LONG ISLAND, New York — It's been nearly a year since Sanjaya Malakar was given the boot by the "American Idol" voting faithful, but that hasn't dissuaded last season's hirsute underdog — who managed to stay in the competition for nine startling weeks, a run helped along by the likes of shock jock Howard Stern — from following his dreams.
Malakar told MTV News over the weekend that he's been keeping busy since the cut writing music with his sister, Shyamali, and meeting with producers to discuss the album he'd like to record in the very near future. And if he had his way, he'd pull in at least one big name for an epic R&B collaboration.
"I would love to work with Stevie Wonder," Malakar gushed from Long Island's Oheka Castle, where he was set to perform 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. "But I'd be totally open to working with other people, to be able to see other people's interpretations of my music. When you make music, it's really your soul. When I make music, I put my soul in it. So to be able to see someone else's interpretation of my soul would be a really fun experience."
Malakar, a favorite target of judge Simon Cowell, said that, in between posing for pictures with fans and signing autographs, he's been working on developing himself as an artist.
"Right after the 'American Idol' tour, which was the most incredible thing I've experienced to this date, I needed some downtime," he said. "I'd been caught up in this crazy whirlwind that happened overnight. So I went off and wrote music with my sister, and I've been writing a lot, working with producers. I've been playing shows and charity events. I've been developing myself as an artist, because I came directly from high school to this career, so I've been learning about this business."
What will Sanjaya's tunes sound like? According to Malakar, his music might surprise people for how eclectic it is.
"It's got a little bit of everything," he said. "I want to broaden my musical vocabulary, because I think it's important as a musician to research obscure artists. But my music is mainly rooted in R&B vocal styling, with a world-music influence. There will also be an East Indian influence to my songs. It's my culture, and it's such a rich culture — the music is colorful, the food. I wanted to teach people about it.
"I think people may be surprised, because on the show, there was a limited number of songs we could do — they had to be cleared," he said. "I think people would be surprised to be able to see aspects of my personality I wasn't able to show on 'Idol,' because I didn't have enough time. I think I wasn't able to show my full vocal potential on the show, because we were limited in the amount of time we could sing. Let's just say it's clear-cut Sanjaya music."
Malakar has watched some season-seven "Idol" here and there, he said, and there have been weeks when he wished he could have participated. He's also bummed the show's producers weren't able to secure the rights to the Beatles catalog for his season. But more than anything, seeing "Idol" as an outsider is something of a surreal experience.
"It's been really weird to watch it, because it's like watching what happened to your life through other people's eyes," he said, demurring when asked if he has a favorite this year. "Overall, the talent each year seems to be improving. I think people are learning from previous seasons and making the right adjustments."
Someone Malakar met last year on "Idol" during Hollywood week, the recently rejected Danny Noriega, was one he was watching, if only because of Noriega's being tagged in the media as "this year's Sanjaya."
"It's funny, because I was on the bus with him when we went on our little field trip, and we talked," he said. "I think we do have similarities. I just think it's funny when people take a past contestant and compare them to someone else. I just think it's interesting to hear someone say that anyone else is 'the next Sanjaya,' because I think every artist has the ability to be the next themselves. I think Danny has a unique personality. It's an incredible trait to have, because you won't blend in with the other people you're compared to." Check in Tuesday for much more from our visit with Sanjaya, and head over to the Newsroom Blog for a peek behind the scenes!
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