Three things I learned from watching two and a half hours of "Idol Gives Back" last night: Heart still rocks, Teri Hatcher has a decent voice, and Fergie can do one-handed cartwheels. While singing in leather pants. For that, I say props, woman.
In spite of myself, I actually enjoyed Idol's yearly telethon to raise awareness for children in need. Unlike last year's event, the taped segments weren't overly treacly, the musical performances were entertaining, and the guest stars were A-list. (Although I have to say: after scoring the coup of getting Brad Pitt to present on your show, you have him introduce... Daughtry? Shouldn't it be the other way around?) Even the cross-promotions weren't as egregious as normal. Aside from Fox's deft incorporation of the So You Think You Can Dance hoofers with the remaining contestants, the most pimped-out network actually seemed to be ABC. (Witness: Jimmy Kimmel chatting a tad too much about Simon's nipples and a quasi-nervous looking Hatcher rocking out to Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats.") The Desperate Housewives star was clearly talked into the gig by James Denton, her TV husband and guitarist for the fantastic Band From TV. For those unfamiliar with the group, BFTV is a charity cover band started by J.J. Abrams pal and ubiquitous character actor Greg Grunberg, who in turn, has recruited co-stars like Hugh Laurie and Bob Guiney to sign on. Though ivory-tickler Laurie was tragically absent from the gig, Jesse "Dr. Chase" Spencer picked up the slack (and scored some extra airtime!) with his vigorous violin playing.
The other musical performances were hit or miss. Snoop Dogg brought it, Fergie and Heart brought it, and a glam-looking Carrie Underwood brought it. Plus, I'm a sucker for Miley Cyrus ("See You Again" repeats endlessly on my iPod gym mix), so I didn't mind her double bill. I especially loved that she kind of awkwardly stomped around the stage, flung her arms in all directions, and danced like the 15-year old that she is, as opposed to a hyper-sexualized femmebot.
"Idol" also attracted the usual hodgepodge of celebrities (Tyra Banks, Maria Shriver, Peyton Manning -- who was in a far more charitable mood than he was toward the United Way kids he once tried to "coach") and Brits strong-armed by the Simons (Cowell and Fuller) to make key appearances. Other segment presenters (both taped and live) included usual suspects Bono and Annie Lennox, the alpha-actress trifeca of Reese Witherspoon, Julianne Moore, and Jennifer Connelly, and a distinctly dark-tressed Ben Stiller. Although the upcoming Tropic Thunder star's intro was hit or miss, his comment about AI essentially being about "convincing crazy people that they belong on television" was right on target. Dane Cook? Unfunny as usual. The kinda-Comic Relief reunion, with Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, and Robin Williams? Probably should have updated their material.
The AI contestants themselves were meh. The Rent sing-a-long, while a good fit in theory, seemed disjointed, although the kids, in the words of Randy Jackson, all worked it out for Rihanna's "Please Don't Stop the Music." It was a hawt night, dog!