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Sanjaya Malakar Faces his Post American Idol Future with a Smile

Even though the series still has a few weeks to go, the winner of this year’s American Idol has already been decided.  Sanjaya Malakar has won the 2007 contest.  The “boy from Seattle” who only tried out because his sister Shyamali decided to, has managed to grab the brass ring.

Malakar, a seventeen year old from Federal Way WA, was voted off seventh, the same as Jennifer Hudson in season three.  We all know how her post American Idol career has gone.  Is there a better Cinderella story than hers, which includes winning a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in Dream Girls?

It seems that Sanjaya Malakar might be destined to create his own version of the story. 

We first got to know Sanjaya during the auditions, when he admitted to the cameras that he thought his sister was the better singer of the two.  He won over the judges with his version of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”.  He won hearts when he declined to share that Simon felt he had a better voice than Shyamali, in front of her.  And more hearts squeezed when he ran off in search of his sister and cried when he found out she didn’t make the cut to the top 24.  But don’t feel too sorry for Sanjaya's sister.  She certainly has received her own career boost by being the sister of the most famous American Idol contestant who didn’t win the contest.

If you listen to the media, only tweens liked him, but people of all ages post on the Idol boards and declare they vote for Sanjaya. 

Since being voted off, Sanjaya has made the rounds of countless interviews.  This is the usual course for each of the so-called ex-Idols, but Sanjaya Malakar seems to have received special treatment. 

On The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Sanjaya was given more time than the usual 2 minute spoof, inspired by Geico ads.  Only Malakar has been asked to share some precious couch time with the host. He made a point of telling Jay Leno he did well on his GED test and said he has plans to go to the Berklee School of Music.

Sanjaya has displayed humbleness and surprise at the interest he’s attracted, along with a desire to have a career in “the entertainment business”.  Unlike many in the public eye today, Malakar accepts all blame for not meeting others’ expectations of him.  He seems to have taken all of Simon Cowell’s scorn as an expression of disappointment and seems genuinely sorry for being unable to please Cowell.  If you listen to Simon, telling Sanjaya that his performance “was not horrible” is the same as saying he liked it.

Sanjaya’s adolescent enthusiasm and his strange combination of absolute confidence and modesty seems to have won over many of his on air critics.  Leno declared he was “a class act”.

Sanjaya was a guest of People magazine at the White House Correspondents’ dinner in Washington the week he was voted off.

To the surprise of many, but not his fans, Sanjaya was the star of the night.

Even Elliot Spitzer, the Governor of New York, made an effort to get an autograph, apparently for his daughters, but Sanjaya said in an interview that Spitzer claimed he was a fan and had voted for Sanjaya.

Another at the dinner, ex-contestant Chris Sligh, wrote in his own blog of the rush of cameras to catch Sanjaya’s entrance with his date for the evening, his mother, Jillian Blyth.

His name has appeared in various online polls. In the Time Most Influential poll online Sanjaya ranked # 3 overall. He didn’t make the official list in the publication, but his famous hair did make their alternate list. He was a top vote getter in the online poll for People.com’s most beautiful list.  While Sanjaya didn’t make it into the top 100 in People magazine, he did have a 4 page spread right before that section in the issue. And they made sure he appeared on the cover of that issue too.

He will be on the American Idol tour this summer along with the other top ten finishers.

Tellingly, some papers announce the schedule with headlines like “Sanjaya appears on tour”.

The number of searches for Sanjaya on google.com has topped that of other contestants.

Youtube.com has allowed many to view his performances and express their response to him.  The response is never lukewarm.

A search of Youtube reveals appearances on morning shows for the big 3 networks, after performance shows, entertainment shows, talk shows and viewer commentary along with all of them talking about Sanjaya both before and after he got voted off.

American Idol’s producers and judges seem to always pick on a young male who has to fight their scorn and disbelief at his ability to gain fans.

Sanjaya was the designated scapegoat for this season of American Idol.

Like some of them, Sanjaya did gain some support from people who were reacting to this over the top criticism that brought out their protective instincts.

But Sanjaya also had a sex appeal that other victims have lacked, which seems to have surprised the judges, or at least Simon.  And it seems that once people actually give him a chance and listen to him, many of them love him. 

Mentors on the show like Tony Bennett, Diana Ross and Jennifer Lopez have all sung his praises.

Alice Cooper is reported to have said on his radio show that he liked Sanjaya.

In his first episode back after heart surgery, Regis Philbin declared him to be his favorite.

He stated he felt people jumped on a “bandwagon of dislike” rather than actually listening to Sanjaya’s singing. Previous Idol stars have also come out in support, including Clay Aiken and Katherine McPhee.

And so, in what has been called a lack luster year, Sanjaya Malakar is the breakout star.

Melinda Doolittle, the acknowledged frontrunner and professional backup singer is a great singer, but has little sex appeal.

The rest have their fans and detractors according to taste.  They are little known outside of the show’s viewing audience.  Sanjaya was the only one who has attracted such an over the top response at both ends of the love/hate spectrum.

In an early interview he expressed a wish to represent the melting pot of America.

His time on the show revealed some intense hatred lurking below the surface of many in America.

He became a lightening rod for hatred directed at his (or his haters’ perception of his) ethnicity, sexual orientation and basic gall to have had the guts to actually have tried out for the show.  Many demanded he “do the right thing” and quit the show.

Sanjaya seems to have a history of dislike from other males and his time on Idol seems to be no different.  Brought up by women, he claims this helps him understand them and hence be their friend.

He provoked antigay sentiment to such an extent, that in an interview in People made after he was voted off he was asked to state his orientation.  For the record Sanjaya is straight.  And still underage.

One of the major on air “haters”, Jimmy Kimmel, pressed about this in an interview and Sanjaya replied simply he had only answered what that they had asked.  Kimmel acted as if he had never noticed that anyone had ever expressed any speculation or declarations about his orientation.

Another controversy in the Sanjaya story involved a website called Vote For The Worst.  The site is dedicated to supporting the contestant the judges seem to dislike the most.

He was already one of the top vote getters before VFTW decided to throw their “support” behind him and vote for Sanjaya.

Howard Stern got considerable publicity when he came out in favor of VFTW and Sanjaya. Some Idol fans acted as if his vendetta and Sanjaya remaining would destroy the world and not just American Idol, which by the way, seems to have thrived under the controversy.  American Idol consistently wins its time slot each week.

While the producers do not release figures for the actual votes each contestant receives, the “worsters” didn’t save previous VFTW picks.

Phil Stacey who followed as their pick, after Sanjaya was voted off, was himself voted off promptly at the next opportunity.

Sanjaya has said in interviews, that the hatred expressed against him made his fans, known as fanjayas, vote more.

After the whirlwind of publicity after getting voted off, he will be making an appearance at a mall in his hometown of Federal Way on Wednesday, May 9th.   The town’s refusal to host a Sanjaya Day has attracted attention from fans across the country.

He will be signing autographs in exchange for donations to World Vision, a charity based in Federal Way.

Many fanjayas say they are planning on driving in to see him.  Fans of Sanjaya’s sister have also expressed hope that she will also make an appearance.  The size and make up of the crowd he attracts will be a test of whether his fame will last more than fifteen minutes.

While there are rumors of contracts, nothing public has yet been announced.  Marc Anthony declared he’d like to sign Sanjaya Malakar after his wife, Jennifer Lopez, appeared on the show as a mentor.  Billy Ray Cyrus offered him a role on his daughter Miley’s show, “Hannah Montana”.

Will he be a lasting star or a flash in the pan?  Time will tell, but Sanjaya Malakar plans to “ride the wave” of fame his time on American Idol has given him, as far as he possibly can. 

And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.