Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Tale Of Two Telethons

Friday September 9th saw not one, but two major telethons raising money for victims of Hurricane Katrina: Shelter From The Storm: A Concert For The Gulf Coast and Saving OurSelves: The BET Relief Telethon. Unfortunately, these two telethons conflicted with each other. Shelter From The Storm started at 8:00 p.m. ET while Saving OurSelves started at 7:30 p.m. ET. Both of these telethons were commercial free and the only way for me to look at both of them was to flip between the programs...which is exactly what I did.

While both of these telethons supported the American Red Cross's efforts to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, it was interesting to see how each telethon differed in their approach. Shelter From The Storm took a serious, relatively no-frills approach. The heartstrings were tugged with heartfelt comments from various celebrities and devastating photos of the damage that Hurricane Katrina wrought across the Gulf Coast. No celebrities or performers were identified and the telecast was devoid of humor most of the time (save for a couple of times when we got to listen in on celebrities answering the phones). The approach used by Saving OurSelves was very different. It was more like a traditional telethon. Queen Latifah and Steve Harvey hosted and kept things light and entertaining. They encouraged people to donate money, cracked jokes with each other, and interacted with the various celebrities who made appearances. The seriousness of the situation was never forgotten, however. Various video packages shown throughout the telethon reminded viewers of why the money was needed as victims sent messages looking for family members and various footage of the devastation was shown.

The performances on both telethons were very good. Some artists did double duty by performing on both telethons. Alicia Keys performed her hit "If I Ain't Got You" early on BET's telecast before appearing on Shelter From The Storm in a wonderful gospel performance. Mary J. Blige put in two excellent performances as she first appeared with U2 on Shelter From The Storm and later gave a powerful solo performance on Saving OurSelves. Even though it was delayed somewhat by technical difficulties, I enjoyed Kanye West's performance of "Jesus Walks" on Shelter From The Storm. He ad-libbed parts of his performance, changing the line "and if I talk about God, my record won't get played" to "and if I speak the truth, my record won't get played" in a subtle reference to the controversy surrounding his comments. I also enjoyed Mariah Carey's performance, even if she wasn't exactly her best. The other performance on Shelter From The Storm that stood out to me was Dr. John's closing performance. As he sang in his trademark voice about New Orleans, the look on his face said it all.

The performances on Saving OurSelves were both live and pre-taped. John Legend could not be there but sent a performance taped in Europe. Destiny's Child sent a performance from Seattle and several performers including Patti LaBelle, The Game, and Brian McKnight performed in Los Angeles on the set normally used for D. L. Hughley's Comedy Central talk show Weekends At The DL. Jill Scott gave a memorable performance of her song "My Petition," while Erykah Badu talked freely about various things during her performance. R. Kelly performed a new song dedicated to Hurricane Katrina victims that was a whole lot better than most of what he's done recently. However, nothing was quite as moving as the closing performance of a jazz band made up of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

Overall, both of these telethons were very good. While I wish that the two of them hadn't conflicted with each other, I'm glad that both of them happened. Saving OurSelves reached an audience that may not have watched Shelter From The Storm and vice versa. Both of these telethons raised millions for the American Red Cross (and The Salvation Army in the case of Shelter From The Storm) and that's the important thing.

You can watch Shelter From The Storm on Yahoo right now and you can get information on Saving OurSelves including videos, photos, and links to donate here.

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