Sanjaya Joseph Malakar (born September 10, 1989) was a finalist on the sixth season of American Idol. Malakar gained national attention on American Idol, advancing to 7th place with public votes despite being badly received by the show's judges (particularly Simon Cowell).
After Idol, Malakar made many television guest appearances and has been commonly parodied in popular culture. In recent years, he has found success at writing. First for the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series and then writing a memoir. He is currently starring in season two of the reality television show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me out of Here!
Sanjaya Malakar was born the large suburb of Federal Way, which is in the Seattle metropolitan area. His father was a Bengali Indian named Vasudeva Malakar, who emigrated to the United States, and his mother was an Italian American named Jillian Recchi Blyth.
His parents filed for divorce when he was three years old and had been separated for a year prior to doing so. When the divorce was filed, the family had almost no money coming in. His mother and the children were living in a Seattle apartment, and her only income was from welfare. His mother remarried, but his stepfather died soon afterwards. Although Malakar spent the majority of his formative years in the Seattle area, he has also lived in both California and Kauai, Hawaii, where he performed with the Hawaii Children's Theater group. While in Seattle, he spent three years with the Total Experience Gospel Choir.
Malakar attended Martha Lake Elementary School in Lynnwood, Washington for elementary school, and the Seattle Waldorf School and Northshore Junior High School for middle school in Bothell, Washington. He attended Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, Washington during freshman year, and Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Washington during sophomore year. After his sophomore year, Malakar passed the General Educational Development test, in order to leave high school early and focus on a music career and on his participation in American Idol.
Shortly after his run on American Idol ended, Malakar attended the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner as a People Magazine guest, where he saw then-President George W Bush. Malakar was popular among the press and fans at the dinner, and was even prompted for an autograph by then New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.
Several magazines honored the singer, including Us Weekly, People, TIME, and Teen. He was featured in Us Magazine’s April 20, 2007, issue in an article entitled "Sanjaya Speaks", where he was asked about his reactions to the parodies, Simon Cowell, Howard Stern and to his new celebrity status. He was featured in the May 7, 2007, issue of People, where he talked about his American Idol run, his younger years, and future aspirations. The article mentions that he was raised vegetarian, a diet he still mainly follows. In TIME's 2007 "TIME 100 POLL for The Most Influential People of the Year", based on online public votes, he ranked third. He was nominated for Teen’s 2007 "Top Ten Most Cutest".
Award shows acknowledged Malakar, as well. He won two of TV.com's Fashion Awards, in the categories of "ON AIR: Best Hair - Male", and "OFF AIR: Best Trendsetter - Male", by public votes. He was nominated for "Best Reality Show Star" in AZN Television's annual Asian Excellence Awards and was a presenter at the awards ceremony aired May 24, 2007 on E! and May 28, 2007 on AZN-TV. At the 2007 Teen Choice Awards on August 26, he was named "Best TV Reality Star". He grabbed a nomination and a win for Fox's 2007 Golden Realitini Awards. At the October 13, 2007 show, he was nominated for "Most Memorable Reality Personality of the Year", and he won the "Favorite Reality Game Loser" award at the awards ceremony, where he was a presenter. Malakar won Fox's 2007 Golden Realitini Award for Favorite Reality Game Loser aired. “Sanjaya’s Ponyhawk” was ranked as #3 in the 2007 "Top TV Moment" video searches by AOL.
On September 19, 2006, Malakar, a shy teen, entered the open audition for American Idol at the Seattle Center in Seattle, with his sister Shyamali. Simon Cowell commented that Sanjaya had a better voice than his sister. Both were advanced to the Hollywood round unanimously by the judges. Malakar cited Stevie Wonder as his idol, and sang one of Wonder's signature songs, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" at his Seattle audition.
For his next performance, in Hollywood, Malakar sang "Some Kind of Wonderful". He was shown tearfully embracing his sister when she was cut, though he progressed to the Top 40. Next, Malakar sang "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". The judges were largely critical of his performance, though Simon Cowell admitted that Malakar is popular with the voters while Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul gave a more positive appraisal of his "You Really Got Me" performance in the Top 11. A 13-year-old girl named Ashley Ferl was highlighted repeatedly during Malakar's performance in the Top 11 episode, crying tears of joy, although Ferl also cried for Melinda Doolittle, Jordin Sparks, and many other contestants.
On March 27, 2007, Malakar sang No Doubt's "Bathwater" wearing a strikingly peculiar fauxhawk made from multiple ponytails. The style was called the "ponyhawk" by host Ryan Seacrest. While singing, Malakar hesitated with some of the words to the song. Simon Cowell remarked, "Sanjaya, I don't think it matters anymore what we say ... I think you are in your own universe and if people like you, good luck." The following night, host Seacrest walked out on stage wearing a wig with the same hairstyle, parodying Malakar.
On April 3, Tony Bennett was the featured celebrity on the show, and he met with each performer. Malakar sang "Cheek to Cheek", wearing a white suit, donning a slick hairstyle (with a recent cut), and dancing with judge Paula Abdul. Abdul commented " I get it. I get why people love you. You are charming." On the following April 4 results show, it was revealed that Malakar had finished in the "middle three," among nine contestants.
Malakar's performance of "Bésame Mucho" in the Top 8 on April 10 was his first unanimously well-received performance by the judges in the finals of the competition. During rehearsals Jennifer Lopez remarked, "I like this kid. I love Sanjaya!" after hearing him sing in Spanish, the only one of the remaining eight contestants to do so on the Latin-theme night. Randy Jackson commented, "You’re one of the smartest contestants I've ever met. That was actually really good. It was," while Simon Cowell offered the halting, "I'm going to hate myself for this. It wasn't horrible." Malakar continued on, entering the Top 7, following that performance on the April 11 results show.
After performing Something to Talk About on the previous night, Malakar was placed in the bottom three and was subsequently eliminated in 7th place on April 18, 2007. Singing his farewell performance, after the line "let's give them something to talk about", he ad libbed "other than hair" in place of "how about love".
American Idol's ratings dropped 9% in the episode following Malakar's elimination, which was Idol Gives Back, a charity episode featuring many celebrity guests. The music news website Moldolva.org that reported this directly correlated it to Malakar's departure.
On the May 23 American Idol finale show he performed with the top six males, introduced Smokey Robinson in the medley. Malakar performed "You Really Got Me" with Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry on guitar.
Malakar was the season's most talked about American Idol contestant, based on articles and searches conducted on the Internet. One American Idol fan on MySpace claimed to be on a hunger strike until Malakar was voted off. She later admitted that she was canceling her strike, after his stay was longer than expected. In her YouTube video, an advertisement for FitnessSingles.com was prominently displayed, causing speculation her hunger strike was really for profit. Other members of the MySpace online community created a page entitled Team Sanjaya in support for him. However, members of the online community have contributed semi-fictional web sites, appearing to portray Malakar in a more satirical but supportive way. Websites parodying Malakar's success had also appeared.
An official fansite for Malakar was created with approval of and contributions by the entertainer and his mother Jillian Blyth, and archives include in-person reports for each 2007 American Idol Concert Tour event.
Simon Cowell told Extra that had Malakar won, he would not have returned as a judge to the show, even though he is contractually obligated to return. The show's executive producer predicted that Malakar would not win. Some commentators have remarked that the judges seemed to have stopped giving thoughtful critiques of Malakar's performances. The judges seemed stunned by his large following of voters. Randy Jackson went as far to remark that "I cannot even say anything on the vocals anymore", in his critique of Malakar after his performance during the top nine. Chris Ayres of The Times speculated that it would have been a turning point leading toward decline and eventual cancellation for American Idol if Malakar had won. Others, however, believe that the franchise benefited from the publicity, which was more than in any recent season of Idol. On the April 17 broadcast of American Idol, Simon Cowell further said of the controversy, "I know this has been funny for a while, but based on the fact that we are supposed to be finding the next American Idol it [Malakar's performance] was hideous."
The weblog Vote for the Worst had Malakar as its current "pick" for the sixth season top 12 until he was eliminated. On March 19, 2007, Howard Stern campaigned for his radio show listeners to join the weblog in voting for Malakar "to corrupt the No.1 show on television". Some Stern regulars claimed to have voted for Malakar over 300 times—largely in hopes of tormenting American Idol traditionalists on the show. Later, when asked for a reaction, Malakar told Jimmy Kimmel that his aunt had voted 1100 times.
The fan reaction of Ashley Ferl was satirized on the March 24, 2007 broadcast of Saturday Night Live, during the Weekend Update segment. Malakar was portrayed by Andy Samberg, and the crying girl was portrayed by Kristen Wiig. Also feigning tears in the audience were Fred Armisen and Dan Aykroyd. Samberg portrayed Malakar again during the monologue of the April 21, 2007 episode, singing the song "Something To Talk About" as a duet with host Scarlett Johansson. The controversy spawned colloquialisms associated with Malakar's name, such as "Sanjayamania" and "Fanjaya" to denote a Sanjaya fan.
In Popular CultureEdit
Malakar has been frequently parodied in popular culture. He is mentioned in two television episodes. He is referenced in the American edit of the series 2 "Christmas Special" of Ricky Gervais' show Extras. In the episode, a department store owner comments that in order to stay ahead of the next buying season, he "ordered 10,000 Sanjaya dolls". Also, in the Hannah Montana episode, "(We're So Sorry) Uncle Earl", Uncle Earl makes a reference to Malakar by telling Aunt Pearl that, because he became a part of Hannah Montana's band, "I feel like Sanjaya." Then, he corrects himself and says, "In the early rounds."
Malakar is parodied in the movie Meet the Spartans. Leonidas does not like his singing and pushes him into the pit of death. Malakar's character says, "I'm not gay" as he falls. Malakar is mentioned, as well, in the JibJab internet cartoon "In 2007". The video takes a comic look at several events of 2007 and compares Malakar to natural disasters such as famine and fire, when it says, "There was famine, fire, don't forget Sanjaya."
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