April 30, 2007 12:00 PM

Good news even for Sanjaya haters: Your American Idol votes count for more this week. With the Idol Gives Back campaign, corporate sponsors will make a donation for each vote cast after the April 24 show. The money goes to charities aiding needy youth in Africa (where Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest visited earlier this year) and New Orleans, where Jackson spent time April 13 and 14. “It’s like the forgotten land,” says the Baton Rouge native, who visited with families who had lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina. “There’s still so much work to be done.”


After meeting families who live in 450 cramped trailers in a FEMA-run park, Jackson hosted a kids’ dance contest. “Celebrities never come here,” said Vashon Johnson, 13. “He signed my shirt!” Jackson was equally impressed. “These kids, with all the adversity they’re living through, they still have a smile on their faces.”


Cowell showed his softer side with schoolchildren on his and Seacrest’s trip to Kenya. “We both walked away learning a lot,” says Seacrest. “You sit in this one-bedroom mud hut with a family of 12 that wonders what they’ll eat next, and yet they’re so welcoming.”

“The conditions are horrendous. People do not have electricity. They don’t have plumbing,” says Seacrest, who helped deliver mosquito nets to some Kenyan families. “Whether [Idol fans] give a penny or just learn a little more, then we’ve made some progress.”

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