When Justin Timberlake was asked to perform on Friday night's "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon, he didn't hesitate to say yes — and he knew exactly what song he was going to perform.
"Obviously, I was going to help answer phones and help make donations," Timberlake told MTV News. "But as soon as I got that call, all of a sudden ... it was kind of like a big highlighted neon-green [light], everywhere I looked: 'Hallelujah, hallelujah.' "
Timberlake and his former "Mickey Mouse Club" castmate Matt Morris performed Leonard Cohen's 1984 track "Hallelujah" for the telethon. In the years since its release, "Hallelujah" has snowballed in popularity, in part because it's been covered by many musicians — John Cale, Rufus Wainwright and former "American Idol" hopeful Jason Castro, to name a few. Jeff Buckley's version, which appeared on his 1994 album Grace, topped the Hot Digital Songs chart in 2008, after Castro's cover aired on "Idol." Later that year, Alexandra Burke, winner of the Simon Cowell-masterminded U.K. talent show "The X Factor," topped that country's charts with her own version.
The Timberlake/Morris take puts a new spin on the song because it's a duet. The two singers harmonized beautifully, no doubt in part because the song is a go-to track when they're working on music together.
"It's always been one of my favorite songs," Timberlake said. "And my artist Matt, we always kinda sing that song when we're messing around in the studio with ideas.
"The way that it's written can be interpreted many different ways," he added. "But the emotion that comes through — the chords, the melody and also what's being said in the song — it just kind of fit for the telethon."
Timberlake was optimistic that the efforts put forth tonight would be a step toward Haiti rebuilding and growing stronger in the wake of last week's 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
"Hopefully there will continue to be a lot of different ways that everyone can help and that the funds and the actual labor will translate into food and shelter and water for these people, and hopefully that will continue.
"And hopefully you guys download it on iTunes," he added of "Hallelujah," "because you're obviously helping the cause."
iTunes customers can exclusively pre-order the "Hope for Haiti Now" full-performance album ($7.99) and the full two-hour video telecast ($1.99). Pre-orders will be delivered in the days following the telethon. Individual audio performances will also be available for purchase and download for 99 cents each in the days following the telethon. Apple, the record labels and the artists will donate their share of the proceeds to Haiti relief funds managed by "Hope for Haiti Now" charities, including the Red Cross and Wyclef's Yele Haiti foundation. Performances will also be available for purchase in the days following the event through Amazon's MP3 service and Rhapsody, through distribution provided by INgrooves.