Flowing hair and
a precious smile have their rewards. Especially if
you're Sanjaya Malakar, who is considered one of the weakest
performers on American Idol but has a fan base
that has helped him survive multiple rounds of viewer
elimination. In the online community and in Malakar's
home state of Washington, the croaking crooner seems
to have a loyal following of friends, family, and fanatics
who would like nothing better than to see him achieve
the ultimate Idol success and be the last singer
standing in May.
''I think he has
a career ahead of him, whether he wins or not,'' said
Pastor Pat Wright, a gospel choir director in Seattle who
has known Malakar for five years. Wright, who calls in
weekly to vote for Malakar, acknowledges that much of
his support likely comes from an online community of
young fans enthralled with his chameleon hairdos and
flashing grin. ''He's very handsome. That's most of it,''
she said. ''He's a teenager, and young girls and guys
really like him.''
In recent weeks
the lanky teen from Federal Way--a city of about
84,000, 20 miles south of Seattle--has taken
some hard hits from the public and all three judges on
News Corp.'s Fox network show. Simon Cowell went so
far as to say if Malakar wins, he'll quit. But in Seattle,
where Malakar sang with the Total Experience Gospel
Choir, Wright and Malakar's family say the young man
is holding back. ''He sings from the heart, and people
who hear him can feel that heart and they become, many
times, very emotional,'' said Wright, who has directed
Malakar in her choir for at least three years. She
can't explain the change in her young pupil, but says
he ''sounded down'' during a recent telephone conversation
she had with him. ''He has not shown America what he
can do. That's what I said to him a couple days ago.
'I want you to give them the showmanship. I want you
to give them Sanjaya's heart,' '' she said.
criticism and pressure, Malakar has held up remarkably well
for someone ''as young and as inexperienced as he is,'' says
his aunt, Christi Recchi of Seattle. Recchi introduced
Malakar to Wright's choir, where she says his musical
personality blossomed. But she agrees that her nephew
hasn't been performing his best. Some of the show's
followers expected Malakar to be voted off quickly.
But for now his success continues with assistance from
fans, as well as backhanded help from the likes of
Howard Stern and groups like VoteForTheWorst.com, which
since 2004 has vowed to support any contestant that
producers would like to see cut from the show.
talents may pale in comparison with other finalists,
but his ability to work the crowd may pull him through. ''I
think at this point in his career he's the sort of
classic case of desire for fame outstripping
ability,'' said Jasen Emmons, director of curatorial affairs
at Seattle's Experience Music Project museum. Malakar's most
recent performance of the Kinks' ''You Really Got Me''
showed the teen's strong stage presence, said Emmons,
who has 10- and 13-year-old daughters who watch the
show. ''At age 17 he's not going to be able to stand there
and belt out a ballad,'' Emmons says. ''But his charm
might keep him in the fight.'' (AP)
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