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Sanjaya shocks and appalls ‘Idol’ fans everywhere

Erin McGinn | Thursday, April 12, 2007

Across the country, hearts are breaking and tears are flowing. Fans of “American Idol,” regardless of who their favorite contestant might be, are united by deep-seated anguish and despair caused by a single person.

His name is Sanjaya Malakar.

He seemed innocent and harmless – at first. The audience got their first taste of Sanjaya during the Seattle auditions. He quickly won over fans when he tried out with his sister, Shyamali, and they were both accepted to Hollywood week. When his sister was eliminated, he ran out to find her in the hallway and held her as they both cried.

It was endearing and heart-warming – but still nothing to be worried about.

There are always a couple of contestants every season that cause fans to wonder what Simon, Paula and Randy were thinking when they accepted them into the final 24. But then the voting is left to America – so those flaws are typically corrected by the millions who call in every week to vote.

Some may argue that the crowning of Taylor Hicks last season was a strong sign of Idol’s decline – that the contest wasn’t being taken seriously anymore. But no one was prepared for Sanjaya.

For the first couple of weeks, there was little cause for worry. It takes a couple of weeks for the performers to settle down on the stage, and there were others worse than Sanjaya.

He wasn’t even the initial focus of the now infamous votefortheworst.com, which annually chooses the worst contestant to vote for. But as worse performers like Antonella Barba and Sundance Head fell to the wayside, it became clear that Sanjaya was going to be the next elimination.

Or so we thought.

When it came down to choosing the top 12, he landed in the bottom two. The world watched as he stayed and Brandon Rogers left. Rogers wasn’t that good, so it wasn’t a crushing moment. But since then, Sanjaya has not appeared in the bottom tier of votes despite getting worse – much, much worse.

In the Top-11 episode, he performed “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks. An atrocious performance on its own, it was made worse by the 13-year-old girl in the audience who bawled during his entire performance.

She attracted so much attention that Sanjaya went over to hug her and Ryan Seacrest invited her up during the closing credits. It was subsequently parodied on “Saturday Night Live” during their “weekend update.” He made it through that episode, and “Idol” lost Stephanie Edwards, who had been predicted to finish much higher.

As if things couldn’t have gotten worse, the Top-10 episode was next. Making it into the top-10 guarantees a spot on the summer “Idol” tour and on the compilation record, but it didn’t stop there.

Gwen Stefani was the guest that week and Sanjaya chose to perform “Bathwater” by No Doubt. Although his singing was atrocious, no one paid attention to his vocals. All attention was on his hair – on the faux-hawk that he created out of seven ponytails.

Simon complained that nothing they said mattered anymore – and true to that statement, Sanjaya lived on. The next week Malakar proclaimed that it was time for the “Universe of Sanjaya.”

But only a select few want to be members of that universe.

Votefortheworst.com is behind him, as is Howard Stern. But more and more people are becoming disgruntled as Sanjaya remains on the popular show.

A few people on Myspace became well-known for their participation in hunger strikes until he was eliminated – they have either starved or given up by now. Simon Cowell told “Extra” that if Sanjaya wins, he’ll quit the show.

Last night’s result show proved that this circus isn’t over yet. Sanjaya wasn’t even in the bottom three, meaning that he isn’t anywhere close to elimination. Is this a sign that the reign of “American Idol” is coming to an end?

Hopefully not – but there won’t be much of an option if Sanjaya isn’t stopped soon.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.