Most of Wednesday night's (April 21) "American Idol" was given over to the all-star fundraising effort "Idol Gives Back," featuring performances from Alicia Keys, Elton John, Mary J. Blige and others uniting to raise funds for children's charities in the U.S. and abroad. There was, of course, also work to be done, as another contestant faced elimination at the end of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour special.
But the majority of the show was focused on performances at the "Idol" studios in Los Angeles, as well as a second location at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, where Queen Latifah hosted in front of a rowdy crowd hyped for Carrie Underwood, the Black Eyed Peas and other special guests.
The evening opened with President Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, delivering a pre-taped message from the White House. " 'American Idol' has always been about changing lives, on the stage and around the world," the president said. "That's why Michelle and I want to take a moment to thank everyone watching tonight for your continued generosity as part of 'Idol Gives Back.' "
The top 12, all wearing crisp white outfits, were reunited for one last group number, the 1986 Freiheit song "Keeping the Dream Alive," followed by the Black Eyed Peas, who beamed in for their tune "Rock That Body" on a stage shrouded in fog and crisscrossing lasers. As a half-dozen futuristic robot-girl warriors flashed their ray guns at the crowd, Fergie worked the stage in a metallic snakeskin bodysuit and knee-high matching boots for the uptempo dance tune.
This week's mentor, Alicia Keys, sang her sultry new ballad "Un-Thinkable" while wearing a silky black pantsuit, and then sat down at the piano for a forceful run through the sequel to her hit duet with Jay-Z, "Empire State of Mind (Pt. II) Broken Down." Former "Idol" winner and country superstar Carrie Underwood dropped by to sing her inspirational ballad about trying to make a difference in the world, "Change."
Though former Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox was scheduled to perform, she was grounded by the Icelandic volcano, but still made an appearance in a touching segment about how the right drugs helped save the life of a desperately ill 7-year-old girl with pneumonia and AIDS. She later appeared in a satellite segment singing her hopeful tribute to children in need, "Universal Child," a new song that was available for download on iTunes after the show.
English guitar icon Jeff Beck was joined by Joss Stone and the Jubilation choir for a slinky ramble through "I Put a Spell on You," which featured plenty of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's legendary whammy-bar pyrotechnics. Mary J. Blige also lent a hand, hooking up with Orianthi, Travis Barker, Steve Vai and "Idol" judge Randy Jackson to perform Led Zeppelin's rock classic "Stairway to Heaven." Wearing dark shades, black leather pants and a black leotard with mirrored shoulder pads, Blige brought some soul power to the rock anthem, with Barker bashing out the rumbling rhythm and Vai and Orianthi trading off riffs as the tune built to a titanic peak.
The night's final performance came from Elton John, who encouraged viewers to get educated about HIV/AIDS and to get tested for the disease before singing his ageless piano ballad "Your Song."
Among the stars lending a hand through video segments chronicling childhood poverty and hunger were Jennifer Garner, former guest judge Victoria Beckham, Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, George Lopez, David Duchovny, Chris Rock, Josh Groban, Morgan Freeman, Slash, Jim Carrey, Wanda Sykes and Ben Affleck.
Garner visited an Appalachian town near hear hometown in Charleston, West Virginia, where 45 percent of children are growing up in poverty. She met a family of six that lives in a cramped two-room trailer with no heat and is getting some educational help from Save the Children, one of the night's beneficiaries. Freeman and Randy Jackson traveled to Mississippi and watched as Save the Children helped spread literacy to help rural children get out of poverty. DeGeneres was in Monrovia, California, with David Arquette to see the efforts of Feeding America, which provides food to families in need, while former "Idol" winner David Cook went to Ethiopia on behalf of the U.N. Foundation to see their work trying to help save young girls from servitude.
After taking a year off in 2009 due to the financial crisis, Wednesday night's show was the third edition of "Idol Gives Back," and near the end of the show, Simon Cowell announced that $15 million had already been raised.
To donate to "Idol Gives Back," call (877) 436-5243 or visit AmericanIdol.com.
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