The mood was subdued, yet the passion with which the crème de la crème of the acting and recording worlds approached the evening's efforts was an underlying force to be reckoned with.
From George Clooney's opening sentiments from Los Angeles, where he spent the past week pulling together the two-hour Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief, to Anderson Cooper's dispatches from the earthquake-torn nation, to Wyclef Jean's closing message of hope for his fellow Haitians, to each and every musical performance, there really wasn't a moment that didn't ring heartfelt and true.
The only times we glanced in disbelief, perhaps, was when we saw who was populating the front row of phone banks: Jenna Elfman, Tobey Maguire, Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Julia Roberts, Mel Gibson, Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, Eric Dane, Kate Beckinsale, Steven Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon, Cindy Crawford, Ben Affleck, Sigourney Weaver, Noah Wyle, Ringo Starr, Jack Nicholson, Ellen DeGeneres, Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Robin Williams and more.
Just sitting there, one right next to the other, animatedly engaging donors who were giving anywhere from $5 to thousands to the cause. (And we didn't even mention Tim Allen, Billy Crystal, Colin Farrell, Pierce Brosnan, Gerard Butler, Neil Patrick Harris, LL Cool J, Selena Gomez, et al sitting in the second row.)
But while there was plenty to gawk at, the almost disconcertingly serious Jon Stewart may have said it best when he stated: "The people of Haiti are listening tonight [on Radio One Haiti, in fact]. What will they hear?"
The performances that rocked our souls tonight:
Is it just us, or did some of these artists sound better than ever tonight? (Performances in both audio and video form are available starting tonight on iTunes, with all proceeds going to Haiti.)
Halle Berry, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Pattinson, Ben Stiller, Nicole Kidman, Bill Clinton, Samuel L. Jackson, Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock (reading a testimonial written by Muhammad Ali, who sat next to the comedian), Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Denzel Washington gave testimonials from L.A., NYC and London about lives both lost and saved over the last two weeks.
Stiller spoke of how Haitian children attend school in the afternoon, so when the earthquake struck at 4:53 p.m. on a Tuesday, "elementary schools were packed." Damon and Eastwood remembered the members of the United Nation's peacekeeping mission who lost their lives in the quake. DiCaprio spoke of the primitive conditions doctors had to work with (vodka to clean wounds, hacksaws to amputate limbs, etc.).
Yet Kidman, Berry and Roberts spoke of children rescued after six days of being trapped in the rubble, family members reuniting and other proof that miracles are taking place amid the suffering.
Hanks encouraged viewers to "keep caring" for the people of Haiti long after tonight is over.
(Originally published Jan. 22, 2010, at 7:15 p.m. PT)
Dozens of the stars who pitched in are in our Hope for Haiti Now Telethon gallery.