HOLLYWOOD — A lot of musical guests have made their way to the "American Idol" stage over the show's seven seasons, but did anyone ever expect to see Snoop Dogg on the squeaky-clean show? Couldn't this hurt his street cred?
"Why could this hurt me?" the hip-hop heavyweight asked backstage at the Kodak Theatre during Sunday's "Idol Gives Back" taping. "This is beautiful, man."
Apparently even Snoop gets sentimental when it comes to the second-annual charity event — which raised $76 million last year for organizations in the U.S. and Africa — and on Wednesday night, the two-and-a-half-hour episode attempted to top that total.
Snoop hit the stage with Charlie Wilson early in the show to perform his new Ego Trippin' street anthem, "Can't Say Goodbye." Kids from Snoop's youth football league took the stage as well, and he said being a coach is his way of giving back.
"These kids are at risk," Snoop said backstage. "And it's so easy to join a gang, so easy to get drugs, but it's so hard to do something right with yourself. I'm trying to give them an opportunity to do something right with themselves."
Snoop also had his own kids in tow — one of whom was a little confused about a certain Disney teen queen.
"My daughter thinks Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana are two different people," Snoop laughed. "She took a picture with her, and I was like, 'Who did you take a picture with?' She says, 'Miley Cyrus.' And I said, 'Where's Hannah Montana?' She says, 'She's not here yet.' "
No word on whether Hannah ever made it, but Miley hit the "Idol" stage a handful of times, to the highest-pitched — and longest-lasting — screams of the night (well, Brad Pitt's surprise appearance was right up there too). Cyrus performed a pair of songs, riffed with Billy Crystal about who he is and visited a needy family in the South with dad Billy Ray. Meeting with the family really affected Miley — especially since it was in her own backyard.
"I know some people are like, 'It's America. [Poverty] doesn't exist,' " Miley said backstage. "But it does. It does exist here, and that's something that gets overlooked. It's great if you can go to all the different countries, but ... there's things that you can do right here."
John Legend seconded that idea, urging young "Idol" fans to get involved in any way they can.
"It's a good example for young people to realize that when you have the ability to help somebody, you should help them," Legend said backstage. "I think it's a great message that a small donation can go a long way, and that even if you're not rich, you can be a philanthropist."
Legend kicked off a string of performances during the show, starting with his latest, the understated-but-powerful "Show Me." He then accompanied Fergie on their co-written song, "Finally," before Fergie brought Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson onstage to perform "Barracuda." The Black Eyed Pea did some pretty impressive cartwheels toward the end of the performance, to the befuddlement of Heart and possibly the audience.
Also surprising to the Wilson sisters is their newfound fanbase, thanks in part to the popularity of their songs with "Idol" contestants. "We see the result when we play live," Nancy Wilson said backstage. "All these younger and younger kids ... have been coming out, which has to be 'American Idol' — and 'Guitar Hero' — at work."
Carrie Underwood, who can also attribute some of her success to "American Idol," hit the big stage once again, but this time, there weren't any discouraging words from Simon Cowell — not that she ever had a problem with that.
"That's what he's there for," Underwood said of the often-grouchy Brit. "It always drives me nuts when contestants sit there and argue with him. I'm like, 'That's what he's paid to do! I took it! You stay up there and you take it! Take it like a man!' "
The country superstar was a little bit calmer when she performed George Michael's "Praying for Time," keeping herself from crying near the end.
"That's a song that I've always loved, and I've always loved the message," Underwood said. "It took me forever to be able to sing that through without crying, and I know if that song made me feel that way, maybe it will make a few other people feel that way as well and maybe make them feel strongly about doing something."
The edited version of "Gives Back" did not include, among other things, the much-hyped, pre-taped packages featuring the three presidential candidates — Republican John McCain and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The producers did find time, however, to promote Daughtry's visit to Africa, and mention the names of each and every multinational corporation involved in the fundraiser (the companies were the first to contribute a combined $15 million). The night also included a message from U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who committed to funding 20 million mosquito nets that would be distributed to help prevent the spread of malaria throughout Africa. And in a video segment, a stone-faced Cowell met with a recently evicted family, beleaguered by chronic illness, in a ramshackle Harlem, New York, apartment.
By the end of the two-plus-hour telethon event, during which the Beckhams, Tyra Banks and Bono implored Americans to open their wallets, "Idol Gives Back" brought in around $22 million in pledges. And some — although not many — of those pledges were recorded by this season's top 12, including Chikezie, Amanda Overmyer, Ramiele Malubay and David Hernandez. The contestants were live, and so was host Ryan Seacrest, who used the chance to speak with an actual Idol as a reason to call. At times, even he hopped on the line to talk to the fans. "Yes, that's really him," he said as he handed the horn back to David Cook. (Meanwhile, cuddly David Archuleta was scolded for spending 30 minutes with one caller.)
During the program, the remaining Idols — who were probably happy to be staving off the elimination that usually follows their Tuesday night performances — also tackled the "Rent" song "Seasons of Love," which will be made available for download on iTunes, with the proceeds earmarked for various charitable organizations.
And now, in the spirit of giving back, we'll offer up some highlights from the big night:
» The show opened with the top-eight "Idol" contestants performing Rihanna's "Don't Stop the Music" with a "So You Think You Can Dance?" crew busting a move behind them. (BTW, we weren't entirely convinced that Jason Castro thought our aura was incredible.)
» Annie Lennox's visit with four orphaned African brothers and her mesmerizing performance of Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" were definitely the emotional highlights of the night. "I think people are really hungry for a kind of consciousness shift, where we feel the connectivity between our different countries," Lennox said backstage.
» Jimmy Kimmel focused a little too much of his stage time on Cowell's nipples, likening them to pepper mills and saying it looked like the judge was "smuggling the Olsen twins" in his shirt. Simon's simple response was priceless: "Jimmy Kimmel, I'd just like to say how much I like the Jay Leno show."
» And the winner for the celebrity guest who overstayed his or her welcome is Robin Williams, who severely overacted the part of "Russian Idol" Ivan Popinov. The comedian even ogled Paula Abdul's chest and told her to "let the puppies off leash" in his rip-off Borat accent.
» Randy Jackson proved that he does, in fact, know Mariah Carey when he played bass for the diva on "Fly Like a Bird," the final guest performance of the night. Carey was at her over-the-top best, with a full gospel choir and the high notes that made her famous.
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