TV preview

Preview of 'TeenNick HALO Awards,' hosted by Nick Cannon

Good job! Nick Cannon and Hayden Panettiere flank Megan Kilroy, one of the recipients of the TeenNick HALO Awards.
Good job! Nick Cannon and Hayden Panettiere flank Megan Kilroy, one of the recipients of the TeenNick HALO Awards. (Charley Gallay/nickelodeon)
By Emily Yahr
Friday, December 11, 2009

During a particularly juicy week of celebrity scandal, it's easy to get wrapped up in the salacious details of the rich and famous. After a while, however, it's healthy to cleanse the palate -- ideally with something about stars that's actually wholesome.

There's no better antidote than Friday night's TeenNick HALO Awards, a slickly produced special in which celebrities surprise philanthropic teens with grants and scholarship money.

Thanks to some favors called in by executive producer and host Nick Cannon (who explains that HALO stands for "helping and leading others"), the show boasts an impressive lineup of stars who seem genuinely enthusiastic to participate.

Some of the stories in the hour-long program (which held a premiere screening in Washington on Wednesday night) are heartbreaking. The most upbeat segment comes in the first few minutes, as dreamy singer Justin Timberlake drops by to meet 17-year-old Leah Stoltz. After her diagnosis of scoliosis at age 11, Stoltz started a support group called the Curvy Girls of Long Island -- which Timberlake dubs "just the best name ever."

Things get much more somber later in the show. Basketball phenom LeBron James bonds with Darrius Snow, 18, over growing up in the inner city and using sports as an outlet to escape. In one of the most powerful scenes, 18-year-old Brryan Jackson -- whose father injected him with HIV-tainted blood as an infant (allegedly to avoid paying child support) -- meets up with fellow HIV/AIDS outreach advocate Alicia Keys.

Still, the producers try to focus on the uplifting moments of each honoree, such as when "Heroes" actress/animal lover Hayden Panettiere takes environmental advocate Megan Kilroy, 17, to see a pod of dolphins.

Be warned, though: There are plenty of cheesy "special effects," such as Cannon's using a Batphoneesque gadget ("a HALO positioning device") to connect with the featured celebrities. But the end result feels similar to "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," only instead of people receiving new houses, it's selfless teens getting $10,000 checks and tearfully meeting their idols.

In other words, get the tissues ready.

TeenNick HALO Awards: (One hour) airs Friday night at 8 on TeenNick, with an encore on Nick at Nite at 9.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company