American Idol: The Tumor is Removed...Eventually

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This is my first season of American Idol, and thus my first brush with the behemoth that is "Idol Gives Back." This is the third time the show has staged its charity event, and there were far fewer celebrities this year. The goal was ostensibly to educate viewers about the plight of the needy in the U.S. and abroad, but halfway through it became clear that the event is just an endurance test designed to make you donate money in hopes of making the show disappear.

Scheduled for two hours, the schizophrenic ode to excess and charity actually ran about 150 minutes, which highlights a growing problem: The Idol producers run live TV every year, but they can't keep a show on schedule. (Tuesday's episode bumped Glee back and caused DVR viewers to miss the end, prompting Fox to announce that they'll re-air the ep on Friday.) The easiest way to trim would be to split the charity event from the elimination proceedings, stretching it back to three nights, but that probably presents a bigger problem: Namely, the best way to get people to watch a charity show is to stuff it with talent and promise them more Idol contestant drama, and moving the eliminations to a separate hour would probably push viewership of "Idol Gives Back" down.

The inherent problem with charity shows like this one isn't the message, but the execution: Giving food and money and time to those in need is always a good thing, but dressing that up with somber music and almost self-congratulatory videos feels grimy. Even the opening taped bit from President Obama felt forced and awkward, and if that man's charisma can't save things, it's doubtful Fergie can help. The top 12 were reunited to sing "Keeping the Dream Alive," which must've been special torture for those who've already lost and a preview of what the awkward summer tour must be like.

The action never stayed in one place for long, bouncing between the main stage in Hollywood and the Pasadena Civic Center where Queen Latifah ruled with an iron fist over all of Latifahland. The live performance by the Black Eyed Peas was somehow more awful than could have been predicted. At least in the studio, their empty lyrics and brain dead songs are sharpened with auto-tuning; in the flesh, they're just three hacks jumping around a stage.

Which of course makes it weird to remember that this night was meant to be devoted to charity and sacrifice. I mean, sure, it's always frustrating to think that the amount of money that went into making Fergie's space boots could feed dozens of HIV-positive babies in Africa, but while most other nights that gets ignored, this night was specifically about that problem, which made the conspicuous display of tech and fashion not just grotesque but downright idiotic. If you're gonna ask people to pony up for a good cause -- and these causes were good -- at least have the decency to dress down. I don't even know what to think about the commercials I kept seeing for the KFC Double Down, as if we needed another reminder of just how bored we are with killing ourselves.

Ryan, Simon, Randy, and Ellen all had taped bits in which they'd traveled the country to learn more about combating poverty, and they got to work with some helpful groups like Save the Children and Feeding America. As far as the altruism goes, these were probably the best moments of the show because they were the most on-topic. It was jarring to go from Randy walking with Morgan Freeman through a broken-down Mississippi town to Ryan clowning in the studio with Russell Brand and Jonah Hill.

I do not hate you enough to make you relive the rest of the charity side of the show. Mary J. Blige ruined "Stairway to Heaven" for me. George Lopez and Wanda Sykes showed up to tell jokes, presumably because Larry the Cable Guy was booked. Annie Lennox was stranded in Europe because of the Eyjadhjdhfjefhdesksjkwjd88sjksw volcano and performed via satellite. Elton John showed up somewhere around the nine-hour mark to remind people to get tested for HIV and to then sing "Your Song," a love song that's kind of a creepy background track for a montage of African babies dying of AIDS, but that's the way these things go.

The actual eliminations, done in patches throughout the night, went pretty quickly, and were actually truncated at the end because of the event's ridiculous overage. The obvious people were safe -- Crystal, Lee -- and the bottom three wound up with Tim, Casey, and Aaron. Based on their performances this week and their cumulative work, that makes sense. Aaron was immediately given a reprieve, and then it was time for the cue we've been waiting for: Tim was sent home, smiling all the way. Casey wasn't great this week, but he's a consistent mid-level entertainer, whereas Tim's karaoke stylings weren't enough to keep him in it, despite what's bound to be a rabid fan base of Twilight readers. The guy didn't even get to sing a song one more time, thanks to the show's excessive length, and he and the rest watched his montage as the credits rolled and the night came to a sudden but welcome close. Only six singers to go. I'll say it again: Just give it to Crystal already. Any other choice is a mistake.

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