"American Idol" has teased us countless ways over the years in the lead-up to announcing who gets cut each week. But never before has host Ryan Seacrest toyed with us like he did Wednesday night during the two-hour "Idol Gives Back" charity special.
Because, just like you don't fire someone while they're out delivering gift baskets from the company to the local homeless shelter for Christmas, you can't boot a kid off "Idol" while you're asking people to donate money to help underprivileged children in the U.S. and Africa.
So, one week after Sanjaya finally got the ax, all six remaining finalists sweated it out until the end of the special — after Seacrest announced at the top of the show that he had the "most shocking" result in the program's history. When favorite Jordin Sparks appears to be on her way out, you know something's up.
And if you wondered how they were going to weave the usual elimination heartbreak into a show that featured devastating stories of deprivation in Africa and the United States due to AIDS, poverty and disease, you would have to wait 117 minutes to find out that all of the record 70 million votes cast Tuesday night would be rolled over to next week. The real shocker is that the next elimination will result in two contestants being dropped based on this week and next's vote totals, another first for the program.
The good news is that "Idol" claimed to raise $30 million for various U.S. and African charities aiding children's causes while serving up a mixed bag of celebrity guests and singers that stretched from show openers Earth, Wind & Fire to original "Idol" Kelly Clarkson accompanied by guitar legend Jeff Beck, Celine Dion doing a "duet" with an Elvis hologram, Jack Black bellowing his way through a purposely horrible cover of Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" and Josh Groban singing with an African children's choir.
Another former "Idol," Carrie Underwood, appeared in a music video shot in Africa in which she covered the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You," and, in one of the night's more unusual musical moments, a group of celebs that included Miss Piggy, Shaquille O'Neal, Dr. Phil, Goldie Hawn, Gwyneth Paltrow, Good Charlotte, Kevin Bacon, Keira Knightley and Lebron James lip-synched to the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive."
Other highlights included a new charity song penned by "We Are the World" co-author and legendary producer Quincy Jones, "Time to Care," sung by the white-suited "Idol" finalists, a moving cover of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by former Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox and a performance by the "Idol" cast of the emotional "American Prayer," written by U2's Bono and ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart almost five years ago about the AIDS crisis in Africa.
"People say you can't be the generation that ends brutal, stupid poverty, but we can and we will," Bono said in a prerecorded segment during which he hung out with the contestants.
Proceeds from the $30 million raised will go to a variety of charities, including Save the Children, Malaria No More, UNICEF, the Global Fund and Nothing But Nets.