Whether you loved him or hated him, Sanjaya Malakar was the most talked about.
'Idol' spotlight dims for Sanjaya Malakar
The contestant's outrageous hairstyles and lack of talent exasperated judges
NEW YORK » Sanjaya Malakar, the undertalented but unflappable singer who horrified and captivated millions in his improbable "American Idol" run, was finally voted off the show last night.
When the result was announced, Malakar wiped away tears and got a big hug from LaKisha Jones, who had the next-lowest vote total.
"I'm fine," he told Ryan Seacrest. "It was an amazing experience."
"I can promise you: We won't soon forget you," Seacrest replied.
Malakar then performed for the TV audience one last time, singing "Something to Talk About."
On Tuesday night's show, Simon Cowell had slammed his performance as "utterly horrendous." And for once, the notoriously mean judge was vindicated.
"I'm beginning to sense something here," a grinning Cowell said when Malakar wound up in the bottom three.
Who will Simon Cowell pick on now that Sanjaya Malakar has been voted off "American Idol"?
Six contestants are now left: Blake Lewis, Jordin Sparks, LaKisha Jones, Chris Richardson, Melinda Doolittle and Phil Stacey.
Known for his toothy grin, pretty face and ever-changing hairstyles, Malakar was routinely savaged by Cowell as he developed into one of the weakest, most awkward "Idol" finalists ever. Still, the gangly teen managed to outlast better singers by cultivating an unlikely fan base that helped him survive round after round of viewer elimination.
Though his breathy, childlike singing voice paled in comparison with other finalists, his ability to stand out kept him in the competition. He consistently delivered the season's most talked-about performances, even daring to sport a ponytail mohawk that added pizzazz to an otherwise tepid rendition of Gwen Stefani's "Bathwater."
That, of course, wound up fodder for water cooler discussion on G-rated morning programs and smart-alecky Web sites, stoking suspicion that Malakar was self-consciously manipulating the media to carve a place in "American Idol" history.
Many had predicted that he would make it all the way to the May finale. Among Malakar's supporters: radio shock jock Howard Stern and the Web site VotefortheWorst.com, which has long promoted the show's tone-deaf candidates. (Previous targets include surly Scott Savol and sweet-natured Kevin Covais. Cult superstar William Hung never even made it to Hollywood.)
Malakar also had the backing of friends and family in his home state of Washington. "He's very handsome. That's most of it," marveled his friend Pat Wright, a gospel choir director in Seattle. "He's a teenager, and young girls and guys really like him."
Malakar seemed buoyed by his widespread fame.
"Welcome to the universe of Sanjaya!" he proudly proclaimed on a recent telecast, following a backhanded compliment from an exasperated Cowell.
Indeed, after panning another of Malakar's performances, Cowell threw up his arms and said there was nothing he could say to prevent people from voting for the oddball-turned-national phenomenon.
But, in the end, Malakar could not win enough votes to join the ranks of Taylor Hicks, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
He will, however, live forever on YouTube.