The son of a classical Indian musician, Sanjaya Shekar Malakar, born September 10, 1989 in Federal Way, Washington, gained attention for competing in the sixth season of the hit reality TV show American Idol, making it to seventh place. Sanjaya’s parents, Vasudeva Malakar, his Bengali Indian father who emigrated to the States as a Hare Krishna pujari, and Jillian Recchi Blyth, his Italian American mother, divorced when Sanjaya was still young, having been seperated a year prior to the divorce. Sanjaya, and his older sister Shyamali, lived with their mother in a small apartment, where they had very little money coming in, relying on welfare. Besides living in the greater Seattle area, Sanjaya also lived in California and Kauai, Hawaii. While in Hawaii, he performed with Hawaii Children’s Theatre group, and also was a part of Total Experience Gospel Choir while in Seattle.
Sanjaya attended high school for a short period of time, but dropped out in order to focus on his music career, earning a GED. Sanjaya auditioned for American Idol on September 19, 2006 right after his sister. The judges all agreed that they liked Sanjaya more than Shyamali. Both made it to the Hollywood auditions, but only Sanjaya went on from there. But after making it as a finalist, Sanjaya started receiving some criticism from the judges, mostly by Simon Cowell. When it came to the public’s reaction, Sanjaya became the type of person someone either loves or hates. While he gained a lot of fans, he also got a lot of backlash. One Idol fan on the website MySpace started going on a hunger strike until he was voted off, but had to end it for his longer than expected stay. Sanjaya also became the target of Howard Stern’s Internet campaign “Vote For The Worst” in mid-March 2007. It urged people to vote for Sanjaya to win so the show could get canceled if the least talented contestant won. A month later, Sanjaya’s reign on American Idol ended, and the show’s ratings dropped 9% the following week, due to his departure.
But American Idol was not the last people saw of Sanjaya. The day after, continuing into the following week, Sanjaya made guest appearances on many popular talk shows, including The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and The Today Show. Sanjaya became what could be called the most popular contestant of the season, even with his run over. But the end of the show did not mark the end of his career in music. Sanjaya planned to use American Idol as a stepping stone to his career in show business, with plans to work in all that it had to offer: singing, acting, modeling, and anything else that could come up. He got offers from Nickelodeon and Disney. But Sanjaya had hopes to work in music with his sister in the future, first focusing on a solo career. He also plans to attend Berklee College of Music. Sanjaya went from becoming another contestant on American Idol to one of the most popular and talked about people of today.