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'Idol' star boosts first lady's anti-malaria event in Africa

  • Story Highlights
  • Melinda Doolittle lends visibility to first lady's event in Zambia
  • "Malaria No More" campaign has become a cause celebre
  • For a devastating problem, campaign offers solution -- nets and bug spray
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Suzanne Malveaux
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LUSAKA, Zambia (CNN) -- Da-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah. It's the little riff that plays right before "American Idol" starts.


CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is one of six journalists traveling with first lady Laura Bush in Africa.

It's the riff I can't seem to get out of my head, and I don't even watch the show.

But I do know enough from pop culture to recognize that Melinda Doolittle was a finalist, and I think voters predicted she would win.

What I couldn't predict was that I'd meet her in a remote village in Lusaka as part of the first lady's trip to Africa.

But perhaps I should have. Fighting malaria has become the cause celebre.

"American Idol" had a two-day charity special, which highlighted that cause, among others.

The first lady now joins David Beckham, Ashley Judd and a whole host of celebs who support the "Malaria No More" campaign, which offers a simple solution to a devastating problem.

Malaria, eradicated in the United States more than a half-century ago, is thriving in Africa. It is the No. 1 killer of children here and claims more than a million lives worldwide each year.

The campaign to eradicate malaria involves supplying and distributing bed nets and bug spray to protect people from the mosquitoes that spread the disease.

Compared with other good causes, this one is relatively noncontroversial and produces quick, tangible results. So I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that big names are getting involved.

But it was surreal. The first lady of the United States' motorcade careening down a long, bumpy road, kicking up a trail of dust in its wake -- passing houses of thatched straw, cinder blocks and metal roofs.

It arrived at a small, rural community center in the middle of a big open field where an audience awaited, sitting under the blazing sun.

Here, Mrs. Bush and Doolittle presented the community with mosquito nets. Then Doolittle got on stage and sang "Amazing Grace" with a small local choir behind her.

I asked her if they seemed like "African Idol" material. She smiled.

When I interviewed Doolittle after the program, she admitted knowing nothing about the malaria crisis before she got involved in the "Idol Gives Back" campaign.

It was a refreshingly honest admission. And then I confessed as well: The first lady's event would get a lot more play because Doolittle was here. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Malaria

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