez ripped on Ryan and the judges during his comedy bit, which the five already-eliminated “Idol” finalists in the audience seemed to appreciate. Wanda Sykes spent the first two minutes of her comedy act crashing and burning, but saved it with the excellent questioning of ending the show with the eliminated contestant singing again: “Go out there and remind America why they didn’t vote for you. Let ‘em know they’re right.”
And of course, the taped footage of the charities involved on both continents did a nice job of both tugging at the heartstrings and showing practical examples of how the money was being used. Particularly when a lot of the audience is worried about their own finances, it’s nice to illustrate exactly what these donations are going to. Providing badly needed medical care, teaching children to read, helping kids get a chance at a good future … all are exceptionally worthy causes. And when folks such as Jennifer Garner and Morgan Freeman are among those doing the asking, the power of the persuasion is hard to resist.
But we also had Elton John messing up the URL of his own website, not one of the finer moments in “Idol Gives Back” history. Annie Lennox had to perform from overseas, thanks to that meddling volcano messing up air travel. And while Bill and Melinda Gates do awesome things with their money, it was a little weird to see people with that kind of disposable income ask the “Idol” audience to chip in a few bucks.
The show could have saved a ton of time by zapping the Jonah Hill-Russell Brand comedy bits, although it was nice to see Tatiana DelToro and the Octomom doing something productive with their evening. Hopefully they will use some of the night’s proceeds to buy Hill a razor so he can shave that attempt at a beard off.
And after all that, Ryan wrapped things up by sending Urban home. He’d better hope that Teflon Tim’s irate fans don’t respond by rescinding those donations.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at .