I recently had the opportunity to participate in a media interview with eliminated contestant Sanjaya Malakar (my questions are in red). During the interview it became evident how young and out of his league he really was. He is a very nice young man and I wish him all the luck and success in the future.
Now that you are out of the house and out of the Idol show, are you going to be Web surfing and watching T.V. to see all the gossip that’s been said about you in the last few weeks?
S. Malakar: I think I’m going to steer clear of that for a little bit just until I can get my mind clear and just focus on what I need to do now, which is just focus on my career and what’s coming up ahead.
How surprised are you by all your fans that you’ve formed over the last few weeks on Idol?
S. Malakar: It’s crazy. I mean the show was big but I had no idea how big it really was and how much impact it has.
Did you see it coming last night, especially in the beginning when Ryan looked at you? I know he does that every week, but what was there something different in his look this week?
S. Malakar: When I saw the show on Tuesday, I kind of had a feeling. Then I was kind of in the dumps all day on Wednesday. I kind of knew, though.
You kind of knew.
S. Malakar: Yes.
I wonder if you and your sister are going to form a duo now?
S. Malakar: I think that we’re probably going to sing together. I don’t know if we’re going to become a duo band but I think that we will definitely sing together.
I was wondering if you were surprised by your staying power week after week. I know that Simon seemed to have it in for you. What were you thinking the whole time?
S. Malakar: I was just focusing on trying to get past each week. I wasn’t looking too far into the future because I knew that if I did I’d overwhelm myself.
Was there any animosity from the other Idols that you had that staying power?
S. Malakar: Not at all. We were – like everyone is a family, and we really truly are and we’re really close. So I think that was actually the hardest part of leaving, was leaving this extended part of my family.
You seem to handle the harsh criticism and the negative buzz very well every week but was it hard to deal with?
S. Malakar: It was a little hard but I try to make everything into a positive or try to learn from it. If it’s not possible, if it’s that negative, then I just let it slip off my back like a duck with water, because I know that if I don’t then it will drive me crazy and I’ll get overwhelmed.
Are you more or less confident about your singing talent after this Idol experience?
S. Malakar: I feel like I’ve grown. Though, I’m more confident because I have had this experience and was able to do this every week. Practice makes perfect, so I’m just ready to go out there and do it some more.
Based on all the criticism you got from the judges and then from some fans, did you ever have a sense in your own head that you weren’t as good as the other contestants?
S. Malakar: I think that every contestant has something going for them. I didn’t really think of it that way. Like I didn’t think about whether someone was better than the other, because everyone is here for a reason. Everyone is here because they deserve to be here.
Then based on the popularity, have you fielded any offers from anyone, particularly to any kind of an acting or musical things that you can do after this?
S. Malakar: Well I mean the show just ended. Like I’ve been doing publicity, so I haven’t really gotten the opportunity to get any offers. I’m sure that they’ll come and I’m more than willing to go into all kinds of entertainment fields other than music.
I’m wondering if you had the sense that the tide – I know that you were insulated there, but you had that the tide was somewhat against you. Did you ever consider quitting or dropping out, out of deference to your fellow singers?
S. Malakar: Not at all, not at all. I was going stay as long as I possibly could and just work every week. Try to learn from everything that happened.
I’m just wondering with the hats, the hair, and everything, the outfits, was you philosophy at a certain point just to go for broke?
S. Malakar: My philosophy was just to stay true to myself and just try to put my personality out there in my style.
Was Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About” your first choice this week of her song?
S. Malakar: No, unfortunately my first choice was “Never....
What was that?
S. Malakar: It was Mercedes Benz, but it was inappropriate because it ... and I understand that.
What was your favorite personal performance of yours of all the ones you did over the past seven or eight weeks? What was your favorite?
S. Malakar: “Besame mucho” because ... I felt like that was the song.
That was great. Why’s that?
S. Malakar: Because I just felt really good about it and I think that I sang the best in that one and put like the most energy and emotion into that one.
I spoke to someone else in season six who mentioned that you had a habit of reading the online blogs to kind of gauge your performance. What kind of effect did that have as you progressed through the competition, either positively or negatively at all?
S. Malakar: Well I read the online blogs more to balance myself because it was kind of impossible not to hear stuff and oftentimes it was negative. So I kind of balanced the negatives and the positives just to keep myself grounded.
Right, and being so young, 17, it’s such an amazing accomplishment. What have you learned most as the result of being stressed into fame like this?
S. Malakar: I think I’ve learned not to let any negativity get you because – I mean just to keep on trucking I guess, and just try to find the positive in everything.
A question: did our local boy Chris Richardson, give you any kind of support or help? What do you think of his chances? Also, by the way, are you still in high school?
S. Malakar: I got my GED.
S. Malakar: Chris Richardson has been a huge support. He’s like my big brother. He’s just been there to scold me when I was being obnoxious and just really support me when I needed it. So he’s been a big help. Everyone in the competition has been....
Do you like Chris’ chances from this point on?
S. Malakar: I mean this show is completely unpredictable. So I mean I honestly have no idea who’s going to get cut next week and who’s going to win.
When you sang your farewell version of “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About,” you ad-libbed in there, “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About other than hair.” Was it frustrating for you that your hair got almost more attention than your singing?
S. Malakar: No, because at a certain point that had kind of become my thing, because I think that everyone – like everyone looks for something to grab onto with each contestant. So I feel like my hair was that for me. So that was just kind of my little joke back-at-you thing. I just wanted to put that out there.
What’s your reaction – you may not know about this, but what’s your reaction to the fact that you became kind of part of the Presidential debate when Hillary Clinton was asked about you during a news conference once?
S. Malakar: I heard about that very briefly. It’s really interesting because, like I said, I had no idea really how much impact this show had. I think it’s really interesting that someone like me, a 17-year-old Seattle boy, could have so much impact as to get into the Presidential debate.
Hey, you know you did get a lot of fans along the way. Did you ever allow yourself to dream that you could actually win?
S. Malakar: Well, we all – every one of us wants to win. I was more focused on the learning aspect of this, because I did get my GED after my sophomore year. I basically saw this as my junior and senior year of high school, because this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is my way of learning it in a very quick time. I got a lot further than I ever expected to and I’m happy with every moment of it.
Well you said your hair was your thing. So which was your favorite hairstyle that you wore and why?
S. Malakar: My favorite hairstyle was when I sang “Besame mucho” minus the grease, because I’ve always wanted my hair to be curly like that. It’s a little bit curly naturally but I mean that’s like my dream hair. So I really liked it.
I’d like to learn a little bit more about the thought process that went into your decisions each week in terms of what you wore and how you did your hair. I mean you got a lot of respect from people who watched the show, who thought you exhibited a great deal of showmanship for someone so young. How much of all of that was your own decision making?
S. Malakar: Well with my hair, I always had an idea of what I wanted. The hair person would help me to execute it. With the styling of my clothes and stuff, I just wanted to really capture my personality and put it out there. Then the stylist really helped me with that. So I did have a lot of help but the ideas were mainly mine.
Okay, you did refer to some of this in some of the early questions. Let me sort of rephrase something else about what you’re going to do next. If I heard you correctly, you said you were – I mean did I get that right, that weren’t necessarily looking at a music career or you are definitely looking at a music career in the future?
S. Malakar: I’m definitely looking at a music career, but I also want to venture into acting and modeling and possibly Broadway or something, because I just really want to get full entertainment like business and the full entertainment like career I guess.
Did you have more pressure compared to the other contestants to prove yourself?
S. Malakar: I don’t necessarily think more. I think, no, I think that we all have the same amount of pressure, because we all wanted to win. It’s just all about making your music and getting people to feel it, because if they don’t feel your music they’re not going to vote for you, so yes.
Right and do you have anything you would like to say to Simon?
S. Malakar: Well, from the beginning I think that Simon saw potential in me. When I didn’t fulfill that potential, he was kind of disappointed. So I just want to say to him that he is an amazing person and what he does is awesome. Like he’s very opinionated, but I learned more from him than from anyone else while I was on the show.
I seemed to notice an attitude change midway through it. In some of the early episodes you seemed kind of sad even when you won, and later on you just really blossomed. You were more enthusiastic. You were smiling, you were joking more. Was there some kind of a thought process in between? Was there some turning point for you in there?
S. Malakar: I think that throughout the competition I grew as a performer and as a person, because I did have a lot of things to learn from. I think that I kind of found myself as I progressed. So I don’t know a specific time when it happened, but I do definitely think that I found myself and I got more comfortable in my own skin.
The concept of getting a GED early and just focusing on this. I wanted to get more of a feeling for that. I wonder, what do your parents do for a living and what was their reaction when you told them you were going to take this kind of extreme step?
S. Malakar: Well my father is a construction worker and my mother an independent employee. It was actually my mom’s idea to get the GED and focus on this, because I had a little bit of trouble in school. Not because I didn’t know the material. I just didn’t really do my homework, which the horrible habit that I had. I wanted to get my GED so that I could move on and focus on what I really wanted to do, which was music. I do still want to go to college and finish my education. I just really felt like now was the time to focus on my career and I felt like American Idol was a great way to do it.
I’m just wondering; do you have a certain genre of music that you’re most comfortable singing?
S. Malakar: R&B and Jazz.
Did you at any point on the show think that maybe you were in over your head and you just kind of wanted to turn around and go back home or something?
S. Malakar: I think that the only time that I really felt like that would have been Hollywood Week, because that was like – that was completely intense. It was really kind of scary. I had my sister there, and she really helped me and she supported me. So I think that’s what helped me to get through that and then passed that, I just wanted to get passed each week.
I was just wondering when this all sort of started. What was sort of the first sign you got that perhaps your success or what people were saying was a little bit more beyond than the actual singing contest? When did you get the first inkling that this was sort of becoming a bit of a cultural phenomenon?
S. Malakar: I don’t know. I think it just kind of trickled in, because I didn’t really realize it, like it’s been kind of surreal for me. I mean we’re in a bubble. I’m sure you’ve heard that a lot, but we truly are. We don’t have like the slightest idea the capacity of this show and the impact it has. So I mean I got inklings every once in awhile of something different, something like going on, that was I guess a cultural phenomenon, but it didn’t really – I don’t think it really has hit me yet, exactly how big it is.
Just sort of to follow on that, you say you’re sort of in a bubble, but you obviously sort of heard that people were talking about you and that you were being used in political discussions and late-night talk-shows. I’m just wondering, was there any stuff you heard said about yourself that either completely wrong or made you laugh or a late-night joke about you or anything that sticks out?
S. Malakar: When Saturday Night Live did that skit on me and they said, “I don’t know if he’s scared or happy,” that was hilarious. I had to laugh on that one. Because I love to poke fun at myself because if you can’t do that then I don’t know what’s going to happen in your life. I think it’s really important to be able to make fun of yourself and just have fun.
Your friends back home are wondering about when they might see you and how you’re planning to kind of slide back into family and life with your friends. Are you going to be on the road for awhile or what are your plans?
S. Malakar: Well I’m doing press until – I think I’m coming home on Tuesday. Then I think I’m just going to like rest, because I’m going to have to go back out and do the tour and do a finale. So I’m going to definitely try to get back into as normal of a life as I can for the little bit that I have before the finale. Then just go out and do it again I guess.
What are some of your favorite things you like to do around our area, back home here?
S. Malakar: Well before I went on American Idol, I loved to walk down the street singing really, really loudly. So if you ever saw a little Indian kid walking around the streets singing loudly, it was probably me. I just like to like go see ... and just do like stuff that – I don’t know. I just like to be free, you know? I didn’t like to do stuff that was too like – I don’t know. I don’t know. I just like to have fun I guess.
I wanted to ask you about that moment last night when you found out you were going home. You and LaKisha had a pretty emotional hug there. I was wondering if you kind of tell us a little bit about it, if she said anything to you or gave you any encouragement?
S. Malakar: Well I mean like I said, we really, truly were a family. So the emotion that came out was, “I’m being torn away from my family.” So that was really – I mean she said, “Good bye and good luck,” and encouraged me. Everyone has bee so supportive of everyone. It’s really great to be able to have that in a competition like this.
I had heard too, early on, that when you were catching some flack, that she kind of took under her wing and protected you a little bit. Is that true?
S. Malakar: Yes, she has really been supportive and I’m really glad that I was able to meet her and everyone. They’ve all been really a good support system.
Tell me about what sort of your – just what’s been your state of mind since first hearing your eliminated and coming into today and having to go through all these interviews. I mean have you even had time to process what’s happened really?
S. Malakar: Well I was kind of content with the fact that I was going to go home at some point, because everyone has to go home except for one. So I was kind of to a point in my mind where I was like, “Okay, I’m good with this. I just need to focus now. This is the end of my high school career,” as I call it, “And now I’ve graduated and I’m going into my life and starting my life at the beginning.” So I was just really focusing on, and I still am, focusing on working hard and just going out and doing my thing.
The judges really seem to be unable to give feedback at times. How did you adjust your performances week-to-week?
S. Malakar: When they did give me feedback I tried to take their feedback and find something to learn out of it. If their feedback wasn’t helpful, which sometimes it wasn’t, I would watch the show back. If I couldn’t watch the show that night, I’d go on YouTube and try to find it. I’d just try to see everything that I did that I could improve.
So there has been so many fan sites and fans out there. There’s been Ricky.org and then there’s the Fanjayas. Did you really expect such an amazing amount of support for you?
S. Malakar: I had no idea. I mean it seems kind of unnatural, because like I said, I’m just Sanjaya from Federal Way ... and I mean it’s crazy. I don’t know.
You mentioned that Simon Cowell was disappointed. He saw potential in you and he was disappointed you didn’t reach your potential. He made it pretty clear this week that he wanted you off the show. What do you think about that?
S. Malakar: I don’t think that – I mean, I don’t know. I think that he just had gotten to a point where I hadn’t fulfilled my potential for long enough to where he didn’t think I deserved to be there. Which is fine because everyone has their opinion and there’s always going to be haters, there’s always going to be support. So I mean – I don’ know.
A lot of your support, or some of your support at least, came from something called Vote for the Worst.com. What do you think about that, that they supported you and what they were doing?
S. Malakar: I mean that’s fine. I don’t think that Vote for the Worst.com or Howard Stern really had enough people voting for me enough times to make a dent in anything. So I think that the reason why I’m here is solely because of my support from my fans.
So I’ve heard that since the top 24 week, that you had such a huge fan base coming out of the audition, that you were one of the top four vote getters every single week. What do you think turned the tide for you on Tuesday night, where you could have gone for maybe 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th to the bottom?
S. Malakar: Honestly, I’m not a country singer. I think that that really took a toll on me. I didn’t have enough really strong performances to have that – let me like have people forgive you for that. Because like, for example, LaKisha, she’s not necessarily a country singer either but she had enough really strong performances to get her through, and I don’t think I did. So I think that might have been what got me this week. I mean take out of this an amazing amount of education that I would never have gotten anywhere else.
On that note, speaking of education, you said you might do Broadway or acting or modeling. What you didn’t mention was, you’re 17-years-old, you have your GED. Will you go to college at all? Do you have any thoughts?
S. Malakar: Of course. Yes, I mean my dream would be to go to The Berkley School of Music. I mean I definitely want to go to college. I definitely want to finish my education, because I think that’s the most important thing that I can do. I know that everything happens for a reason. So I know that as long as I work hard I will be able to finish my education and also pursue my career.
I’d like to know how you feel about making good decisions with your career in the future. I am assuming you’re going to get lots of offers, some of which are going to be there for the wrong reasons, if you know what I mean. How do you feel about all that? You’re 17.
S. Malakar: Well I have a lot of support. My mother is an amazingly smart woman and I know that she will help me in that. Also I have awesome support from the.... I think that my main thing that I’m going to look for when I choose endorsements and stuff like that is something that I really feel strongly about. I’m not going to do something just for money, because I know that it’s not about money. It’s about having an image and really putting your true self out there. I’m not going to – I mean I feel like if I do that, money will come. It’s paper and it’s not really important. The most important thing that I can do is stay true to me.
So you’re aiming to have a classy real music career – not. Forgive me, I mean this nicely. Not something like William Hung, where it’s sort of on the edge.
S. Malakar: Exactly.
Okay, and are you ready to hire a bodyguard, because I’m assuming that you won’t be able to walk down the street without people saying stuff pro and con?
S. Malakar: Yes, I’m definitely ready to hire a bodyguard. I’m actually looking into that right now.
Thank you to FOX for allowing us to participate in this media call.