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'IDOL' WATCH: Down to 6 and 'Idol Gives Back'

Tonight, "American Idol" presented a special episode, benefitting "Idol Gives Back," the historic Emmy Award-winning television event and music celebration, that has raised more than $140 million to benefit charities around the world and across the United States. Tonight, "Idol" saluted a number of charities, including Feeding America, Save the Children, the United Nations Foundation, the Elton John Aids Foundation, and Idol Aid.

The night featured a number of celebrities helping to raise money for "Idol Gives Back," including Queen Latifa, Barack and Michelle Obama, Jennifer Garner, Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, George Lopez (I especially enjoyed the "Judging the Judges" bit), Bill and MeLinda Gates, Victoria Beckham, Morgan Freeman, Jim Carey, Slash, David Arquette, Elliot Yamin, Wanda Sykes (who had a hilariously on point bit), David Cook, and Russell Brand and Jonah Hill, who hosted a telethon throughout the night, complete with a number of clever sketches with Ryan.

Due to the sheer number of performances tonight, I'm going to discuss the "Idol" results before moving on to the star-studded renditions we heard throughout the evening. Tonight, the bottom three consisted of Casey James, Aaron Kelly, and Tim Urban. This was not a surprising group; these three had the weakest performances last night and have the most work to do if they want to win. The first to be sent to safety was Aaron Kelly, followed shortly by Casey James. Tonight, "Idol" lost its underdog, Tim Urban. Urban was brought back to the top twelve after originally being eliminated and, though he was constantly called out by the judges, he stayed around week after week. The Audience seemed to love him. Urban was clearly the weakest performer out of those remaining, so it was the right decision, but it's always tough to see an audience favorite go.

The Top Twelve reunited for tonight's first performance. The group sang Keeping the Dream Alive by Freiheit Münchener. I had never heard the song before and was quite impressed by the tight harmonies and how well the singers' voices fit the song. Crystal Bowersox had a number of great notes that showed off her more belty side and each of the top twelve seemed to genuinely enjoy the performance. It was nice to see each of the contestants back on stage, including those who had already been voted off: Lacey Brown, Paige Miles, Didi Benami, Katie Stevens, and Andrew Garcia. A great start to a solid night of performances.

Next up on stage were The Black Eyed Peas performing at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The Black Eyed Peas are always showmen, so the performance they gave was both interesting and different. It did seem, however, that the group was having trouble hearing the music, most notably on Will.I.Am's verse, as he always seemed a half beat behind. They did look good and The Audience definitely seemed to respond. It would have been nice if the performance had been a bit tighter, but it was by no means a poor showing.

Jeff Beck and Joss Stone performed the classic, I Put a Spell on You, matching Stone's incredibly soulful vocals with Beck's inventive guitar riffs. Stone was great; her voice fit the song better than I would have thought and she brought out aspects of the song that aren't apparent in its previous incarnations. Beck's guitar playing was impressive as always, and I especially enjoyed the back and forth the two had.

Last night's mentor, Alicia Keys, performed next, singing a combination of her hits, Un-Thinkable and Empire State of Mind, Pt. 2. Un-Thinkable was a great song and Keys sang it brilliantly, although I did notice what seemed to be a bit of hoarseness in her tone. Empire State of Mind, Pt. 2 was good, though I was always half hoping Jay-Z would come out and join her for the song. Keys' fantastic piano skills really brought her performance together and just proved she is the consummate musician.

"Idol" alum Carrie Underwood performed her new single, Change, which was quite appropriate for tonight's charity themed show. Underwood has gotten better and better over the years, and she completely owned the stage with her performance. The song was a great choice and Underwood's vocals were the best I've ever heard from her. Her passionate performance really stood out in tonight's impressive group.

Annie Lennox, stranded in London due to recent ash cloud currently plaguing much of Europe, gave an emotional performance of a new song called Universal Child. Though Lennox was unable to be at the Civic Auditorium to perform, the song was actually done quite well, combining her performance with a montage of the children and families "Idol Gives Back" is hoping to benefit. Lennox's soulful voice fit the song perfectly and I was impressed how well she did given the circumstances.

Mary J. Blige was joined by an all-star band for her rendition of Stairway to Heaven. The group featured Orianthi and Steve Vai on guitar, Blink-182's Travis Barker on drums, and "Idol's" own Randy Jackson on bass. For those who don't know, Jackson got his start in the business as a bass player, so it was a treat to see him perform. Mary J. Blige sounded fantastic and the band was very polished. Orianthi tore it up on guitar (I had no idea she could play like that!) and Barker was fantastic as always. It was a really great performance from an eclectic group.

Elton John rounded out the night with a performance of "Your Song," performed with his skilled piano stylings. John sounded spot on and I loved the bright red piano he used for the performance. The song was also a nice way to close, showing a montage of the different stories from "Idol Gives Back" that we had seen throughout the night.

Overall, it was an impressive and moving results show. Each of the performances brought something different to the stage and it was great to see the commitment these celebrities have to charities throughout the world. "Idol Gives Back" was an exciting night, though it was sad to see Tim Urban head home. Next week, "Idol" features Shania Twain coaching the "Idol" contestants as they sing from her songbook. The top six will perform on April 27th, followed by a results show airing April 28th, beginning at 9:00pm EST.

"American Idol" is a reality competition to find new solo musical talent, created by Simon Fuller. It debuted June 11, 2002 on the Fox network and has since become one of the most popular shows on American television. It is currently the #1 TV show in the Nielsen Ratings and is one of only three that have been #1 for five consecutive seasons. The cast of "Idol" includes judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, and Ellen Degeneres, and host Ryan Seacrest.

The program aims to discover the best singer in the country through a series of nation-wide auditions, and subsequent viewer voting. Through telephone voting, America has chosen past winners Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, and Kris Allen.

Several "Idol" contestants have been seen on the Broadway stage, including Barrino (The Color Purple), Hicks (Grease), Clay Aiken (Spamalot), Diana DeGarmo (Hairspray, Hair), Josh Strickland (Tarzan), Tamyra Gray (Rent, Bombay Dreams), Constantine Maroulis (The Wedding Singer, Rock of Ages), and Ace Young (Hair).

"American Idol" airs on Tuesday and Wednesday nights on Fox at 8PM EST.




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From This Author Jeff Dennhardt