The celebrity telethons hastily organized in the wake of recent disasters such as Katrina and the 2004 tsunami have raised millions for good causes, but from an entertainment standpoint, they’ve sometimes given us a rare glimpse into the talents (or lack thereof) of some of today’s hottest acts. The artists usually perform ballads with a stripped down sound – very little production to save them.
Last night’s Hope for Haiti telethon featured an impressive list of performers, from Taylor Swift to Haiti’s own Wyclef Jean. In case you missed it, here are the highlights (and lowlights):
- Justin Timberlake continues to impress me. He’s grown from a boy-band pinup artist to a solid actor and singer, and last night, he and Matt Morris (yeah, I had to look him up, too) did yet another cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. But they managed to deliver an understated, modest version, and their voices blended well. A-plus.
- Mary J. Blige is one classy act. She showed why she is one of the best singers in pop music, with her rendition of the old Stephen Foster tune “Hard Times Come Again No More.” Wow.
- Bruce Springsteen never fails to deliver – his “My City of Ruins” from the 9/11 telethon still haunts me. This time, he performed the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Springsteen’s voice is sometimes irritating – he overenunciates his R’s like Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon – but last night he shared the stage with part of his band, who provided a muted but charming backup on vocals, accordion and trumpet.
- Shakira. Wow – without Auto-Tune and heavy production, you, um, can’t sing. At times she sounded like a hyena, at other times, a cross between Stevie Nicks and Pee-Wee Herman.
- Madonna. Not even an understated version of “Like a Prayer” could hide the fact that for most of the song, she was about half a step flat.
- Dave Matthews and Neil Young. Two of the most annoying voices in music – together, on the same stage? Outside my house, cats were meowing loudly. It sounded very similar.
- Jay-Z, Bono and Rihanna. I was amazed that they could fit that many egos on stage. Where there’s a cause, there’s Bono’s preening face. And you know, what the world needs during a moment like this is a little bit of hip-hop. This was just wrong on so many levels. Thank goodness the sound levels were low.