Top TV Stories of 2007: Sanjaya
Like many breakout reality TV stars, Sanjaya Malakar was able to successfully steal the spotlight from his more worthy opponents, gliding by on personality and charisma. He's living proof that a winning grin and luscious locks can sometimes take you a lot farther than actual talent.
When we first met Sanjaya, he was just an innocent lad from the state of Washington. However, in just a couple of weeks of Idol competition he would divide a nation of Idol fans. There were those who adored him, such as Diana "Sanjaya is Love" Ross, the Crying Girl, and his devoted Fanjayas. There were also those who absolutely despised him, such as most of the people who commented on my Reviewcaps and the insane hunger-strikers. Even Simon Cowell said he'd quit if Sanjaya won Idol. And then there were those, such as Howard Stern and Vote for the Worst, who saw Sanjaya as a goof and used him to have a little fun, and poke holes in the Idol-mystique.
Week after week, Sanjaya and his hair (remember the fauxhawk?) were the reigning Idol controversy of Season Six. There were even crazy Conspiracy Theories going around. We simply couldn't stop talking about Sanjaya. To many, he represented the worst that American Idol had to offer and proved that the juggernaut was on a slippery downslide. To others, he was the only interesting thing in a year of mostly bland and forgettable contestants. The innocent lad even seemed to understand his own inexplicable appeal when he sang "Something to Talk About" during his last week in the singing competition.
I was not a fan of Sanjaya's (ahem) singing. In fact, I thought his performance of "You Really Got Me" was possibly the all-time worst Idol performance EVER. How bad was it? Randy and Paula loved it, of course (nuff said). That Crying Girl couldn't stop crying. And it led to a brilliant SNL parody. You can watch the performance on YouTube to see for yourself (unfortunately, the SNL parody has been taken down).
Things became so heated and there was so much Sanjaya-bashing that I actually defended him in an editorial that only got me blasted by super-nasty and often scary commenters (and made me think about going into hiding or moving to Canada). It was at that point that I realized people take their American Idol competition a little too seriously.
In the end, what Sanjayamania really proved was that American Idol is a reality TV show first (where controversy is good for ratings) and a talent competition second (where sometimes the *best* singer wins). I think many purists simply didn't want to acknowledge that and blamed Sanjaya for their disillusionment.
Maybe the truth is that nothing is as "innocent" as it appears on TV (especially reality TV). After all, for a meek kid (often thought of as a "joke" or "producer's mistake"), Sanjaya sure played the "reality TV game" like a seasoned pro. Honestly, he may just have been the savviest contestant to ever hit the Idol stage. He clearly knew how to suck all of the attention out of the room and put it directly on himself (and his hair). And he didn't let "lack of talent" hold him back one bit. It still boggles my mind that he was a Seventh Place finisher.
Of course, Sanjaya does sing on -- at least on YouTube. You can watch his final tearful American Idol performance here, as well as Besame Mucho (one of his better performances) and the audition that started it all.
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