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Boy Wonder

For over six weeks in April and early May 2007, Sanjay Malakar was the most discussed performer on television. His tenacity and optimism kept the teenager going on American Idol, in the face of intense scrutiny and often harsh criticism. As some commentators noted, watching him reach Number Six in the competition, viewed by some 25 million people in America each week, he had indeed become an American Legend or National Idol. He actually got more mileage than those who stayed on in the show.
He ranked third in Time magazine's 2007 Poll for The Most Influential People of the Year, based on online votes, but was strangely not mentioned in the magazine's official list.
Photo: Thos Robinson /
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Sanjaya, who grew up listening to bhajans played to him by his father Vasudeva Malakar and mother Jillian Recchi, both Hare Krishna devotees, in Seattle, says he never expected to reach the top ten. Though he said early on in the competition he would have loved to become the first Indian American Idol, he later said all he was interested in doing was improve his singing and performing technique. 'I want to be an entertainer, not just a singer,' he said, after being eliminated.

Sanjaya says he received tremendous satisfaction that many young men and women were voting for him week after week. 'They must certainly have seen something in me,' he added. He saw himself throughout the national debate over his talent, he says, as an underdog. And that was one reason millions, including Speakers Nancy Pelosi and Senator Hillary Clinton, rooted for him.

The show -- which had a number of celebrity signers coaching the participants -- heard veteran singer Tony Bennett tell Sanjaya he liked his spirit. Whether he wore a flashy hairdo or asked Paula Abdul to dance with him during a song, Sanjaya pushed the boundaries. "I never take criticism as anything negative," he says. "I am just about 17, and I have a long way to go. You will see me many more times in the future."

That's a fact.