| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES "American Idol," the TV singing television talent show that turned into a U.S. cultural phenomenon, flexes its muscles this week as a charity fund-raiser expected to bring in millions of dollars for young people in Africa and the United States.
"Idol Gives Back" -- a two-night special starting on Tuesday -- is thought to be the first venture by an American TV reality show into the business of mass fund-raising. It will combine the regular contest and results show with skits, viewer and business donations and performances by former "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson, Celine Dion, Gwen Stefani and others.
"The reach and appeal of 'American Idol' is so massive that the impact could be huge," said Patty Williamson, an instructor at the School of Broadcast and Cinematic Arts in Michigan.
"It's also an interesting juxtaposition for 'American Idol,' which isn't known for its compassion when it comes to criticism and making fun of contestants on national television," Williamson said.
Once dismissed as a cheesy summer talent contest, Fox network's "American Idol" has become the nation's most watched TV show with an average of 30 million viewers.
In five years it has produced Oscar (Jennifer Hudson for "Dreamgirls"), Grammy (Clarkson) and country music award (Carrie Underwood) winners and turned its judges and even its no-hopers into household names.
Now producers say, it's time to give something back.
"For the past five seasons, viewers have fulfilled the dreams of the contestants. Now they have the chance to help us change the lives of children and young people in need and at risk here in the U.S. as well as in Africa," said Peter Chernin, CEO of News Corp., which owns the Fox TV network.
Each vote cast by viewers via text and telephone after the Tuesday show will trigger a donation to charities by the corporate sponsors of "Idol" -- Ford, Coca-Cola, AT&T and News Corp.
The Wednesday results show will feature guests including Hugh Grant, "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe and spoof Kazakh journalist "Borat" appearing live or by video, and performances from a concert at the Disney Hall in Los Angeles.
Producers are not putting a figure on their expectations and have declined to say how much money per vote the corporate sponsors will contribute. Some 38 million were cast last week.
Viewers also will be invited to phone in donations that will go to Save the Children, UNICEF, Malaria No More, The Global Fund and Nothing But Nets for youth relief programs in Africa and poverty-hit areas of the United States including hurricane ravaged Louisiana.
Popular television expert Robert Thompson said it was difficult to take a "bah-humbug" attitude toward the fund-raising venture.
"This is another one of 'American Idol''s brilliant coups," said Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television.
"Now and again good business can be a good thing to do. We certainly aren't going to raise this money through taxes. We are not a society that is calling for a 60 percent increase in taxes so we can help people less fortunate than us."