The first two rounds of "Idol Gives Back" offered television at its best -- powerful music, emotional films and more.
Now, after skipping a year, it returns Wednesday. Here's the preview story I sent to papers. I don't include all of my stories in this blog spot, but I try to include all "Idol" ones:
By MIKE HUGHES
Amid the blandness of TV and (perhaps)
life, there's an instant antidote.
That's “Idol Gives Back,” on
Wednesday. It delivers emotions with small films and big music.
Music? Ask David Cook about the
previous one, when he was an “American Idol” contestant.
“We all snuck up to the balcony and
(saw) Annie Lennox's performance,” he said. “It was just her on
the piano; in the background, they were showing images of childen,
and it just tore me up.”
Films? Ask Cecile Frot-Coutaz, an
“Idol” producer, about one that year; it had Miley and Billy Ray
Cyrus meeting a family in Appalachia.
“I remember the mother saying …
that if the gas prices went any higher, she wouldn't be able to
afford to take her kids to school,” she said. “I remember that
really struck me.”
Now Lennox will be back. So will
Carrie Underwood, Alicia Keys, Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Joss Stone
(paired with Jeff Beck) and more.
“People really want to take part ….
Nobody turns us down,” Frot-Coutaz said. A few people couldn't do
it because of scheduling problems; one or two (including 16-year-old
Justin Bieber) taped in advance. Most, however, will be live in Los
Angeles or (with Queen Latifah) in Pasadena.
That will be part of a crowded night
that includes the elimination of one of the seven contestants.
The first “Idol Gives Back” feigned
an elimination, then spared everyone. The second was a special on a
different night than the elimination; with no drama, ratings dipped,
hurting the bid for donations.
“The competition episodes work better
than the specials,” Frot-Coutaz said. So now everything will be
packed into one night. “We're trying to figure out a way to make it
all fit into two hours.”
That will include time for films about
needs in the U.S. and Africa. Bill and Melinda Gates will talk about
their efforts there; Cook, the 2008 “Idol” winner, will show his
trip to Ethiopia.
“There is definitely a sense of hope
and an amazing vibrancy here,” Cook said by phone, during his visit
to a school in Addis Ababa. “Especially with the young girls at
They are a key focus, said Elizabeth
Gore, who heads two United Nations Foundation groups.
“Girls make up 70 per cent of the
world's 130 million out-of-school youth,” she said. Some don't have
access or can't afford school, she said; for others it's “as simple
as the fact that they have to go fetch water for six to 15 hours a
day, because they don't have water holes nearby.”
Cook met a 7-year-old orphan at the
school. “She is one of the most vibrant, joyous girls that I think
I've ever met,” he said. “The girls at the school genuinely want
to have an education …. I remember being 7 years old and I didn't
have that foresight. These girls are wise beyond their years.”
He also met a 19-year-old who has been
at the school for five years. “She actually escaped from a rural
area … on her own, to escape early marriage and sex trade.”
In such areas, Gore said, change isn't
expensive. “When you go and see these places and what the need is,
$10 can literally change someone's life.”
That's a change in attitude,
Frot-Coutaz said. The first two rounds of “Idol Gives Back,” in
2007 and 2008, raised a combined $140 million. When the recession
hit, “Idol” skipped last year (with the possibility of making it
only once every two years) and now talks more about small donations.
It will be “much more low-key,”
Frot-Coutaz said. “Whatever people donate will be great. We realize
that we can't go into this with the same expectations.”
Viewers can, though. They can expect
moments of strong emotion.
– “Idol Gives Back”
– 8-10 p.m. Wednesday, Fox
– Viewers will be asked for
donations. This year, producers say, slightly more will stay in the
U.S. than will go overseas. The groups involved include Malaria No
More, Feeding America, Children's Health Fund, United Nations
Foundation and the U.S. branch of Save the Children.