On the red carpet outside the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles gala on Saturday night, the organization’s president and CEO Paul Viviano explained how, if this were a typical event, the musical headliner would deliver a “low-ley” performance of two or three songs. But this year’s installment, held at Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar, was anything but routine.
That was all thanks to Justin Timberlake as the 41-year-old crooner not only agreed to show up but to put on a show — a 40-minute mini-concert of 10 songs including his tracks “Suit & Tie,” “Señorita” and “Can’t Fight the Feeling” mixed in with classic hits and soul classics from artists like Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Bill Withers and Sam Cooke.
“We’re privileged to have him,” Viviano gushed of Timberlake’s showing at the event, CHLA’s first in-person fundraiser in three years. “It’s going to be special. Here we are back in full force and this will be the biggest crowd we’ve ever had and we’ll raise more money tonight that we ever have, for sure.”
Viviano was right. The fundraiser, co-hosted by the father-son team of Robert and Chris Pine, netted north of $5.5 million while hosting upwards of 1,300 guests, among them Jimmy Kimmel and Molly McNearney (whose son Billy received two life-saving open heart surgeries at CHLA), Christopher Nolan, Matt LeBlanc, Chuck Lorre, Lisa Ling, Garcelle Beauvais, Mark Hoppus, Justin Turner and others.
CHLA Trustee and radio personality Ellen K. presented the inaugural Courage to Care Award to Panda Express, the evening’s title sponsor. Since engaging in a corporate partnership in 2003, the chain’s philanthropic arm, Panda Cares, has donated more than $21 million and in 2020, pledged an additional $20 million to establish the Panda Cares Center of Hope at CHLA. Chief Brand Officer Andrea Cherng accepted on behalf of her family. Philanthropists Kristin and Jeff Worthe then took home a Courage to Care Award for their contributions over two decades but not before receiving a video tribute from California Governor Gavin Newsom who said he looks up to the duo.
The long list of attendees of CHLA gala attendees would not be complete without mentioning Nikki DeLoach, who is notable to mention for several reasons. She’s a member of the CHLA Foundation Board of Trustees and a mother whose son, Bennett, had three life-saving open heart surgeries at the hospital. And she just so happens to be the reason Timberlake turned up last night.
“I just called him and asked and he said yes,” relayed DeLoach to The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet of her direct line to Timberlake (who attended with wife Jessica Biel), someone she has known for 30-plus years, dating back to their days on the Mickey Mouse Club. “We met at the casting camp before we were ever on the show. It was 24 of us at the camp and we were the first to meet each other. We instantly became best buddies, like brother and sister, and we have been brothers since. His mother has been like a second mother to me, I’ve lived with her for chunks of time in my life. We’re just chosen family and I’m so honored because he’s always been there any time I’ve needed him and I’ve always been there when he needed me.”
Timberlake retuned the love during his set, calling DeLoach his “sister from another mister,” while also noting how his wife Jessica Biel’s brother, also named Justin, received care for his daughter, Zaya, at CHLA. “I’m humbled and I’m honored to be here tonight,” Timberlake added. “And if you guys ever want me back to sing for my supper, you know how to get me — just call Nikki.”
About that singing. Timberlake introduced his crew as JT & The Undercovers ahead of their set, perhaps telegraphing that they were about to perform a slew of covers that kicked off with Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight” after he slowly walked to center stage from a side entrance (taking a moment en route to fist bump Lorre and take selfies with excited revelers.
Timberlake then covered Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” Al Green’s “Love & Happiness,” Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World,” Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin,’” and Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.” He took a moment before belting out Nat “King” Cole’s “Smile” by revealing that “it’s a moment I share with my own sons,” referencing 7-year old Silas and 2-year-old Phineas. While the former is over hearing it, he said, the latter is “still digging it.”
He segued from “Smile” into the finale of “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” a track he contributed to the Trolls movie soundtrack and performed to open the 2017 Academy Awards, coincidentally hosted by Kimmel. “Justin never disappoints,” Kimmel said on the carpet before walking inside. “We had a lot of fun doing that together. It’s nice to do something to support a great organization like Children’s Hospital. It’s even better when Justin Timberlake is singing at it. They don’t get that in Cleveland, you know?”