Idol Gives Back’s telethon was like an awards show with no pay-off

American Idol 7‘s long-promoted, over-long charity fundraiser telethon aired last night, and lasted for two hours and 40 minutes, starting a half-hour early and going 10 minutes late. With weak attempts at comedy interspersed with relatively uninteresting performances, it seemed like an awards show without any awards.

The best segments, surprisingly enough, were those that introduced viewers to those in need and who will be the beneficiaries of donations. Those included Annie Lennox and Bono in Africa and Peyton and Eli Manning traveling to New Orleans. While those packages were, of course, a bit heavy handed, they were extremely effective and illustrated the often horrific conditions in which others live, even in our own country.

Most of the celebrity appearances were actually videotaped appearances, although some, like Dane Cook and Sarah Silverman, seemed to actually be at the Kodak. But they, too, just stood in front of a microphone and made their brief pleas for viewers to donate. Thanks for your generosity and your unselfish donation of your time, celebrities. Julianne Moore couldn’t bother learning her 30 seconds of material, so she kept glancing to the side, reading off a cue card, making Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live seem like the king of memorization. (Others will appear by tape tonight, including the presidential candidates.)

Those who actually showed up in person and took the stage were Maria Shriver, Snoop Dogg, Teri Hatcher, Billy Crystal, Miley Cyrus, Fergie with John Legend, Heart, Eli and Peyton Manning, Annie Lennox, Jimmy Kimmel, Carrie Underwood, Gloria Estefan, Reese Witherspoon, Robin Williams, Brad Pitt, and Mariah Carey. Brad Pitt’s appearance lasted a lot longer because his microphone failed, and the show’s stage manager, Debbie, fixed it while saying, “I just needed a reason to touch him.”

The biggest potential for a train wreck came when Teri Hatcher, of Desperate Housewives and Lois and Clark fame, sang live after appearing in a pre-taped segment with Carrie Underwood and her ABC drama co-star James Denton (“If you are going to steal my man, than I am going to steal your song,” she said.) She performed Carrie’s song “Before He Cheats,” and actually wasn’t anywhere near as bad as half the people who’ve appeared on the show this season.

Robin Williams was not funny pretending to have a Russian accent, even when he pointed out that Simon Cowell’s “man breasts and your hairy chest … remind me of my sister.” Perhaps that’s because Jimmy Kimmel had already riffed on Simon’s chest during a fantastic mini-roast. Here’s the majority of his hysterical monologue:

“Why hasn’t [Simon] said anything about the fact that his nipples are the size of pepper mills? On many nights, it looks like you were smuggling the Olsen twins in under your shirt. Fortunately for Simon, they do draw attention away from that ridiculous hair cut. Honestly, who parts that for you? Moses? Is that a hairstyle in England, because I’ve never seen it here before. Simon, you make $40 million a year; it’s time to step up from Supercuts, it really is. But, back to Simon’s nipples, if I may. You know, people sometimes think Paula is crying on the show. No, it’s his nipples keep poking her in the eyes.”

Only Ben Stiller managed to approach that level of hilarity, and that’s because he cursed Ryan Seacrest. Appearing in a brief segment at the end when he pretended to show up to Idol‘s empty studio, because everyone else was at the Kodak Theatre, Stiller said, “Kodak? What the fuck, Seacrest? Fuck Seacrest. Asshole.”