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Give Back My 'Idol'

Lose Sanjaya Malakar, ditch the cynicism, medicate Simon Cowell, and what have you got left?

"Idol Gives Back" -- that's what.

"Idol" veered wildly off brand with the first night of its two-night "American Idol" event to raise cash to feed and heal hungry and sick children in Africa and the United States.

The producers hijacked their own franchise, first, instructing the Idolettes to sing "life anthems," then taping bits in which each contestant explained that he or she picked this particular song because "There is so much going on in our country and the world and I hope this message is comforting to people," or "If we all unite together we can make a difference - it's time to make a change."

How are the judges then supposed to critique them up there on stage after they sing their little hearts out about imagining nothing to kill or die for, and holding their heads up high when they walk through a storm because at the end of the storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark?

They're no longer show biz wannabes -- they're great humanitarians. It can't be done.

And every call viewers make will SAVE A LIFE, people! Even is suddenly sanctified.

For one hour, Simon -- the only "Idol" judge worth listening to -- bills and coos over the Idolettes as they churn out bad versions of their "life anthems." Chris Richardson's nasal performance of Eric Clapton's
"Change the World" is "more sexy" than usual, Simon says. After Blake Lewis's wobbly version of John Lennon's "Imagine", Simon says "The most important part, you sang it with sincerity, so -- good!"

Professional singer Melinda Doolittle's professional but utterly forgettable performance of generic pop anthem "There Will Come a Day" is a "vocal master class." Phil Stacey, bludgeoning "The Change," has "come back with a spring in [his] step" and Jordan Sparks, who screeched her way through "You'll Never Walk Alone," would have a hit on her hands, Simon says, if she recorded the ancient Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway tune today.

When not billing and cooing, Simon is visiting blighted areas in Africa and the United States, patting the heads of adorable children and grimacing over their living conditions, while saying things like "This is just intolerable, this is terrible... it's just unbelievable" and marveling that he had no idea people lived like this, no idea there were hungry people in the U.S., no idea there were such things as food banks. Simon apparently doesn't get around much -- or read a newspaper.

And maybe the episode of "Idol" in which they show scores of children living in abject poverty is not the week to ask one of the Idolettes the My Coke Rewards Question: "What 's the biggest sacrifice you've had to make since becoming a contestant on 'Idol'? "

So yes, it's terrific that the Fox network and "American Idol" producers are working to ease hunger and illiteracy in the U.S. and Africa this week.

Still, we hope it's over with soon, and they can get back on the horse that brung 'em.

Editor's note: For complete play-by-play of last night's "Idol," read Lisa's TV column.

By Maura McCarthy  |  April 25, 2007; 7:46 AM ET
Categories:  "American Idol"  
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