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Signed, Sealed, And Delivered: From Chicken Soup For The American Idol Soul

Jan 9, 2008
Excerpt from Sanjaya Malakar
Top 10, Season 6

Singing is everything to me and my sister. It's in our blood and in our souls.

The first time I remember performing was during an assembly when I was four. I sang, "I'm a Little Teapot." But my mom told me that I really preferred doing Fred Astaire dance moves and singing songs like, "Steppin' Out with My Baby." I guess I have an old soul. When you're hardly out of diapers, you usually prefer songs from Barney. I preferred songs from Singin' in the Rain. My mom said she thought maybe I was the incarnation of Fred Astaire.

I was never like everyone else in school either. I wasn't much of a student; I preferred to entertain. My second-grade teacher moved my desk outside the classroom because I would spontaneously burst into song and distract the other kids. She thought that if she put me where I could still hear her, but I didn't have an audience, I might be able to learn something. I don't think it worked, because school is still not my thing. If my sister gets a B, she feels like she's failed; if I get a C, I think, Wow, cool. I passed.

When I was eight we moved to Kauai, and my mom put us into Children's Theater. My first show was Oliver! and my second was Bugsy Malone. I played Fizzy the janitor. I had a solo, and every night when I would hit the high note, I would receive a standing ovation. You've gotta love that more than social studies.

At first, my mom didn't want me to audition for Idol. She thought I wasn't ready and that I should wait a year. I couldn't understand why; she'd always been so supportive of me, but I realize now that she somehow knew that once I stepped into the world of American Idol, I would never be able to just walk through a shopping mall or go to a concert or do any of those normal things ever again.

Before our first audition, while we were in the big arena, two ladies on the American Idol staff asked Shyamali and me if we were brother and sister. We told them we were, but we didn't audition together or make a big we're-brother-and-sister deal. We even had someone in line between us.

I didn't make it through the first round but my sister did. I love Shyamali so much and was so happy for her. I believe that there's a master plan, and I thought that my making it through just wasn't part of it.

Then the strangest thing happened.

Shyamali went in for her second audition with the executive producer, Nigel Lythgoe. When he put her through, he said, "So it looks like you're going to be in competition with your brother."

"No," she said. "Sanjaya got cut."

Nigel looked confused for a moment and then called over his assistant.

After asking her some questions, he said, "What? Well, find him!"

Apparently, those ladies who had seen us in the arena had told him, "When you audition the Indian girl, she comes with a brother."

So I went in and sang for Nigel.

"You have to work on your stage presence," he said, "but I'm going to let you through."

I stood there in shock for a second and then ran out to tell my sister. We were ecstatic.

When I sang in front of Paula, Simon, and Randy, they asked who I thought was a better singer.

"Shyamali," I answered honestly. They said they thought she was the better performer, but I was the better singer. I still disagree. I have a more powerful voice, but my sister has this smooth, sultry jazz voice. She sings perfectly.

It was hard in Hollywood when I got through and my sister didn't, but I know that she'll be a star. She'll just get there in a different way -- and I'll do everything in my power to help make that happen.

Throughout my journey on Idol, there have been a lot of ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments. But the hardest part has been the judges' comments. Nobody likes to hear, "You're horrible," or, "You look like a bush baby." Getting that kind of criticism night after night, week after week, could wear anybody down.

I decided that I wasn't going to let it get to me. Instead of taking their words to heart, I took the constructive criticism and left the rest. I just wouldn't put the negative things in my head. At a certain point I decided, I'm going to do this for myself and the audience. I'm not even going to try to get the judges' votes. I'm just going to be myself and hope America likes me.

I think America does. And that's good for a lot of reasons.

My mom says it's good because I don't represent the black community or the white community -- but rather the brown community -- which includes pretty much the majority of the people in the world. I think it's good for people to see someone like me. It's good for people in more isolated communities to feel like they know, and like, someone who is different from anyone they've ever met in their real lives.

And then there's my name. Sanjaya is Sanskrit, and the vibrational quality is supposed to bring to the person who speaks it the love and protection of the universe. So even when people say, "Sanjaya stinks; he should go home," they're drawing a good and positive vibration to themselves.

Who knows, I might even be making a difference for people on some higher level. I like that thought.

And one other thing . . . Stevie Wonder is my role model. He never let his apparent "disability" get in the way of his success, and he has always stayed true to himself in his life and his music. I wish I could have sung Stevie Wonder on the show, but the judges said it was too big for me. I think if I sang "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" they would have liked it -- but it's cool. I have a long career ahead of me, and I know that someday, somewhere, I'll get to sing some Stevie. I think maybe I'll wear my pony hawk when I do.

(Reprinted with permission from Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul: Stories from the Idols and their Fans that Open Your Heart and Make Your Soul Sing).

(Note to iSnare Editor: Our client Debra Poneman is author of the book Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul. The book contains first person accounts of the hit TV show from contestants, fans and behind the scenes crew members. The piece above is from one of the contestants, Sanjaya. We have Debra's permission to offer these excerpts from her book to iSnare.)
About the Author
Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul is a collection of captivating stories that the television cameras don't see - true, uplifting, and entertaining tales told with humor and candor. Visit Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul .
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