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.)
Jeff Kravitz/MTV Hope for Haiti Now via Getty Images
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:
- Alicia Keys started things off simply and beautifully with "Send Me an Angel," featuring only the 12-time Grammy winner on piano.
- Coldplay injected a great energy into the proceedings, jamming "A Message" from London.
- Bruce Springsteen's spare acoustic take on "We Shall Overcome" started off with an entreaty to offer "a small prayer for Haiti."
- The crackling emotion in Stevie Wonder's voice elicits tears pretty much on its own, but when he segued from "Time to Love" into "Bridge Over Troubled Waters"...Oh boy.
- We were more than willing to take Shakira into our darkest hour when she took the stage in New York to belt out the Pretenders' "I'll Stand by You."
- What part of John Legend singing "Motherless Child" didn't we take right to heart?
- Mary J. Blige tends to ooze empathy and gritty determination out of every pore, and her soulful take on "Hard Times" was no exception.
- Taylor Swift 's voice sounded sweet, innocent and hopeful on "Breathless," while Christina Aguilera tore into "Lift Me Up" with the soulful voice of someone three times her age.
- Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban and Kid Rock doing an acoustic version of "Lean on Me" was a moment to remember, for the apropos message of the song's timeless lyrics as much as for the natural melding of their voices.
- Madonna, backed by a full choir on "Like a Prayer," was made for such moments, as was her uplifting 1989 hit.
- Justin Timberlake's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," with its core message about trying to find the light when there is none, got us right in the gut.
- New mom Jennifer Hudson, backed by the Roots, turned in a soulful version of "Let it Be."
- Bono, the Edge, Jay-Z and Rihanna set a new high for charity singles with "Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour)," which they penned just this past week in order to perform live from London tonight.
- Wyclef closed things out with a rousing medley of "Rivers of Babylon" and music composed for the night.
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.