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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 11:15 a.m., Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Some say 'Idol' credibility at stake if Sanjaya wins

USA Today


Sanjaya Malakar sported a fauxhawk while performing on "American Idol" last night in Los Angeles. Malakar, who is considered to be one of the weakest performers, has a fan base that has helped him survive multiple rounds of viewer elimination.

Frank Micelotta | AP photo/FOX

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The question tantalizes and terrorizes "American Idol" viewers: What if Sanjaya wins?

The toothy teen with the big hair — crafted into a fauxhawk last night — and minimal voice sailed into the top 10 last week, ensuring a spot on this summer's "Idol" tour. If he skates through tonight's elimination round, the fuss over his confounding staying power is bound to intensify.

In the short run, his presence makes for spirited debate, but if Sanjaya Malakar, 17, who lived in Hawai'i for four years, is standing in the winner's circle, "it would destroy credibility the show's built up in the past five seasons," music consultant Tom Vickers says. "Instead of 30 million viewers a week, it might draw 20 million."

A Sanjaya victory "will ruin the show," says fan Catherine Schloss of Folsom, Calif. "If he wins, I really don't think 'American Idol' will be back."

Says Bryce Smart of Seattle, "The franchise would be cheapened greatly, perhaps beyond repair." He says "Idol's" integrity would be shattered if Sanjaya wins or even outlasts a superior talent such as LaKisha.

Radio host Howard Stern and votefortheworst.com have rallied Sanjaya support, but they "have very little influence when you're talking about 30 million votes," says "Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. "People with talent have always won it. We've lost really good people a little too early, and sometimes the Sanjayas, Chicken Littles and John Stevens have lasted a little longer perhaps."

An upset isn't unprecedented. The Eurovision song contest that launched ABBA globally in 1974 shocked many when voters gave the 2006 prize to Finnish horror metal group Lordi.

In addition to prank voters, Sanjaya draws tweens (such as last week's tearful fan Ashley Ferl). "Who's swooning? That little chick and millions just like her," says "Idol" blogger Cole Bronn (coledishesonidol.blogspot.com). "Sanjaya won a million votes with his sobbing when his sister got axed. What girl doesn't want that sweet guy to keep going? He'll never stomp your heart, will hang with you at the mall and hula-hoop with you into the sunset. He's got McDreamy hair. Oh, by the way, he sings OK."

OK enough to record a marketable album? Possibly, says USA Today's "Idol" coach Don Waller, suggesting the enlistment of Swedish pop maestro Max Martin, who propelled 'N Sync and Britney Spears.

"I see Sanjaya as a Leif Garrett or Shaun Cassidy. He can talk-sing light ballads and uptempo kid-friendly pop. Since looks are a big part of the sales job, they've got to take pages out of bubblegum. He has to do wistful puppy love stuff, no double entendres. Crotch-grabbing is a disconnect.

"I'm sure (BMG chief) Clive Davis can throw an army of producers at the kid. The guy can't sing? What's new? This archetype keeps coming back."

Bill Keveney contributed to this report.