'Idol' Won't Be Sitting Idly By

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, March 9, 2007

"American Idol" -- the show Rosie O'Donnell is slamming these days as racist, sexist and "weightist" in an effort to raise her ratings -- will devote two nights of its April schedule to charity fundraising for needy children in the United States and Africa.

The project, called "Idol Gives Back," is the major news that for two days before yesterday's announcement host Ryan Seacrest had been promising the show's 30 million-ish viewers. The April 24 and 25 shows will help raise funds for organizations that provide relief for children in extreme poverty.

Gwen Stefani, Josh Groban, Pink, Michael Bublé, Annie Lennox are among the singers signed to appear on the Wednesday "results" show that week. And in a little bit of self-promotion, "Idol" judge Simon Cowell has offered the services of the popera boy-tenor group Il Divo that he packaged.

The singing competition's two nights of fundraising are being modeled loosely after Red Nose Day, which is held every other year in the U.K. Started in the '80s by writer-director Richard Curtis ("Love Actually," "Four Weddings and a Funeral"), that fundraiser culminates in a live television event on BBC.

According to "Idol" creator Simon Fuller, Red Nose Day has raised $820 million in the U.K. Fuller said yesterday in a statement that Curtis approached him two years ago to discuss how they could work together to launch a televised charity initiative in the United States.

On April 24, the six remaining "Idol" contestants will be assigned to sing songs about "compassion and hope," Fox said in the announcement. After the performances, viewers will, as usual, vote for their favorite singers via toll-free phone numbers or text messaging. For every vote cast that week, the show's sponsors and additional advertisers will donate money to the Charity Projects Entertainment Fund.

The next night's results show, when the contestant receiving the fewest votes is tossed from the competition, will be expanded to two hours. The various pop singers will take the stage, along with Sacha Baron Cohen, who will be "in character" as Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev, Fox said. (Not coincidentally, Twentieth Century Fox, owned by the same company that owns the Fox broadcast network, has just released the DVD of Cohen's flick "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan").

During the Wednesday broadcast, viewers will be able to make their own donations via toll-free lines and the Web. Money raised by the two broadcasts will benefit children in the United States and Africa equally, Fox said.

Calling the Red Nose Day event "an amazing humanitarian effort," Fuller said, "I am hoping that 'Idol Gives Back' is an enormous success, raising awareness and huge amounts of money for all these wonderfully deserving causes and allowing us to continue to make these important, world-changing shows for many years to come."

In the States, the Charity Projects Entertainment Fund will distribute the money to Save the Children and other organizations helping destitute children in disadvantaged areas of the country. In Africa, the money will be earmarked for health and education programs, including the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

"At the end of the day, all of us have done very well out of this show," Cowell said during last night's broadcast, referring to the judges, host and producers. "I'm glad we can give something back."

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