"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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