Sanjaya Doesn’t Attribute Success To Stern, ‘Haters’ — It Was ‘My Fans’

'Idol' castoff looking forward to music career; also 'to venture into acting, modeling and possibly Broadway.'

Eliminated “American Idol” contestants typically start chatting with the media at 10 a.m. PT the day after they get the boot. But Sanjaya Malakar didn’t surface until 11 a.m. Thursday (April 19).

What was behind the delay? California child-labor laws limit the number of hours the 17-year-old can work each day.

Sanjaya may have been the most controversial “Idol” contestant to date (see “10 Reasons [Besides Howard Stern] Why Sanjaya’s Still On ‘Idol’ “ ). And he definitely had the most talked-about — and ever-morphing — hairstyles the show has ever seen. (See which pop icon might have inspired those ‘dos.)

But don’t forget, he’s still just a kid.

The teen from Federal Way, Washington, definitely gave the world “Something to Talk About” (see ” ‘Idol’ Recap: ‘I’m Officially Over Sanjaya’; Phil Actually Pulls Off Country Night” ), but his country-theme performance didn’t get enough people talking in the right way: He was sent home Wednesday night (see “Sanjaya Runs Out Of Gas: ‘Idol’ Voters Boot Malakar” ).

Once we did catch up with Sanjaya, he talked about how “Idol” is like high school (does that make Simon the principal?), his hair taking center stage and why he doesn’t owe his success to Howard Stern (see “Is Howard Stern Behind Sanjaya Malakar’s Staying Power On ‘Idol’?” ).

Q: Why do you think this was the week you were voted off?

Malakar: Honestly, I’m not a country singer. I think that that really took a toll on me, and I didn’t have enough really strong performances to have people forgive me for that. 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. I think that might have been what got me this week. But I [leave the show with] an amazing amount of education that I never would have gotten anywhere else.

Q: When you sang “Something to Talk About” after being eliminated, you ad-libbed a line, singing, “Let’s give ‘em something to talk about … other than hair.” Was it frustrating that your hair got more attention than your singing?

Malakar: No, because at a certain point, that sort of became my thing. I think that everyone looks for something to grab onto with each contestant, so I feel like my hair was that. So that was just kind of my little joke, throwing it back at you. [He laughs.]

Q: When did you first realize how much people were talking about you?

Malakar: I think it just kind of trickled in. I didn’t really realize it. 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 the slightest idea of the capacity of this show and the impact it has. I mean, I got inklings every once in awhile of something different, something going on that I guess was a cultural phenomenon. But I don’t think it really has hit me yet exactly how big it is.

Q: There was a noticeable change in your attitude midway through the competition. In some of the semifinals episodes, you seemed kind of sad and shy, but later on, you really blossomed. What was the turning point?

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. And I think that I kind of found myself as I progressed. So I don’t know if there was a specific time when it happened, but I definitely think that I found myself and I got more comfortable in my own skin.

Q: Was there ever a time when you felt like leaving the competition?

Malakar: I think the only time I really felt like that would have been Hollywood week because that was, like, completely intense. It was really … it was kind of scary. [He laughs.] But I had my sister [fellow "Idol" hopeful Shyamali] there, and she really helped me and supported me. So I think that’s what helped me get through that. Then past that, I just wanted to get past each week.

Q: What was your reaction when you heard that your name had sort of become part of the political debate when Senator Hillary Clinton was asked her thoughts on you?

Malakar: [He laughs.] It’s really interesting, because I really had no idea how much impact this show had. And I think it’s really interesting that someone like me — a 17-year-old Seattle boy — could have so much impact that I enter the presidential debate!

Q: Did you think you had more pressure to prove yourself compared to the other contestants?

Malakar: We all had the same amount of pressure because we all wanted to win. It’s all about making your music and getting people to feel it. Because if they don’t feel your music, they won’t vote for you.

Q: Since the judges often didn’t give you too much feedback on your actual performances, how did you adjust week to week?

Malakar: When they did give me feedback, I tried to take the feedback and find something to learn out of it. And if the feedback wasn’t helpful — which sometimes it wasn’t — I would watch the show back and just try to see everything I did that I could improve.

Q: Do you have anything you’d like to say to Simon?

Malakar: From the beginning, I think that Simon saw potential in me, and when I didn’t fill that potential, he was kind of disappointed. So I’d just want to say to him that he’s an amazing person and that what he does is awesome. He’s very opinionated, but I learned more from him than from anyone else while I was on the show.

Q: Simon really made it clear that he wanted you off the show, even smiling ear-to-ear on Wednesday when you were in the bottom two. How did you feel about that?

Malakar: I think he had just gotten to a point where I hadn’t filled my potential for long enough to where he didn’t think I deserved to be there — which is fine because everyone has their opinion. There’s always gonna be haters, and there’s always gonna be support.

Q: Some of your support came from the Web site VoteForTheWorst.com. Did that bother you?

Malakar: I don’t think that VoteForTheWorst 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.

Q: What was the most outlandish thing you heard or saw about yourself?

Malakar: When “Saturday Night Live” did a skit on me, and they said, “I don’t know if he’s scared or happy!,” that was hilarious. I had to laugh at that one, because I love to poke fun at myself. 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.

Q: Have you had time to process what’s happened yet?

Malakar: I was kind of content with the fact that I was going to go home at some point, ’cause everyone has to go home except for one. So I was kind of to a point in my mind that I was like, “OK, 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. I’m starting my life at the beginning. I was just really focusing on — and I still am focusing on — working hard and going out and doing my thing.

Q: What’s next?

Malakar: I’m definitely looking at a music career, but I also want to venture into acting, modeling and possibly Broadway. I just really want to get into the whole entertainment business.

Q: Did you ever think that you would win the whole competition?

Malakar: Every one of us wants to win. But I was more focused on the learning aspect, because I did get my GED after my sophomore year [of high school], so I basically saw this as my junior and senior year. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is my way of learning it, in a quick time, and I got a lot further than I ever expected to, and I’m happy with every moment of it.

Q: You’ve gotten a lot of endorsement offers and other opportunities from being on “Idol” — some more serious than others. How do you plan to make the right decisions?

Malakar: I have a lot of support. My mother is an amazingly smart woman, and I know that she will help me in that. I think that my main thing that I’m going to look for when I choose endorsements is something that I really feel strongly about. And 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 feel like if I do that, money will come. It’s paper. It’s not really important. The most important thing I can do is stay true to myself.

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