Hair-brained scheme or singer’s dream?

Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks and … Sanjaya Malakar? These past American Idol winners may have to make way for a new top

Idol – although some feel he doesn’t deserve it.

The 17-year-old boy from Washington has drawn both criticism and praise for his performances on this season’s American Idol. Despite constantly being criticized by the judges for his sub-par vocal performances, Malakar has consistently remained in the competition – finally reaching the elusive top eight this week.

Malakar is a sensation, drawing strong reactions from all types of Idol fans. The fact that he keeps coming back has prompted questions regarding the show’s credibility and has also sparked rumors as to why he keeps getting voted back on. One such rumor stated that a call center was set up in India to only vote for Malakar, but was later disproved. He has also been featured on Votefortheworst.com, a site devoted to encouraging people to vote for the worst Idol candidate. Sites like these skew the show’s voting, preventing contestants who are more deserving from continuing in the competition.

Despite all the negative publicity, Malakar has developed a loyal following among the ‘tween set, as seen when he performed “You Really Got Me Now.” A young girl in the audience burst into tears, highlighting the effect Malakar has on his fans, who are known as “Fanjayas.” Malakar’s pretty boy looks, coupled with his soft-spoken demeanor that seems to disappear on stage, make him the perfect object of adoration for the teeny-bopper age group. He even overshadows fellow contestant Chris Richardson, who draws many comparisons to Justin Timberlake.

Fanjayas aside, the rest of America has taken notice of him as well. The hairstyles he debuts each week are reason enough to tune in, as he goes from flat-ironed straight hair to a new creation called the “ponyhawk.” When he walked on stage to perform “Bathwater” during the week Gwen Stefani was a mentor, he sported a style that had his hair in multiple ponytails slicked back to resemble a mohawk, and the ponyhawk was born.

“I don’t think I’m the best singer in the competition, but I’m just going to work on both of them and hopefully it’ll hit me,” said Malakar, when trying to choose between before performing “You Really Got Me Now” by The Kinks or “I’m Into Something Good” by Herman’s Hermits during the British Invasion week.

When performing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” during the week Diana Ross was a mentor, she commented on how off-beat he was. This week, Malakar performed “Cheek to Cheek” and finally received some support from the judges, cementing his spot in the competition for another week. This week’s celebrity mentor, Tony Bennett, gave his support to Malakar as well: Bennett said Malakar “sings very well.”

Malakar apparently can do no wrong – he gives lukewarm performances for songs that require confident stage presence, forgets the lyrics to some songs and sings songs that showcase his lack of vocal range – yet still manages somehow to rack up enough votes to stay. Other contestants, such as Gina Glocksen – who has a vocal range that easily eclipses Malakar’s – was voted off before him, despite giving better performances than Malakar week after week.

If Malakar were to win American Idol, the show’s credibility would seriously come into question – how is it that a singer with visibly less talent than the other contestants manages to beat out his competition? If contestants such as Melinda Doolittle and Jordin Sparks – who are both recognized for having booming vocals – were to be voted off before Malakar, it would prove that victory on American Idol is not based on talent at all, but on how much hype a specific performer can draw.

Until then, though, Fanjayas and other Idol fans alike will continue to tune in for the answer to the central question: How much further will Sanjaya go?

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