Simon Cowell discusses importance of 'Idol Gives Back' charity event
By Christopher Rocchio, 04/24/2007
Simon Cowell thinks this week's Idol Gives Back charity event will be unlike any other American Idol broadcast in the reality competition series' six-season run.
"Well American Idol is popular. That's the good thing about it. There are 30 million people who are going to watch, and they're going to experience something slightly different this week. One or two eyes will be opened I think, including my own," Cowell said in an Idol Gives Back promotional video released by Fox. "You're going to see some film clips... and you will actually see who could benefit when you vote on American Idol this week. It's not about keeping some stupid singer in the competition... it's a bit more important than that this week."
During this week's Top 6 performance episode, Melinda Doolittle, Lakisha Jones, Jordin Sparks, Blake Lewis, Phil Stacey and Chris Richardson will sing tunes they find personally inspiring to keep with the Idol Gives Back theme. As usual with Idol, viewers will vote for their favorite contestants -- however on this night, sponsors will donate money to charity for every vote cast. The money raised will go towards organizations that provide relief to children and young people living in poverty in both Africa and America.
"I believe the only way you eradicate these kind of problems is through awareness," explained Cowell. "If enough people know about the problem, it helps to get the problem sorted out. If all you're ever seeing is a 10-second snippet of the news, you don't know enough about the problem to want to do anything about it. So it's awareness."
Cowell said he and Idol host Ryan Seacrest recently took a trip to Africa, which inspired them to deliver a "brighter future" to many of the youth they encountered there.
"The amazing thing about malarian children in Africa is how little money you need to save a life. I mean it's not thousands of dollars. It's something like a dollar. So it's something that can be eradicated (snapping his fingers) like that. Very easy to get rid of, and that should not exist today," said Cowell. "I think the thing that probably affected me the most and Ryan [on our trip to Africa], were how nice the people were. We were hanging out with these kids -- you know, 4-years-old, 6-years-old, 8-years-old -- who work on a rubbish tip... terrible conditions. But they were just sweet, nice little kids. And at the point where we actually took them somewhere nice, they had this nice place to go, it was how polite and thankful they were. That's probably what affected me the most."
Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe previously said Idol Gives Back's genesis began with Idol creator Simon Fuller as well as Richard Curtis, an Australian-born British screenwriter who annually organizes Red Nose Day in the U.K.. Lythgoe said Red Nose Day takes a full year to produce and uses "comic relief" as well as both British and American celebrities to raise money and awareness for African causes through a special on the BBC.
"When we were approached to do this, I had one condition, which was we've got to allow American charities to benefit as well since the show is an American show," said Cowell. "We wouldn't have done it without that, because there are people over here who need some help as well. So that was part of the deal."
The Idol judge recently spent a Sunday in downtown Los Angeles at a food-distribution shelter run by volunteers that supplies groceries to "people who just haven't got enough money to feed themselves." He said he met the women who runs the shelter, and she told him it has regular visitors "who without the food and supplies they get here, couldn't actually feed their family."
"That shocked me. It really, really did. I wouldn't have expected that. So that was a surprise," said Cowell. "[Volunteers at the shelter] do an incredible job. And I actually didn't know these types of places existed, or there were these types of problems. I think a lot of people -- along with myself -- will suddenly realize that there are problems which you may not have known about."
Cowell said he thinks viewers will have a similar outlook to his when watching Idol Gives Back.
"I think a lot of [Idol Gives Back] is similar to what I'm experiencing, which is opening your eyes to things you didn't know existed," he said. "I've met people today at a food station, I didn't know this problem existed. Ryan and myself went to Africa and met people in some pretty dyer conditions. I think it's just about opening your eyes to a couple of things and simply making a choice of if you want to help or not. This is absolutely not about making people feel uncomfortable, or preaching, it's simply there are some problems and maybe this show can help a few people... it's as simple as that."
Following the Tuesday night performance episode, Idol will air a special two-hour results show on Wednesday, where the Top 6 will be narrowed down to the Top 5 based on America's votes. However in addition, the show will feature numerous artists and celebrities -- including Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Gwen Stefani, Earth, Wind & Fire, Il Divo, Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, Josh Groban with the African Children's Choir, Jack Black, Helen Mirren, Rascal Flatts, Quincy Jones, Carrie Underwood, Annie Lennox, Bono and many more -- who will perform from both the Idol stage as well as at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
"The only way I believe you make something like this workable, is that you have to make the show better than it would be in previous weeks," explained Cowell. "That relies on who's going to turn up and lend support."
Normally dishing out criticism to Idol's contestants, the studio audience, Seacrest and even the other judges, Cowell said he's "glad" the Fox mega-hit is taking on an issue that deserves attention.
"I have met some very nice people over the last few weeks who are -- through no fault of their own -- just not having very nice lives. It's as simple as that. I wouldn't isolate one particular story. But as a whole, I'm glad that we did it, met some nice people, and I think [Idol Gives Back] probably is an important show to do," he said. "What can we do to stop child poverty in our neighborhoods? I think it comes back to the point I made before: I don't think enough people knew it existed. If you would have asked me yesterday what I know about this, I would have told you nothing. Today, I know a little bit more."