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 "American Idol"
Previous: So Long, Sanjaya | Next: 'Idol' Gives Back, We Give Up


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So what's next week's theme - "Stop Global Warming" - where for each call FoxFordCokeAT&T will buy a carbon credit? Watching Ryan simper his way thru the African orphanage before returning to his private jet (or Simon "Hug me dammit - I'm a nice person - really!" Cowell visiting a food bank where, if my math's right, his daily income would feed a third world country, or at least the poor in LA) left me cold.

Posted by: Rob Iola | April 25, 2007 8:07 AM

Pandering. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Posted by: Burke Sceptic | April 25, 2007 8:29 AM

Thank you for that article. That was so funny. I had tears in my eyes!!

Posted by: Pt Fed Mof2 | April 25, 2007 8:36 AM

I thought Jordin did an outstanding job. I really hope she wins!

Posted by: Milwaukee | April 25, 2007 8:38 AM

Last night was ok, love the charity angle but thought the show was a bit uninteresting. BTW, can someone please explain Jordin's appeal? Yes, she has a great personality and a ok voice but I think she lacks something. She reminds me of the kids on the Disney Channel that do all those musicals. Good but I wouldn't run out and buy her cd. Anyway.....hoping Melinda wins!

Posted by: Hmmm... | April 25, 2007 8:49 AM

I thought they were all pretty bad last night - I couldn't believe my ears when they all praised Chris' performance. Maybe Phil will go tonight. Yes - the whole idea of Idol Gives Back is a little silly - it would really mean something if the three judges anted up and really showed some giving. The whole idea is wrong - it should just be 'Idol Gives'. I didn't think that Jordin was all that good, either. Pretty much all bad. . .or at lest not good. . .

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2007 9:00 AM

I usually think your comments are right on, but not today. How can you critize a show for raising over 5 million to feed hungry and starving people???

I agree that the judges were easy on the contestants, especailly Chris and Phil. BUT to say that Jordin Sparks "screeched" her way through that song hurts your credibility as a critic. What would it take for you to acknowledge a great performance. The everybody stinks critque is getting a little tried and trite.

Posted by: Chris | April 25, 2007 9:13 AM

lisa, you're dead on. last night's show was boring and most of the performances were boring AND bad. my husband, who never says anything bad about the contestants, looked at me when jordin was singing and said, 'she's off.' THEN the judges started oohing and ahhing over her...absurd!
did anyone else think phil's eyebrows looked darker, as if they were penciled in? i thought he looked scarier than usual last night.

Posted by: methinks | April 25, 2007 9:17 AM

Yeah, we're way too cool to buy into helping a soup kitchen. Those kids in Africa...probably actors. We prefer that our mindless "reality TV" is not interrupted by reality. This article and comments show that it has become acceptable to be shallow. The poor do not care why people donate. Maybe this TV show has made it just too easy to do something good. I would bet a donation that the cynics are not busy giving to any other charity.

Posted by: Nancy | April 25, 2007 9:22 AM

Jordin WAS off. Listen to her again, she barely hits the right notes in the first half of the song -- which was basically any point requiring a more restrained touch -- and "oversings" the rest. She did the exact same thing that LaKisha did last week with her oversinging of Jesus Take the Wheel. Judges hated on that. Why the effusive love for Jordin?

Posted by: matt in DC | April 25, 2007 9:29 AM

I was prepared to be just as cynical about Idol Gives Back, but I did see a touch of humanity in this. It was great that they showed some of the actual charities and the people they are soliciting help for - and not just promoting the sponsors.

I loved Melinda, but I agree the song itself is forgettable. Jordin took a classic everybody knows and put a fresh arrangement on it. Blake took a classic everybody knows and sang it simply and sincerely.

LaKisha again refused to listen to the judges and sang another Idol's anthem. I liked her version better than Fantasia's, but she is proving herself the most uncoachable contestant ever.

Posted by: hosaa_joy | April 25, 2007 9:46 AM

Jordin was crying through most of the the song, which kinda explains the cracking.

Posted by: JCMD | April 25, 2007 9:54 AM

I'm getting tired of the constant pimping for Jordin and Blake. I'm sure they are nice people and they seem likeable, but Blake can barely hold a tune and Jordin's performance last night was terrible. She was flat, then sharp. They blasted LaKisha for being "shouty" last week, but Jordin was beyond screechy and they gave her a toungue bath! I don't think any of these people are that great, other than Melinda. However, I must admit that they all seem like good kids.

Posted by: Lilybell | April 25, 2007 9:58 AM

Re: my comment above - I meant I'm tired of the JUDGE'S pimping of Jordin and Blake. They seem to be the chosen ones who the producers think can sell the most records to teenyboppers.

Posted by: Lilybell | April 25, 2007 10:00 AM

Jordin's "tears" *HURL HURL HURL* I question the authenticity of them.

I'd be so jacked to have her be this year's Tamayra Gray or Chris Daughtry ... a favorite being bounced early.

Posted by: Chris | April 25, 2007 10:03 AM

Lisa - do you have any idea why the links to your column today have your headline and byline, but a story about kayaking and drinking wine in Maryland?

Posted by: Doc | April 25, 2007 10:06 AM

good job lisa - your column really got the nasties writing in today.

Posted by: 532 | April 25, 2007 10:49 AM

Yeah, the judges' pimping of Jordin was pretty over-the-top last night. She's talented, yes, but that was not her best performance (I, Who Have Nothing, anyone?) let alone the top performance of this season or any other.

My theory is that Jordin has the most desirable combination of vocal talent and marketability. Melinda's voice is a far better instrument, but Melinda is a throwback to a classier, more elegant era. Mindy Doo feels like a 40s broad, but Jordin has much better pop star potential.

I think the producers are terrified of Melinda winning the competition, because they know that Jordin would be a far better Idol even if she isn't as talented as Miss Doolittle. So the judges are falling all over themselves to convince America to vote for the girl who'll make AI the most money, even if she isn't the most talented singer.

And frankly, that's okay with me. I've never been under the delusion that AI was actually a singing competition. Jordin can win, and I look forward to what she'll do as she gets older and that big ole voice of hers matures. In the meantime, I'll be buying Melinda's CDs!

Posted by: Northern Girl | April 25, 2007 10:56 AM

WASHINGTON POST - > please fix the link to Lisa's column!!

Posted by: wronglink | April 25, 2007 10:58 AM

Chris and Nancy: noone is saying it's not good that someone is helping. What is distasteful is that the way it is being done comes across as pandering. If you want to help somebody, then you should do so without self congratulation or expecting to gain from it yourself.

There are plenty of hunger relief organizations out there that are dedicated to the cause 24/7. Rich gajillionaire TV producers/judges, who have never mentioned this topic on the show in the past, suddenly hamming it up on the camera with impoverished African children, just before they get back on their private jet to go relax by the pool at their mansion, makes me want to reach for a barf bag. 5 million dollars? Big deal! That might seem like a lot to you and me but in the world of celebrity and big business that is peanuts - the producers and sponsors could donate that without blinking if they were really concerned, and spare us the drawn out publicity spectacle.

This stunt is targeted for people that will feel like they're helping save the world by watching Idol when they're just helping line some already rich person's pockets by getting them ratings. If you really want to help, then stop watching Idol and use the time you would have spent in front of the TV to volunteer or raise money yourself for an aid organization.

Otherwise, Idol should just get back to what it does best - letting shallow people decide which almost-talented singer should get undeserved celebrity status this year.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2007 11:41 AM


If you hate the american idol franchise so much...why do you write about ir every week?

Posted by: HappyDad | April 25, 2007 11:48 AM

The thing that makes me crazy about this is that the Idol folks keep referring to poor, hungry children in "Africa" -- as though Africa were a small country somewhere instead of an enormous continent with scores of countries, most poor but some less poor than others.

The whole "Hey, we're feeding kids in AFRICA!" thing is absurd, because they're not telling us what the locales are and what the specific issues are in those locales.

On the U.S. side, they make a point of telling us at least what state they're in. But there's no context given for the Africa bit. It's like all children in all of Africa are exactly like this -- no ethic identities of their own, just AFRICAN.

This is appalling. Truly appalling.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2007 12:17 PM

In case anyone is interested, this is the U.S. Fund for Unicef's site, featuring its partnership with Idol Gives Back:

It still baffles me that AI doesn't mention Clay Aiken's work as a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador:

Posted by: hosaa_joy | April 25, 2007 12:36 PM

Lisa's back! We missed you pookie! Yay!

Posted by: Yay for us! | April 25, 2007 12:58 PM

11:41 hit the nail on the head on why the whole things is kind of unseemly.

Posted by: Rick | April 25, 2007 1:07 PM

Last night went over like a lead balloon. I am missing Sanjaya. Although his time was up, he brought a liveliness to the wheezing AI machine. Jordin has clearly been anointed the golden girl. She's appealing, but last night's performance was as flawed as Lakisha's. I am also stymied by the continued praise of Chris Richardson (and Blake, although I thought Blake's performance last night was better than Chris's). The judges are clearly trying to sway votes. "Idol quality" equals marketability, not skill, and the judges' transparency incites people to continue to watch and vote. Melinda and Jordin to the finish line, and despite worries that Melinda is not marketable, I'd buy her CDs in a heartbeat. I prefer jazz over pop, and she can cover a wide range of styles (but please, no more Oliver tunes).

Posted by: girlyGirl45 | April 25, 2007 1:11 PM

I agree--the show seems staid without the Sanjaya factor. Sure, he was appalling at times, but at least he provided an interesting distraction and gave people something to talk about. And while I think the fundraising effort is great, it does seem rather self-serving and "easy." The comment that struck me most last night was when Simon said he was unaware of the food bank located near his Beverly Hills home and that he had no idea people might be hungry in LA. Talk about being disconnected from reality!

Posted by: CindyJB | April 25, 2007 1:27 PM

With Britney Spears imploding, there is a void in the preteen market that AI producers believe Jordin can fill. Whether Jordin's win AI or not does not matter, she will be signed by Clive Davis' record company and AI Management Company and get the "Carrie Underwood Treatment" (drop 20 lbs, straighten hair, a buff body).
Jordin will be this season Chris Daughtry and Melinda will be Taylor Hicks.

Posted by: Lisa1 | April 25, 2007 1:29 PM

CindyJB: I think Simon was surprised that there are people in LA who actually eat food.

Posted by: Lisa1 | April 25, 2007 1:37 PM

I've tried to restrain myself but I can't. I wonder if anyone out there cleans their ears or knows a melody from a harmony. It's so annoying that week after week poor Phil has to take abuse from the judges and the bloggers. CLOSE YOUR EYES and listen to him sing. He's no Clay or Elliott, but he can carry a beautiful tune. When I hear the judges marveling over the so called talent of Blake, who my family has decided looks and sings like a wooden dummy mannequin sitting on someone's lap, it makes me wonder if they can really hear in that venue. Jordin is adorable but most 17 year old females cry alot and get emotional. She was off key and actually made me cringe. Bottom line, if this is a singing competition then Melinda should win. If the judges think they know who will be more successful they might want to look back on the way they treated Clay....because Reuben's career is a testamony to the judges' musical ear....not.

Posted by: Music Teacher | April 25, 2007 2:19 PM

Sanjaya made everyone else seem that much better. So, now that he's off the show, we're starting to see that this isn't a real stellar class of contestants. In past years, there were always at least one or two contestants that you looked forward to hearing each week; and it just isn't that way this time around.

But, hooray for Idol trying to do something good with all the money that show brings to Fox/News Corp. So what if they're raising money for 'Africa' as a general recipient and not specific villages or countries? In principle, this is a good thing and $5M is not a drop in the bucket. Well, maybe to Fox it is...

Posted by: Dakota Pants | April 25, 2007 2:24 PM


Interesting observation about Sanjaya taking attention away from the others - I think you might be right. And it WAS boring without Sanjaya (I bet he loves hearing that!). It really was boring last night.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2007 4:03 PM

Sadly, in terms of voice quality none of the men can match the women. I think its silly of the judges to imagine otherwise.
If Simon is sweet all the time, I think I'll quit watching...

Posted by: kieth miller | April 25, 2007 4:10 PM

Well--you know, I think that actually getting money for Charity is the most important thing. If you are going to get on your high horse that they should do this without sucking up public attention, then grow up. Most people do not give to charity unless they are solicited for a cause. Once there is a cause that gets their attention, then they give. If the AI machine can dredge up a few extra million bucks (and remember that on tonight's show, audience will get a chance to donate more beyond what the corporations donated for their votes last night), then whatever the cost, it's worth it. So some multi-millionaires get some ratings and hype when they don't do much for it, at least the money is raised for the right cause.

I for one belong to the camp that anything and everything to raise the money is worth it as long as there are good causes out there (and there will always be a good cause). Everyone knows that the people claiming the credit are less deserving than the people that do it for no credit or work the trenches to get the work done. But, star appeal raises more money than without it, so since it doesn't cost any money for them to pat themselves on the back, let them.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | April 25, 2007 4:13 PM

"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."
There are people born and raised in this country who don't realize that there are starving and/or poor people in this country. Remember Hurricane Katrina? How many people made comments about the people who "choose" not to leave, like they didn't understand why they just didn't load up the Range Rover and drive to the summer home up north. Neither the news nor entertainment sides of the TV industry go out of their way to show poverty unless there's a natural disaster or riot. This paper is too busy running 'pity the poor illegal immigrant' stories to run any about the poor native and legal immigrants. For all our talk and criticism this country loves to pretend that we're all rich or at least upper middle class. Even if you suspect their motives at least Fox decided to use some of the top rated show on TV to highlight people who are too busy trying to survive to text message anyone, much less afford a phone period.

Posted by: give Simon a break | April 25, 2007 4:18 PM

I knew right after the unanimously positive reception to Chris Richardson's performance that all the judges had been off smoking something and that the theme of the night was "compassion". To me, telling some of the amateurs that they could have a recording after an off-key performance was about as kind and realistic as telling a patron of the Food Bank that they could have a sirloin steak if they show up on time and line up next week. Just showing up each week on AI isn't enough. You really do have to be able to sing on key to get a successful recording career going.

Posted by: Jean | April 25, 2007 4:44 PM

The most useless, boring episode of the franchise. Nobody sounded good, the judging was worthless. All in all an embarrassment as far as talent goes.

Posted by: cambel | April 25, 2007 6:00 PM

This is post-spin after Simon scowled at the Virginia Tech massacre comment.

Posted by: scott | April 25, 2007 7:13 PM

Whomever coined the term "Mindy Doo" -- can I use that??? LOL!

I'm so split on this whole thing. On the one hand, I do applaud them using this crazy machine to actually raise money, so that can't be wrong.

BUT -- from an entertainment standpoint, last night show wasn't good. I miss Sanjaya. :(

Not sure what they see in Justin Timberfake, and Blake was stale. I think we're finally seeing Lakeisha's one dimension, but the judges have totally turned on her, Pooks. You're right.

Jordin is by far the more marketable, Melinda's going to be a star whether she wins or not, so I guess I'm just watching for entertainment.

Meanwhile, this two hour love fest is not endearing me to the results show at all!

Posted by: tyeinmd | April 25, 2007 8:46 PM

The "Idol Gives Back" shows were scheduled and announced before the beginning of the current season of shows--are you meaning to tell me that the producers had a crystal ball that predicted the Virginia Tech tragedy, that predicted that a contestant would dedicate a song to the survivors of the tragedy and that Simon would be scowling at something Paula whispered to him when said contestant made dedication? Geez.

Posted by: Mark Jeffries | April 26, 2007 12:11 PM

Mark--no, I think that scott meant that the judges attitudes were softened to make them seem more sympathetic after the negative impression they left after that incident. Normally ascerbic Simon was all saccharin even about mediocre performances. And the decision not to eliminate anybody on the big charity night was also a warm fuzzy. The whole night was full of warm fuzzies and they may have decided to change the flavor of the show that they had been building and hyping to put a positive spin on the show after the incident.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | April 27, 2007 12:28 PM

Please stop comparing taylor hicks to melidna doolittle. taylor hicks was never that good a singer, he won because of charisma. melinda is brilliant singer.

Posted by: chris | April 27, 2007 3:35 PM

I agree w/Lisa - Melinda's bag of tricks is back - I can't/don't like to watch her while she sings. As far as last night, I liked Jordin and Blake.

Posted by: Milwaukee | May 9, 2007 11:21 AM

I was on american idol season 5 I have a producer but I can't afford it I was wanting to ask if you know of any people who sponsor others trying to get started an making a CD and studio work.Thank You so much for your time.Reach me

Posted by: sabrina oakley | May 14, 2007 8:10 PM

I miss sanjaya. I cried when he left.So I called my best friend marrieta and she came over here. Marrieta is popular and nice and that was the fist time I've seen her cry. As I type my eyes get blurry. I know your probably laughing at how emotiomal I'm being but I cant help it. i am an 11 year old boy and i'm broked hearted.When I went to school the next day someone started talking about sanjaya and i started to weep. Right now I'm crying too.Tears are leaking out of my eyes. I want this to all be okay but I know I will always shed afew tears in the thought of sanjaya.He was cute and courageous and everyone at school teases me when icry.My face is covered in tears.I'll never forget him.

Posted by: someone crying | May 17, 2007 6:24 PM

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