Top TV Stories of 2007: Sanjaya

by Liz Finn-Arnold, posted Dec 26th 2007 8:00AM
Sanjaya MalakarIf you're scratching your head and asking "Sanjaya Who?" then you probably don't own a TV, or a computer for that matter. For two months, Sanjaya-hysteria ruled our television airwaves (sometimes three times a week). Thanks to a little show called American Idol, Sanjaya became one of the breakout reality TV stars of 2007.

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.

Gallery: Sanjaya

Sanjaya AuditionsGetting the Golden TicketWaiting for the World to ChangeStepping Out With My BabySanjaya is LoveYou Really Got MeAin't No Mountain HighBathwaterThe FauxhawkDance Paula DanceCheek To CheekBesame MuchoBesame MuchoSomething to Talk AboutSomething To Talk AboutThe Bottom ThreeThe Bottom TwoSanjaya Is Voted OffGood-Bye SanjayaSanjaya Malakar Has Left the Building

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.

Sanjaya's FauxhawkWeek 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.

Where is Sanjaya now? I'm not sure. And I'm a bit surprised he didn't parlay all that tween-obsessed attention into some kind of Nickelodeon show. It's quite possible that Sanjaya Malakar's 15 minutes of fame is actually up. The shelf life for breakout reality TV stars clearly isn't what it used to be. By this time next year, we'll most likely be scratching our heads and collectively asking ourselves, "Sanjaya What?"

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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Sanjaya is one of the most talked about contestants on American Idol, sure. But let's not forget why. He is a tremendous talent in so many different areas...he is charming, witty and extremely poised. He has a huge heart...he's warm, loving and funny. He is determined, driven and dedicated to his dream. I think his loyal fans, a fan base of all ages (children, teens and adults), saw something in him that the media tended to overlook - his true potential as a star. Since American Idol, he has dedicated his time and compassion to many wonderful causes such as "Christmas in the Northwest" and appeared in his native Seattle's production of "The Black Nativity" - where he reunited with the choir who nurtured and supported Sanjaya from the very beginning. I don't think anyone will ever forget Sanjaya...his journey has just BEGUN :)

December 27 2007 at 4:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
raven woods

Ha! Loved your defense blog on Sanjaya. But rest assured, it wasn't just the teenybopper vote keeping him in. Sanjaya has a HUGE and devoted fanbase among the 30-60-somethings. I am 40+ and love him! Plus, he has grown tremendously as a performer since AI, as evidenced by the tour (where he won many rave reviews from skeptics) and his recent Black Nativity and Christmas in the Northwest performances. (All of these clips, BTW, except for Black Nativity, are also available on YouTube. But you can catch an impromptu performance of Sweet Chariot that he did prior to the show, which is awesome). I still cringe when I hear people say he has no talent. The kid can sing quite well, he can sure as heck dance (as evidenced by his tour performances), he has great comedic skills, he writes music, plays guitar very well (again, surprising many with his muscianship during the tour) and even does beautiful, gorgeous, breathtaking photography! If the only means by which we measure talent these days is being able to sing on AI and getting praise from Simon Cowell, well, that's a pretty sad state of affairs, if you ask me.

December 27 2007 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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