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Say what you want about Fox's American Idol. (A riveting display of democracy, or a corny, predictable chunk of TV fluff?) What's undeniably cool is the fact that, in 2007, somebody behind this cultural juggernaut decided to channel its popularity into a large-scale altruism effort.
The annual fundraising concert Idol Gives Back (airing Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET) already raised $140 million in two previous incarnations. Of course, given the economic recession, organizers are tempering their goals. "We can't go into this with the same expectation," said Cecile Frot-Coutaz, an Idol exec-producer. The funds raised will be spread between five organizations: Children's Health Fund, Feeding America, Malaria No More, Save the Children's U.S. programs and the U.N. Foundation.
This year, the show has an A-list roster of guests: Elton John, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Garner, Carrie Underwood, the Black Eyed Peas, Annie Lennox, Jeff Beck, Joss Stone and Mary J. Blige. There's also a pre-taped appearance by Justin Bieber -- who will no doubt thrill all those Aaron Kelly voters! Plus, Idol's season 7 winner David Cook will talk about his life-changing trip to visit a girls' school in Ethiopia.
And ultra-philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, who've supported Idol Gives Back since its inception, have a special surprise this year. "(They) have done something very special, quite incredible, this year," Idol executive producer Simon Fuller told reporters.
Fuller isn't offering any further clues; he wants us to tune in. Fact is, Idol fans will probably be watching anyway, since the fundraising event is being integrated into the weekly results episode, during which one of the remaining finalists -- Tim Urban? Michael Lynch? -- will be shown the door. My money's on Aaron Kelly. Or, on second thought, I'll save my money for the fund-raiser, and just enjoy the show.
Who do you think will be the next contestant voted off American Idol? Chime in below!