Image Credit: Vince Bucci/Fox

In tree-covered, sleepy downtown Pasadena, Idol was giving back in its second, non-Hollywood home. (John Young has the scoop of what went down in the Idoldome a mere 15 miles away). But things weren’t as cheery before the show as the audience waited in the rain, uncovered, to pass through security. People grumbled; rain in L.A. can be tough for the faint of urban heart. The Pasadena Civic Auditorium is quite beautiful, I had time to notice, like an old-style courtroom, built in the year blah-blah-long-time-ago. But the social chaos outside was more like a nightclub, with Idol-ites pushing to get in like the Titanic was sinking — in Sunday fineries instead of short dresses and shiny shirts.

Wait, is that Diff’rent Strokes‘ Todd Bridges, rolling solo, pushing through the crowd? Yes, it is, and he’s asking everybody to move as he makes his way to the front. Fat chance, Willis — we are all waiting. A woman in her 40s leans into her late-teen/early 20s son. “Do you know who that is?” she asks, pointing to Bridges, who coincidentally has a new memoir out. “You’re probably too young to remember him.”

While Idol results are coming in across town, Pasadena’s Idol Gives Back has performances from the Black Eyed Peas, Elton John, Carrie Underwood, and a duet of Joss Stone and Jeff Beck. Annie Lennox is scheduled to sing — she is teased by the intermission emcee. Her absence is later revealed, as Lennox was stuck in London because of that lame Iceland volcano. Thanks, volcano — Lennox phones it in, literally, from overseas, while the mini-orchestra backs her up in Pasadena. She doesn’t even sing “Walking on Broken Glass” or “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.” But Lennox’s taped segment with a little girl with AIDS is redemptive; and I’m forced to acknowledge that I like her after all.

Before host Queen Latifah takes the stage to shout over a super noisy crowd, the emcee entertains the wet crowd with passable jokes. Not an empty seat anywhere in sight. A schoolteacher-looking woman unfurls a spot-on reprise of “Rapper’s Delight.” A house photog scrambles in the front row to shoot someone obviously important — important enough not to stand up during standing ovations. From the back, he had Jason Schwartzman’s long, perfect brown hair.

Audience noise is always the goal for live TV, and producers ask for mucho applause. The noise, however, becomes deafening. Queen Latifah is impossible to hear in the balcony — the indignity of where I was sitting — and she later says that she can’t hear the producers in her earpiece. The emcee calls it “stupid loud” during the commercial break, but then couches it with “You’re the best audience today.” Without that Chinese chicken salad I had before I got here, I would have a stupid headache.

First up: the Peas. Fergie, in a snake-tailed dress, is soon enveloped in smoke, comes out with a glow-in-the-dark tuxedo-military jacket, and robotic dancers keep it groovy in the back. The lasers shooting at the audience remind us we are living in the 2010 electronic age.

The mention of celebrities’ names doesn’t conjure pure enthusiasm in Pasadena, as is the case in Hollywood. When Jennifer Garner and Victoria Beckham are announced, the house is like a funeral parlor. President Obama and that pilot who landed his plane on the Hudson get bigger applause. The heavy taped segments have a schizophrenic, hit-over-the-head effect on the crowd, who are cheering on high-energy performances from Fergie and Co., and then taking the disease segments seriously. One phase shift is understandable. But four times is a little much. (People have the 0-60-0 routine down pat by night’s end).

Joss Stone and Jeff Beck wrap their bluesy set, which had the real people in the audience nodding their heads, and the emcee was back to earning his money, or exposure, or whatever — keeping the audience spontaneous. He asks little kids if they are dating or married, which bombs twice. A look around the audience sees a few typical handmade signs — We Heart Crystal, Lee the Wise Choice — and a heap of kids clamoring for attention. One lucky 10-year-old boy struts a “Single Man” walk in the audience to get a Flip video camera. Not bad. Screams come from the back with a brief glimpse of Justin Bieber on the screen. The Queen, meanwhile, is social with her fellow celebrities onstage during commercial breaks, making small talk and sharing hugs with Common and Elton John. This is how she gets these plum jobs, I think.

Carrie Underwood really lights this crowd up. The reception to her sparkly performance may have rivaled the raucous standing ovation for the Peas. This is her Idol audience — the people who care enough about the show to take off work and come to a TV taping. A row of girls in the back are waving their arms from side to side in unison. When Ryan Seacrest announces from Hollywood that the telecast will run long, Pasadena isn’t exactly thrilled. The emcee later gripes during the commercial, “You weren’t kidding when you said it was going late.” He also jokes about the upcoming “David Cook’s package.” By the way, what is going on with David’s hair?

The grand finale of Elton John and his red piano is one for the memory bank. He does “Your Song” and wears silver sparkly shoes and blinding diamond earrings. Fox stagehands take special care to polish Elton’s piano to extreme lengths. One lucky worker even gets to go under the piano to get those tough spots.

All in all, another Idol Gives Back, with some decent performances. Or as a reporter next to me put it, “There was nothing juicy, right?” PopWatchers, what was your take on the evening?