American Idol fans had never seen a contestant like him—and producers swear they never will again. As Idol kicks off its seventh season, last year’s much-derided phenomenon is doing just fine, thanks—and watch out: He’s looking to make a TV comeback.
HE HAS GONE HOLLYWOOD
After the Idol finalists’ tour ended in October, Malakar, 18, celebrated with a two-week trek in New Zealand, then splurged on a black Prius. One road trip? He left his hometown of Seattle and moved to the Los Angeles area the first week of 2008. He currently shares a house (with a pool!) with his sister Shyamali, 20. “Seattle is more chill. In L.A., everyone is focused on where they need to go,” he explains. “Move from wherever you are to L.A. to pursue your dreams.”
HE MAY BE COMING TO A TV NEAR YOU!
Yes, Sanjaya and his sister (who made it to Idol’s Hollywood round last year) are shopping a variety show. “We’re Donny and Marie for the next generation,” he says.
HE’S GETTING BETTER
In L.A., he’s taking jazz and hip-hop dance classes, commercial audition workshops and vocal lessons with Seth Riggs, a former teacher of Stevie Wonder’s. “I’m doing little things to make sure I know what I’m doing when I get out there,” he says.
HE’S BIG IN JAPAN
Thanks to his popularity there, Yamaha sent him a custom-made keyboard for his garage studio. “A team of people came from Japan to teach me how to use it.” Soon he’ll head to Las Vegas to make some music—just for practice. “I’m not in the recording stages yet,” he says. “I’m writing music and starting to interview producers. If I have to define it, it would be alternative pop rock, like Paolo Nutini or James Morrison.”
HE STILL PLAYS WITH HIS HAIR
A recent rumor that the former faux-hawker shaved his head is, thankfully, untrue. Are there more outlandish dos to come? “Long hair can get boring. It’s fun to experiment every once in a while,” he says.
HE’S WATCHING AMERICAN IDOL
Malakar has no hard feelings about the show’s vow that there will be no Sanjayas this year. “Not having another Sanjaya in the next season of Idol is probably a good thing,” he says. “There’s only one Sanjaya.”