"Idol" gives back $60 million, inspires thousands

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The “American Idol” charity shows raised more than $60 million and inspired tens of thousands of Americans to join global anti-poverty campaigns, organizers said on Thursday.

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Although some fans said the two-hour special failed to live up to its star-studded promise, the show of inspirational songs, skits and video clips of child poverty in Africa and the United States drew a 26.4 million television audience on Wednesday, the Fox network said.

Fox said the event had already raised $60 million in corporate and viewer donations, and more money was coming in. An updated total will be announced when “American Idol” returns to its regular format next week.

The “Idol Gives Back” two-night special was the first venture by a U.S. reality show into mass fund-raising. It cemented the credentials of what has grown from cheesy summer talent competition into a cultural phenomenon and the nation’s most watched TV show.

The ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History, a coalition of dozens of nonprofits like Oxfam and Save the Children, said more than 70,000 Americans joined the campaign after the show, which included an appeal by Irish rock star and spokesman Bono.

Save the Children said traffic had increased significantly on its Web site.

“They took a risk by using their show to raise issues of poverty and asking people to contribute, and that is a huge accomplishment,” Mark Shriver, vice president of U.S. programs for Save the Children, told Reuters.

“The ‘American Idol’ format is hugely successful and they introduced starving, dying children in Africa and children struggling with poverty in the United States, and brought that to prime time television,” Shriver said.

Fox donated $5 million and presenter Ellen DeGeneres said she would contribute $100,000. A spokesman for normally acerbic British “Idol” judge Simon Cowell said he had made a “significant six figure donation.”

But some viewers expressed concern about silence over early pledges that the show’s main corporate sponsors would match each vote cast by viewers with donations. A record 70 million votes were cast by text or telephone.

“The details we’ve gotten have been vague and sketchy, ” wrote a blogger on

Sponsors Coca-Cola and Ford declined on Thursday to say how much they had donated, citing business confidentiality. Ford said its contribution was tied to Internet downloads of its “Idol” music videos. AT&T could not be reached for comment.

Others complained that too many stars appeared only in brief video segments and some failed to turn up at all.

“Speaking of missing celebrities, wasn’t Gwen Stefani, Pink and Michael Buble supposed to be there? Why did they promise so much, yet deliver so little?” asked Damien666, a blogger on the official Web site.

Fox said on Thursday some of the talent had to pull out and prerecorded pieces by others had been cut for reasons of time and would be shown later in the season.