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Weak Idol
wannabe gets online support

Weak Idol
wannabe gets online support

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.

Despite the 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, which since 2004 has vowed to support any contestant that producers would like to see cut from the show.

Malakar's singing 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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Mike Grippi