LONG ISLAND, New York — Sanjaya Malakar has a single regret about his experience on "American Idol" last season: He wishes he would have waited a year.
The fact that contestants got to tackle Beatles songs and are able to utilize instruments for their performances has him feeling like maybe 2007 was the wrong year for him to make it to the show's top 12.
"A totally different aspect of being a musician is your instrument," said the singer with the wild locks, who was banished by the "American Idol" voters nine weeks into the competition. "Some people can just use their voice. Some people can use piano, some people can use guitar. It broadens your ability to promote whatever energy you're putting behind a song, and some people are more comfortable behind a piano and a guitar. They are able to perform better because they have that kind of safety blanket. Me? I would have loved to be able to go up there and use an instrument, because it's comfortable — it's comfortable to have something else that you are controlling, that is accompanying you and that you are putting energy and emotion into."
If he'd had his way, he would have strapped a guitar on for the majority of his performances during season six.
Malakar flew out from Los Angeles last weekend to Long Island's Oheka Castle to perform Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" during an event that doubled as Rachel Lader's bat mitzvah and a benefit for Realizing the Dream, a nonprofit group that strives to continue the humanitarian work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The singer recalls that, while he was in the "Idol" running, it felt as though too much attention was paid to his hair and not his pipes.
"I think that in a show like 'American Idol,' after a certain amount of time, you kind of have to look past the singing, because once you're in the top 12, everyone can sing — that's why they're there," he said. "So you have to look at other aspects of their personalities, of their lives, that are intriguing, that will capture an audience and captivate a viewer. That happened a lot in my experience there. People did focus a lot on my hair, which was a surprise to me, because before the show, I didn't do anything with my hair — I didn't really ever notice it, beyond the fact that it was there. It was interesting to see where people would go with everything, where they took different comments I'd made and a performance, and what they did with it in their own mind."
Prior to his performance over the weekend (which was capped with the party's guests hoisting him above them in a chair, mitzvah-style), Sanjaya visited a Long Island salon to have that infamous mane cut while taking questions from a Newsday reporter and signing autographs for all the stylists there; he hadn't gotten his hair trimmed since leaving "Idol."
In addition to playing gigs here and there, and maintaining contact with his "Idol" compadres, Malakar will be heading back to the hit show in a few weeks, where he'll sit in the audience and even offer commentary on the performers. He told MTV News that he's only caught some of this season's episodes, but likes what he's seen so far. He also admitted that watching the show bugs him out a little.
"Every once in a while, I will catch an episode," he said. "I remember I watched the top-24 show, and it's really trippy, because I was on that same exact stage. I know what it looks like when they walked offstage, I know what the little setup of makeup chairs behind the stage looked like, and it was weird seeing it from that perspective — of being there, and then watching it on TV."
Even a year later, Malakar still hasn't gotten used to the fame his time on "Idol" has brought him.
"I remember when the first show aired. I was in a Hooters, and people were right away like, 'Oh my God — those are the people on TV,' " he recalled. He spent much of his time at the bat mitzvah signing pictures and posing for cell phone snaps. "But my first real intense experience of girls screaming when they see me, that happened at [Los Angeles mall] the Beverly Center recently, when I was there picking out an outfit, and this entire cheering squad was there at the same time, and a couple recognized me and started screaming and running up to me. It's something that would be cool to get used to it, but at the same time, every time it happens, it reminds you where you were and where you are now and the power you are able to have, being a recognizable figure. I want to use that power to influence for good. Some people take it and live their life of fame and fortune and then retire. I think that's a waste of this incredible power."
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions. And relive six seasons of "Idol" hot messes and high notes in six minutes with our video timeline.