"Idol" Empire Shares Fortune

If you weren't one of the 30 million people that typically tune into "American Idol" every week, then maybe you will be pleasantly surprised to hear that the show's executives are giving back some of their good fortune. Finally. For the first time in the show's six-season history, this week's broadcast was dedicated to a charitable cause. The special two-night "Idol Gives Back" segment was a huge, star-studded fundraising effort to help children living in extreme poverty in the U.S. and Africa.

On Tuesday, the night of the contestants' performances, "American Idol" teamed up with its sponsors — Coca-Cola, AT&T and Ford — who pledged to donate a certain amount of money for every vote cast. Last night, host Ryan Seacrest announced that over 70 million votes were tallied. On Wednesday night, the show was filled with singing performances by Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Earth, Wind and Fire, Annie Lennox, among others, along with video messages from celebrities and segments showing the Idol judges visiting some of the most impoverished places in Africa and the United States, including New Orleans.

There were many opportunities for viewers to donate money—some as easy as downloading the contestants' performances on iTunes, another brand that was giving proceeds to the number of charity funds designated on the show. By the end of last night, the show had raised a reported $30 million.

So, now is the time to confess that I was watching, and as I was sitting in front of my TV last night, I couldn't decide whether I was annoyed or genuinely moved. Watching Simon Cowell in the video montages of the suffering children (while an inspirational song played in the background) I couldn't help but feel that the message was a little sensationalized. It's hard not to want to bash "Idol" for tooting its own horn sometimes. But then I think, so what? If a brand as influential — and with as much voting power — as "American Idol" wants to build itself up even more by doing good, who is really going to fight that?

It's not like the American public doesn't know that there is suffering in the world, we just choose to care more about other things, like a singing talent show. Regardless of their methods, recognizing how much influence their show can have on people's actions is exactly where "American Idol" went right. As much as we don't want to admit it, sometimes we need that extra push, and "American Idol" is exactly the kind of show that can make people feel empowered.

Did you watch? What did you think?

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  • Ron E.

    Whether we like the show or not, this was a brilliant brand marketing move, and a very socially responsible one as well. This is what SMART marketing is and should be about.

    They are building a great brand for themselves and they are not only helping Americans and Africans that need help, but they're allowing viewers to literally 'use' the brand as a medium and platform for them to help and feel great too.

    Good! Good! Good!
    Ron E.

  • topbop

    This is basic leverage with the twist it really may do some good. Hopefully they will release an audit of where the funds actually ended up...

    If they really help poor people by doing this, then I hope they set a trend for the TV industry... to GIVE BACK!!!


  • Jason

    I will now stop making fun of my wife for watching Idol. Cheesy and over-produced, but now the show has given back in an incredible way. Kudos!

  • Joe Raasch

    With the basic intent of 'do no harm', the end justifies the means.

    Do you think a child suffering from malaria in Africa or one in eastern Kentucky getting the proper education to break the poverty cycle in their family CARES where the help comes from?

    We seem to get so caught up in the emotion of the political at the expense of those in need. We don't have a money problem in the world, we have a distribution problem! American Idol found a way to get the money and distribute it where it is needed. No grand committees, speeches, partisanship.

    Just results. Thank you American Idol!

  • Tara

    The entire premise of American Idol is taking advantage of artists. This effort to 'raise money for other causes' seems false and fake given the fact of how this show and its producers are proliferating the efforts that labels, artist managers and the record business in general has done since the early 1900's which is own artists and own their art? Technology will free artists of all kinds. Emancipation is happening...watch out Simon!

  • Paula Case

    I personally feel that the fact that 50% is staying right here in the United States is the best part, not that I have don't feel bad and toally sickened by what is going on in Africa but this country and the goverment really need to start worrying about the people and children right here on our own land and give to them first. I think if the presidents worried a little more about charity at home first this world would be a better place to live. Thanks American Idol for at least giving your own country the same amount of help as other counrties. Charity begins at home. Everyone needs to take care of our home land first, then worry about everyone eles.

  • Albert F. Case, Jr.

    I have to confess that I sat by my wife watching the show last night ... and I said much the same thing to her: "It's amazing how much money Idol is going to raise, it will do a lot of good, but boy what a GREAT marketing program for American Idol."

    I agree with your position. It's good for American Idol and Fox TV. But it's none too shabby to get Ellen Degeneris to commit to $100K on national TV, nor is it any too shabby when you figure they raised ... so far ... $30 million. Think about it. That's $1 per viewer, and it all isn't tallied yet.

    Idol has been, and continues to be, a cultural phenomenon. It embodies the concept of "marketing" where you can take a "nobody" performer and turn them into a platinum selling artist. Why not take that same, awesome marketing power and get some people out of FEMA housing in New Orleans (or at least hire some guards so the shooting quits around the kids), get some hot meals, anti-malareal drugs and some anti-aids drugs into Africa.

    All in all ... I think it's amazing, brilliant marketing, a master "buzz making" event ...

    Who could say ANYTHNG negative about what American Idol's producers have done?

    Oh ... did I mention this ... that $30 million cost the U.S. Taxpayers EXACTLY NOTHING with zero governmetn intervention.

    Maybe American Idol should elect the next President and the next Congress!