Sanjaya fever hit Washington, D.C., Saturday night, as the ousted American Idol star attended the White House Correspondents’ Dinner – with celebs (Teri Hatcher) and politicians (New York Governor Eliot Spitzer) all vying for a chance to meet the wild-haired singing sensation.
One female fan even got to rub her hands through his hair.
Malakar, 17, was a guest of PEOPLE, joining fellow celebs Valerie Bertinelli, High School Musical star Zac Efron, Project Runway‘s Tim Gunn, comedian Eddie Izzard and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Other stars at the event included Sheryl Crow and Laurie David (who had a run-in with Karl Rove), Kerry Washington, and Desperate Housewives stars Hatcher, James Denton and creator Marc Cherry.
Whereas last year’s dinner featured Stephen Colbert viciously skewering President Bush, the atmosphere at this year’s event took on a more somber tone. In the wake of the Virginia Tech Massacre, Bush sidestepped any opportunity to mock himself.
“I was looking forward to doing a little poking myself but in light of this week’s tragedy at Virginia Tech, I decided not to be funny,” he said.
And the night’s emcee, comedian/impersonator Rich Little, seemed to stray away from humor as well, if the cool response from the audience was any indication. After one joke fell flat, Little said, “And you thought Colbert was bad.” He spent the evening impersonating the likes of Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, and, of course, George W.
David Letterman made a video appearance, sharing a Top Ten list of Bush mishaps. An in-person visit for Letterman wasn’t possible because “Saturday night for me is yoga,” he quipped.
Meanwhile, things got heated at the dinner when Sheryl Crow and Laurie David confronted Bush adviser Rove about global warming. The pair, who were traveling together on the Stop Global Warming college tour, posted a story on the Huffington Post Web site claiming that Rove got nasty with them: When Crow put her hand on Rove’s arm, he replied, “Don’t touch me.”
Rove, in turn, told the Washington Post: “She came over to insult me, and she succeeded.”
(Read more from Crow and David, plus see video from their tour, on their PEOPLE blog.)
The mild-mannered Malakar, meanwhile, told PEOPLE he’s just trying to take it all in. “It’s been really a whirlwind. I’ve just been trying to ride the wave and go one day at a time,” said Malakar, wearing a dark pinstriped suit and highlighted, loose curls.
The swooning fans made him “a little uncomfortable,” he admitted. But it’s attention he may have to get used to as he sets his sights on a future beyond music. “I want to go into acting or modeling, maybe Broadway,” said the former Idol, who thinks doing a hair commercial “would be awesome!”
• With reporting by SUSAN MANDEL, MONICA HESSE and KC BAKER