American Idol proved it still matters on Wednesday with a star-filled block of programming masquerading as a results show. The Idol Gives Back episode had the extra advantage of a philanthropic halo encircling 120 minutes of performances by A-list stars.
It seemed like almost an afterthought by the time Tim Urban was kicked off at the end of the night, but Teflon Tim slid into also-ran status in a decision that won’t be questioned by many.
The show opened with global star power: a video appearance by President Obama and the First Lady. After quickly establishing it was not an SNL skit, even cynics would have to admit it was proof that the show commands elite status. (Michelle warned Simon to “be nice” – a nice, finger-wagging touch.) The Top 12 Idols from this season were reunited early in the show for a rendition of Keeping The Dream Alive that made you thankful for the mute button. They all wore white, so if you thought you hit your head and went to the Great Beyond, it became quickly obvious those angels weren’t singing in harmony and this probably wasn’t heaven.
And before the top 7 became the final 6, Idol produced an impressive star lineup including Elton John, Queen Latifah, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Garner, Victoria Beckham, George Lopez, the Black Eyed Peas, Joss Stone, Jeff Beck, Wanda Sykes, hero pilot Captain “Sully” Sulberger, Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Annie Lenox and more, more, more.
Idol Gives Back featured emotional vignettes, compelling and powerful, with musical performances giving the show a measure of pacing. Establishing the bottom three seemed almost an afterthought but Aaron, Casey and Urban were soon picked, and Urban wore a terrified death mask. And while the President was chosen to open the show, Idol saved Elton for the final celebrity performance, an effortless yet still engaging Your Song.
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It’s a downloadable fact of life that all-star shows produce many forgettable stage moments, but Joss Stone with Jeff Beck on guitar gave a soul-filled, category defying performance that sharpened the show with an unexpected edge. The Black Eyed Peas hit the crowd early with Rock Your Body, complete with futuristic robot dancers and a burning hot space-age Fergie. George Lopez and Wanda Sykes both turned to Idol-customized standup that included Lopez relentlessly busting on Randy Jackson. (“My cousin Gilbert works at the pound and doesn’t say Œdog’ as much as you do.”) Sykes
was equally funny, questioning why the show makes the kicked off contestant sing one more time. (Mercifully, Urban didn’t.)
Alicia Keys, Carrie Underwood and Annie Lennox (stranded in England) sang and an “all-star” ensemble featuring Mary J. Blige and Randy Jackson (yes Randy, dog), slid into Stairway to Heaven. Blige isn’t Robert Plant and that sure wasn’t Jimmy Page playing lead but they produced a listenable version.
Jonah Hill and Russell Brand did a recurring bit complete with fake celebrity friends and the real Octo-Mom working the phone bank. Blink and you missed Jim Carrey.
Yes, Ryan Seacrest warned us at some point that the show would run long but your DVR doesn’t listen to Ryan so if you recorded it and missed the ending, the look-back montage of Tim Urban focused more on his toothy smile than his singing.