2011 MDA Labor Day Telethon raises $61.5 M, helped by ‘American Idol,’ others — The shorter, new format apparently worked. So did the inclusion of more currently popular stars, such as judges and singers from the hit TV show, American Idol. The Muscular Dystrophy Association, which changed its annual Labor Day weekend telethon from 21.5 hours to just six for the first time this year, packed in the entertainment Sunday night and ended up surpassing last year’s total, despite the absence of long-time host, Jerry Lewis. According to the MDA, $61.5 million was raised in pledges in this year’s telethon. The event was based at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas with affiliated local broadcasts taking place around the country.
Four co-hosts — Nigel Lythgoe (American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance), Nancy O’Dell (Entertainment Tonight), Alison Sweeney (NBC’s The Biggest Loser), and Jann Carl (Emmy-winning journalist and independent producer) — took the helm over from Jerry Lewis, who had led the event for 45 years. They paid tribute to him at the opening of the show.
Singer Celine Dion also paid tribute to her “dear friend Jerry Lewis” during the telethon before she sang Journey’s “Open Arms.”
American Idol had a large presence at this year’s telethon. Besides producer Nigel Lythgoe co-hosting, Idol host, Ryan Seacrest and all three judges — Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler, and Jennifer Lopez — made appeals, as did Season Six winner, Jordin Sparks. Season 10’s winner and runner-up, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina also made appearances.
Other entertainers, athletes, or TV personalities helping out with the national MDA telethon this year included: Lady Antebellum, Boyz II Men, Darius Rucker, Richie Sambora, and Martina McBride; co-hosts of ABC’s The View — Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck — NBA player Dwight Howard, and NFL stars Reggie Bush and Kurt Warner.
This year marked the 46th annual MDA Labor Day Telethon which raises money for research and treatment of people struggling with the muscle disorder. Jerry Lewis, 85, did not make an appearance at the telethon despite the stated hope of new co-host Nigel Lythgoe. Mr. Lewis was said to have retired as host earlier this year, but the lack of an appearance by him at the telethon in any way has left the impression with many observers that the separation may not have been amicable.
VIDEO: See a video of American Idol’s Steven Tyler with Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina speaking on behalf of the MDA Telethon here or in the left-hand column of this page.