Sanjaya Malakar amazed by "crazy," "surreal" 'American Idol' attention
By Christopher Rocchio, 04/19/2007
Describing himself as "Just Sanjaya from Federal Way," newly ousted sixth season American Idol finalist Sanjaya Malakar said he's still mostly unaware of the celebrity status he's gained from appearing in the competition.
"I had no idea that -- I mean I knew the show was big -- but I had no idea how big it really was and how much impact it had. It's been kind of surreal for me. I mean we're in a bubble -- I'm sure you've heard that a lot -- but we truly are. We don't have the slightest idea of the capacity of the show and the impact it has so I got inklings every once and a while of something going on that I guess was a cultural phenomenon... but I don't think it really has hit me yet, how big it is," Malakar told reporters during a Thursday conference call. "It seems kind of unnatural. I'm just Sanjaya from Federal Way. It's crazy."
The 17-year-old Federal Way, WA native who became better known for his hair than his singing ability was finally eliminated during Idol 6's Wednesday night live results show. Malakar had performed "Let's Give 'em Something to Talk About" during Tuesday night's Idol broadcast. Idol judge Randy Jackson had thought it was "really just like karaoke... bland and boring;" Paula Abdul had called Malakar a "loveable guy" who "thrives on adversity;" while Simon Cowell had described his performance as "utterly horrendous" and added it was "as bad as anything we see at the beginning of American Idol."
"When I saw the show on Tuesday, I kind of had a feeling [I was going to be eliminated]. I was in the dumps all day on Wednesday. I kind of knew," explained Malakar. "I'm kind of content with the fact that I was going to go home at some point, because everyone has to go home except for one."
While Malakar stated the obvious when he said, "everyone of us wants to win," he admitted he "was more focused on the learning aspect" of Idol.
"I got my GED after sophomore year [of high school], and I basically saw [Idol] as my junior and senior year of high school because this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. This is my way of learning it in very quick time. I got a lot further than I ever expected to," he said. "I was kind of to a point in my mind where I was like, 'Okay. I'm good with this. I just need to focus now. This is the end of my high-school career, as I call it. Now I've graduated and am going into my life and starting my life from the beginning.' So I still am focusing on working hard and going out and doing my thing."
Malakar's "thing" caught the attention of both Idol enthusiasts and casual fans of the competition, as well as the national media. Unfortunately for him, a lot of what was being said and written was not too kind.
"It was a little hard, but I tried to turn everything into a positive or tried to learn from it. If it's not possible -- it's that negative -- I just let it roll off my back like a duck with water because I know that if I don't it would drive me crazy," said Malakar.
He said he even got in the habit of reading Internet blogs to gauge his performances while still in the competition.
"I read the online blogs more to balance myself because it was kind of hard not to hear stuff and often times it was negative. So I kind of balanced the positive and the negative just to keep myself grounded. I think I've learned not to let any negativity get you... just keep on trucking I guess and try to find the positive in everything," said Malakar, before adding he's changed his tune now that he's been eliminated. "I think I'm going to stay clear of that for a little bit just so that I can get my mind clear and just focus on my career and what's coming up ahead."
Much of the attention Malakar received focused on the different coifs he performed with from week to week. It was feathered, flat-ironed, curled, and even fixed into a pony-hawk. Malakar admitted the curls were his favorite hairstyle, "minus the grease," of course.
"At a certain point, [my hair] kind of became my thing. I think everyone looks for something to grab onto, each contestant, so I feel like my hair was that for me," explained Malakar. "With my hair, I always had an idea of what I wanted and the hair person would help me to execute it. And with the styling and my cloths and stuff, I just wanted really to capture my personality and put it out there and the stylist really helped me with that. So I did have a lot of help, but the ideas were really mine."
Jackson was a big fan of Malakar's different hairstyles, and many of the judges comments towards the end of his Idol journey focused on his appearance rather than his vocal performance.
"When [the judges] gave me feedback I tried to take the feedback and find something to learn out of it," said Malakar. "And if the feedback wasn't helpful -- and sometimes it wasn't -- I would watch the show and just try to see everything that I did that I could improve."
One of his harshest critics was Cowell, who seemingly gave-up on commenting on Malakar's vocals and even threatened to quit Idol if he won.
"I think Simon saw potential in me, and when I didn't fulfill that potential, he was kind of disappointed. I just want to say to him that he's an amazing person and what he does is awesome. He's very opinionated, but I learned more from him than anyone else when I was on the show," said Malakar. "I think that [Cowell] had gotten to a point where I hadn't fulfilled my potential for long enough to where he didn't think I deserved to be there, which is fine. Everyone has their opinion."
Despite his popularity -- be it for his hair, style or voice -- Malakar could sense that he was going to have some trouble heading into Wednesday night's results show when the season's Top 6 were revealed.
"Obviously, I'm not a country singer and I think that really did it for me. And I didn't have enough really strong performances to have people forgive me for that," he explained. "For example, [fellow Idol 6 finalist and Wednesday night "bottom two" member Lakisha Jones is] not necessarily a country singer either, but she had enough really strong performances to get her through, and I don't think I did."
When Idol host Ryan Seacrest revealed it was Malakar who was being eliminated, the teenager was visibly upset.
"The emotion that came out was... I was being torn away from my family. Everyone's been so supportive of everyone. It's really great to be able to have that in a competition like this," he said. "Everyone is a family. We really truly are, and we're really close. That was actually the hardest part of leaving, was leaving this extended part of my family."
Asked if he ever harbored the idea that he could actually win Idol's sixth season, Malakar said he tried to quell such lofty thoughts.
"I was just focusing on trying to get past each week, not looking to far ahead into the future because I know if I did I'd overwhelm myself," he said. "I was going to stay as long as I possibly could and work every week to try and learn from everything that happened. I got an amazing amount of education I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. I feel like I've grown. I'm more confident because I have this experience and was able to do this every week."
Malakar added his "philosophy" throughout his Idol experience was to "stay true" to himself, as well as to "just try to put [his] personality out there."
"I think that throughout the competition I grew as a performer and also a person because I did have a lot of things to learn from," he said. "I think that I kind of found myself as I progressed. I do definitely think I found myself and became more comfortable in my own skin."
Malakar said he plans on resting and trying to "get back into normal life" as much as he can before going on Idol 6's tour this summer as a member of the season's Top 10. Beyond that, he hasn't really mapped his career out.
"The show just ended and I've been doing publicity, so I haven't really gotten the opportunity to get any offers but I'm sure that they'll come," said Malakar. "I'm more than willing to go into all kinds of entertainment other than music. I'm definitely looking at a music career, but I also want to venture into acting, modeling and possibly Broadway... I just really want to get the full entertainment career."
And make no mistake, Malakar said he has no plans to become the next William Hung -- who never made it past his first audition in Idol's third season -- but still turned a butchered version of "She Bangs" into a singing career that has earned him more than $1 million.
"My main thing that I'm going to look for when I choose endorsements and stuff like that... it's gonna be something that I really feel strongly about," said Malakar. "I'm not going to do something just for money, because I know it's not just about money. It's about having an image and really putting your true self out there. I feel that if I do that, money will come. It's paper. It's not really important. The most important thing I can do is stay true to myself."