The Top 12 perform
Lit with red, white and blue lights, host Ryan Seacrest kicked off the show by introducing a message from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. The president, borrowing a term from judge Randy Jackson, told the contestants, "You're all my dawgs," and Michelle cautioned tough judge Simon Cowell to "be nice."
Ryan then introduced co-host Queen Latifah, who would be introducing bands on a live stage in Pasadena (This arrangement probably made it easier to transition between bands during a live broadcast).
The Top 12 then performed "Keeping the Dream Alive," all dressed in white outfits that fit their personal style. It was a pretty lackluster performance, despite some swooping camera angles. [VIDEO OF TOP 12]
Throughout the program, video segments showed more about the organizations that would be aided by the charity drive. Actress Jennifer Garner did a special report on Save the Children's work in West Virginia. Then Victoria Beckham and Ryan, in the studio, interviewed two children from Goshen, California, about their experiences with the program.
Comedians Jonah Hill and Russell Brand did a comedy bit with Ryan, where they claimed to have a large bank of celebrities answering phones but a wide shot showed no one. It was much funnier in previous years when Ben Stiller did comedy bits for the program. I wonder why he didn't come back?
Ryan interviewed a couple of the contestants about their performances, probably killing time before he got the go-ahead to toss it to Queen Latifah in Pasadena, who introduced a performance by the Black-Eyed Peas of "Rock That Body." Fergie looked fabulous, wearing a gold swimsuit with big gold boots, but I found the song kind of tuneless.
By the way, you can download the evening's performances from iTunes, and the net proceeds go to support the cause.
Then Ryan did the voice-over for a video about a malaria clinic in Africa, with a tragic story about a pregnant woman who died of the disease.
In another comedy bit, George Lopez was announced as the winner of an auction, which allowed him to take Ryan's place. But instead of eliminating a contestant, he decided to roast the judges. Some of the jokes worked better than others, eliciting some mild laughter, and he declared all the judges safe.
Then came the Ford music video, featuring the Top 7 as workers at a building site, encountering numerous problems, such as spilled paint and other accidents. You can see it at the Ford video section of the official site.
Ryan finally began the results for real, asking Crystal Bowersox and Casey James to join him at the center of the stage. He read a summary of their performances and then announced that one was safe and the other was in the bottom three. The person in the bottom three was Casey, who had to go sit on the tulip stools.
Next, Ryan brought Aaron Kelly and Lee Dewyze to the center of the stage. After reading a summary of their performances, he announced that the person who would move on in the competition was Lee. This meant Aaron had to join Casey in the bottom three.
Back to Pasadena, where Jeff Beck and Joss Stone, with the Jubilation Choir, performed "I Put a Spell on You." She's got a great voice and was wearing a long, glittering dress for the occasion, while Jeff Beck demonstrated his guitar mastery, clad in a white sleeveless vest with tribal patterns. This one is actually worth buying on iTunes, if you're interested.
Throughout the program, famous people made video appeals, including the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon.
Morgan Freeman, live in the studio, introduced a video segment of him and Randy in Mississippi with Save the Children, where the organization works on improving educational and physical opportunities. As Morgan put it, "Literacy is the ladder out, but we have to be fit enough to climb."
Alicia Keys then performed two songs, "Unthinkable (I’m Ready)" and "Empire State of Mind," the second at the piano. She wore a black silk jumpsuit and showed she's a consummate performer. Again, the performance is available on iTunes, with proceeds going to Idol Gives Back.
Another comedy bit with Jonah Hill and Russell Brand had them trying to pass off celebrity impersonators as the real deal, including a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. For some odd reason, they also had the real Slash (who they treated as an impersonator), along with previous Idol contestant Tatiana Del Toro, whom they introduced as Clay Aiken (angering all the Claymates). They brought in Jim Carrey, who ran away when he noticed all the celebrity impersonators. Weak, just weak.
Queen Latifah introduced another star, Carrie Underwood, season four Idol winner, who performed "Change." The song was actually inspirational (as was her really cute tea-length evening dress). She also announced she'll donate 36 cents of every tour ticket she sells to Save the Children. [VIDEO OF CARRIE]
In a videotaped segment, Ellen DeGeneres joined forces with David Arquette to see the work being done by Feed America. Then, in another videotaped segment, Bill and Melinda Gates discussed the work of their foundation in conjunction with Global Health Care.
Wanda Sykes, a self-proclaimed American Idol fan, did a live set about the show and the eliminations. She got even the contestants laughing, more than half of whom were still waiting for their results.
Back to the results. Siobhan Magnus, Michael Lynche and Tim Urban were called to the center of the stage. After a recap of their performances, Siobhan was declared safe. Ryan reminded Michael that last year, Matt Giraud was saved by the judges but only lasted two more weeks. "After the nationwide vote, you have defeated the odds. You are safe." This put Tim in the bottom three, joining Casey and Aaron.
Season seven winner David Cook made a live appearance to introduce video of his trip to Ethiopia, focusing on the issues of women and young girls. [VIDEO OF DAVID'S TRIP]
Annie Lennox, who had intended to be at the live studio, was stranded in London because of the fallout of volcanic ash from the recent Icelandic volcano. Fortunately, she'd already done her part, as a videotaped segment showed, visiting a girl in Africa who was deathly ill of AIDS. A second, follow-up video showed Annie visiting her again after she went on a medicinal regimen, where the formerly skeletal girl looked much healthier. The drugs have worked. Because she couldn't be in the studio for a planned live performance, Annie contributed a recorded performance of "Universal Child," which she sang on a bare stage, wearing a T-shirt that says "HIV Positive." It was mesmerizing. [VIDEO OF ANNIE]
Ryan had warned that the show would run over, and he wasn't kidding. Only a couple minutes before 10, Mary J. Blige and her all-stars, including Orianthi, Travis Barker, and Randy Jackson, performed "Stairway to Heaven." Smoking! [VIDEO OF MARY J. BLIGE]
Simon then introduced his videotaped report on the work of the Children's Health Fund in Arizona. Ryan announced that the show had raised over $15 million since the program was on the air that night.
For the final performance of the evening, Queen Latifah interviewed Elton John about the work done by his AIDS organization. He performed "Your Song" at a red piano, one of the best songs of all time, IMHO. [VIDEO OF ELTON JOHN]
Ryan announced that next week the theme would be Shania Twain (country week!) and she would be the mentor. In previous years, country week has been a wash, but I'm predicting great things this time from Crystal and Casey. Who knows? Maybe the others will also surprise us.
Finally, it was time for the results. First, Ryan sent Aaron to safety, leaving Casey and Tim to sweat it out. "After the nationwide vote, the person leaving American Idol tonight is Tim Urban." Thank God!!!!! If Casey had been cut while Tim stayed, I would have screamed. Cut to some weepy-looking girls in the audience.
Ryan told Tim, "Keep that smile alive." There was no time for a performance, only for a montage of Tim's experiences on American Idol. He smiled as he watched it, no doubt remembering good moments with the other finalists. They were on stage with him, watching, and he turned to them to joke about moments he seemed to enjoy seeing over again. I have to say, this guy just can't be defeated, and I admire that.
So why was Tim's number finally up? More importantly, why did he last so long? He came into the competition with more than one disadvantage: he got very little exposure during the audition shows and Hollywood Week. What's more, he was a last-minute substitution when another contestant was cut due to a contractual issue. So as he joined the show, some viewers were already wondering why he deserved a slot as opposed to other talented singers they'd seen during the audition shows.
Let's just say that Tim's success shows the judges (and the producers) know what they're doing. The perpetually smiling Tim had the good looks that would appeal to tween voters (who tend to vote more fervently than many older viewers), and his good-natured attempts to take the judges' advice meant that his performances improved dramatically over the live shows. In return, those viewers who based their votes solely on performance probably began to toss him a few votes, as well.
By this point in the competition, though, Tim had reached the limit of his performance capabilities. Although he is still a potential pop star (and will probably be one of the Top 10 who elicits the most screams during the summer tour), he will never be an outstanding vocalist. Rather, he could have a solid career singing pleasant pop songs with album covers that show off his bright smile and full-bodied hair.
Why is Tim still smiling, then, even as he gets eliminated? Because he knows this is not the ending, by a long shot. For him, it's the beginning of realizing his dreams.
On a night about charity, it's a good idea to be gracious about being eliminated.