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Sweet charity: Idol gives back -- and no one gets sacked

Safe at home: Idol's six finalists all stayed in play Wednesday night.

Bait and switch -- but for a good cause.

Host Ryan Seacrest promised the "most shocking results in our history" at the start of Wednesday's two-hour Idol Gives Back fundraiser. And when momentum-rich Jordin Sparks stood alone at the end, it seemed that a big jolt in fact had been delivered by more than 70 million voters.

"I told you this was going to very shocking," Seacrest said.


"Jordin, you are also safe," he added. "How can we let anyone go on a charity night?"

The 70 million votes instead are being applied to next Wednesday's results show, when two of the remaining six contenders will be goners. Pretty cheeky, but who cares when the end result is almost $30 million in donations to fight "extreme poverty" in Africa and the U.S. That number should go up when final proceeds are announced.

Ellen DeGeneres ably co-hosted the event from the nearby Walt Disney Concert Hall, site of live performances from inaugural Idol Kelly Clarkson of Burleson, Il Divo, Rascal Flatts, Earth, Wind & Fire, Annie Lennox and most notably, Josh Groban singing "You Raise Me Up" with the African Children's Choir. That one was sensational.

DeGeneres herself pledged $100,000 to the cause and urged the fellow rich people who watch Idol to match it. And former Will & Grace star Eric McCormack told viewers, "If everybody who ever voted for Sanjaya gave just one dollar, we could do so much good."

Weirdest item of the night: Celine Dion's duet with a still very dead Elvis Presley. The miracle of modern technology put the two of them together onstage, with virtual Elvis looking more alive than Celine during their rendition of "If I Can Dream."

The lamest bit found a videotaped Ben Stiller plugging virtually every one of his movies before pledging to keep singing "Reminiscent" by the Little River Band until $200 billion was raised. The show then made this a running joke, quickly running it into the ground.

Better rendered was Jack Black's live performance of Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" in hopes the three Idol judges would find it praiseworthy.

Paula Abdul went against type, calling it "crappy." Simon Cowell said, "You were better than Sanjaya." Then the real-deal Seal raved after the real Sanjaya laughed it up from the audience.

The show made too much of the fact that Cowell and Seacrest had bestowed their presence on Africa to visit terribly impoverished children.

"It's all right. Let it out," Seacrest said while hugging a sobbing little boy. Cowell did the best he could to be empathetic, but his already indelible cutthroat image makes that a tough sell.

At least they made the far-off journey while judge Randy Jackson ventured to his home state of Louisiana. The best Abdul could muster was a stop at a charitable foundation that she said was located next door to Idol headquarters. She also narrated footage from Appalachia, implying she was there. But you never saw her on camera.

All is well, though, when the end result is at least $30 million toward ending poverty. Five million dollars of that figure came from Fox's parent company, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. It donated a dime for each of the first 50 million votes cast for favorite Idol contestants.

Maybe that's just good business. But no other media conglomerate stepped up, so News Corporation can take an unqualified bow for its largesse.