Sanjaya Malakar, the “American Idol” singer with Hawaii ties, soldiers on, backed by voting fans, no matter what the critics say about his talent.
Should he stay or
should he go?
Sanjaya's leveraging for likability makes America forget that he can't sing
To reiterate, class, there are only two rules for "American Idol":
Rule 1: It's just a singing contest.
Rule 2: It's not just a singing contest.
Generally, in the Darwinian sifting bowl of the musical competition, the cream rises to the top, and the dross is scattered bleating by the wayside. By the time you get to the Top 10 finalists -- the number selected to go on tour once the show wraps -- they're all at least technically proficient, can carry a note and can tie their own shoes. And their personalities have either been heightened or flattened by the process.
And then along came Sanjaya Malakar.
Pretty, wispy, vaguely ethnic and possessing a luxuriant head of hair Karl Rove can only dream about, Sanjaya has become a phenomenon on "American Idol," Exhibit A of the left-field power of Rule 2. Sanjaya -- first name only, he's that big now -- has become a national punch line, a go-to entertainment item who's a fresh flower in a world of quickly fading Lindsay Lohans.
Why, why, oh why?
Some folks genuinely like him, particularly those who know him. At Kauai's Island School in Puhi, where Sanjaya spent his second-grade year, the teachers and staff remember him well.
"I think we're all watching the show," said Island School Administrator Christy Teeren. "Off and on at least. We only had him a year, and we're curious to see how far he goes and how proud we might be when it's over."
The kid himself isn't talking. A spokeswoman for the show said he's not doing any interviews.
Sanjaya Malakar's many hairdos have drawn almost as much attention as his "American Idol" perforrmances.
The self-professed King of All Media, Howard Stern, has made himself part of the process, seizing upon the VoteForTheWorst Web site as a way of derailing the "Idol" freight train, by urging votes for the worst singer: Sanjaya.
"All of us are routing 'American Idol,'" Stern crowed on his Sirius Satellite Radio show. "It's so great. The No. 1 show in television and it's getting ruined."
It's a big freight train, big stakes. Now in its sixth season, the show attracts more than 30 million viewers a week, none of whom, apparently, are sitting on the fence. But do the Sanjaya naysayers really have that much swing?
"With 30 million votes every week, and hundreds of millions of votes over the season, the power of true fans of 'American Idol' dwarfs any attempt of people trying to gain notoriety," a Fox official statement said last week. The fact that the popular show has to defend the honor of its internal processes is interesting all by itself, hey?
The votes are coming from somewhere. Some are votes picked up from fans of other, similar contestants who have been voted off. (Think Electoral College.) There is rife speculation that rabid Fanjayas include childless older women or that until-now quiescent cultural subgroup of Indian Americans -- the lad's progress is tracked in excruciating detail by Indian newspapers from Baltimore to Bombay -- and that outsourced Indian computer help centers are loading the phone votes.
The answer is pretty simple, and you can see it in Sanjaya's eyes.
That deer-in-the-headlight, humble, dewy and unfocused teen has been replaced -- shaped by the fires of competition -- with someone cannier, a kid who's exposing his strengths instead of revealing his weaknesses. Rule 2, again -- if you can't sing, be memorable and make sure people like you.
Chris Sligh, the cocky, funny kid from the early auditions, was replaced by a sack of piffle, afraid to make a move until it had been analyzed 50 ways, while Sanjaya ratcheted up his individuality.
Last week, Sligh got booted by America; Sanjaya wasn't even in the bottom three. Sanjaya has become a playa.
Simon Cowell threw up his hands last week and, as usual, spoke the unvarnished truth: "I genuinely don't think it matters what we say. I think you are in your own universe. If people like you, good luck!"