Lights, Camera, Jerry!

Telethon 2008 promises entertainment galore

by Alyssa Quintero on September 1, 2008 - 2:09pm

QUEST Vol. 15, No. 5

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

The 43rd Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon returns this Labor Day with 21½ jam-packed hours of all-star entertainment, humor, and information about important research and medical advances in MDA’s battle against muscle-wasting diseases.

Live from Las Vegas for the third consecutive year, legendary entertainer and MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis will reach out to millions of viewers worldwide from the luxurious South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa.

Jerry will be joined by several celebrity co-hosts ready to help him meet his goal of raising “one dollar more” than the recordbreaking total of $63.8 million in 2007.

It wouldn’t be the Telethon without Jerry’s good friend and partner, Ed McMahon, who’ll anchor his 42nd show. Some other familiar co-hosts include: Jann Carl of “Entertainment Tonight”; Tom Bergeron of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Dancing with the Stars”; and veteran comedian Norm Crosby, “the Master of Malaprop.”

Alison Sweeney of the hit daytime drama “Days of Our Lives” and host of the reality series “The Biggest Loser” will return for her second stint as a co-host. And, award-winning recording artist Billy Gilman, who serves as MDA’s National Youth Chairman, will cohost segments and perform some of his hits.

Alison Sweeney, Jann Carl and Nancy O’Dell
Alison Sweeney, Jann Carl and Nancy O’Dell

The show’s newest co-hosts include Nancy O’Dell of “Access Hollywood,” who’s joined MDA’s efforts to combat ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), which claimed her mother’s life in June. Also co-hosting for the first time will be “American Idol” finalist Ace Young, who recently released a rock/R&B/funk CD, Ace Young.

Umali shines

Nine-year-old dynamo Abbey Umali of Redlands, Calif., and her parents, Wendi and Joel, will make numerous live appearances on the national show.

As MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador, Abbey’s no stranger to the spotlight. During the year, she travels the country with her parents spreading the word about MDA’s missions of help and hope. Abbey, who is making her third Telethon appearance, has a form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

Christie rides on

After serving two active terms as MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador, Luke Christie’s moved on to a new role with as much energy and enthusiasm as ever. He’s the 2008 MDA Harley-Davidson Goodwill Ambassador, and has spent the year participating in events nationwide celebrating the motor company’s 105th birthday.

Although he won’t be sharing the stage with Jerry in Las Vegas, Christie, 15, will join the national Telethon via satellite from Milwaukee, broadcasting from the site of Harley-Davidson’s birthday bash.

Christie, from Due West, S.C., has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA2). Highlights of his Harley-Davidson activities will be shown on the Telethon, including the MDA Parade of Heroes, featuring the top 105 fundraisers.

Nietos return

MDA ALS Division Co-Chairs Augie and Lynne Nieto of Corona del Mar, Calif., will join the national show for the third consecutive year.

Billy Gilman

Augie Nieto, the force behind Augie’s Quest — MDA’s aggressive research initiative focused on finding treatments and a cure for ALS — learned he had ALS in March 2005.

Currently, Augie’s Quest helps support MDA’s single-largest ALS drug discovery project – a three-year, $36 million joint venture with the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, Mass.

Profiles in courage, hope

Each Telethon, MDA airs videotaped family profiles that underscore the importance of its research and service missions. This year, the world will meet five active, articulate and outgoing individuals through live appearances on the show.

“A master at holding a crowd’s attention” is one description of 17-year-old Joe Akmakjian of Fort Collins, Colo. Akmakjian, who has SMA, enjoys public speaking, film and movies.

Elron Davis of Columbia, S.C., has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. The 32-year-old enjoys photography and inspirational speaking, in which he often shares his experiences of living with a muscle disease.

Friendly and outgoing, 15-year-old Tyler Parson of Whiteland, Ind., enjoys science, history and Bible study. Tyler, who’s affected by Friedreich’s ataxia, manages a local soccer team and sings with the Praise Team in his youth group.

Nine-year-old twins Brett and Jacob Rhoad of Chapin, S.C., are constantly on the go. The brothers, who have Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), love swimming, nature walks, arts and crafts, reading and playing with animals.

Perfect harmony

The Telethon welcomes back two fan favorites — country singers Calvin Ray Johnson of Mount Washington, Ky., and Bradley Walker of Athens, Ala.

Tom Bergeron
Tom Bergeron

Johnson, 28, is making his fifth Telethon appearance. He released his first single, “I Should Have Been Singing,” in June 2007, followed by his debut album, “Take That Chance.”

Johnson, who has DMD, performs with his Blue Moon Highway Band at Calvin Ray’s Live Music Theater, his restaurant and country music theater in Leitchfield, Ky. Last year, Johnson received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Epiphone Guitar for his musical accomplishments and humanitarian work with MDA.

Walker, 30, who has nemaline myopathy, has made five Telethon appearances, starting in 1989 when he performed alongside the Oak Ridge Boys. The bluegrass and country music vocalist released his first album, “Highway of Dreams,” in September 2006. He was named 2007 Male Vocalist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association and hailed as the “next great voice of bluegrass music” by Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.

Research updates

Of course, the purpose of this extravaganza is to find cures and treatments for the more than 40 diseases covered by MDA.

At regular intervals during the show, viewers will learn more about the amazing progress being made in MDA-supported research, including gene therapy and stem cells, and the ways in which this progress already is changing lives for the better.

Music, comedy, human interest stories, cutting- edge science … All that’s missing is you! To find your local Telethon station, visit, and click on “Telethon.”

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