Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Sanjaya’s “Idol” journey
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Sanjaya’s “Idol” journey

I don’t watch “American Idol” (“Dancing with the Stars” is enough reality TV for me), but I’ve been mildly curious about this 17-year-old kid, Sanjaya Malakar, who managed to squeak through week after week of elimination on “AI” with his breathy singing voice, toothy grin and bizarre variety of hairstyles.

Well, he finally got voted off the show last week, but over the weekend he got a consolation prize as a guest at the annual White House Press Correspondents’ Dinner, a big deal in DC.

Malakar interested me because he’s Asian American; his parents immigrated from India, and he identifies himself as an Indian American, hoping to be the “next” Indian pop star in the U.S. (was there a previous Indian pop star in the U.S.?).

Unfortunately, Indians don’t seem to share his enthusiasm for Sanjaya. The Indian media seemed relieved when he lost last week. One South Asian I know pointed out that the name “Sanjaya” went against Indian convention because ending a name with “a” is a female signifier, and though his name should be “Sanjay.”

Sadly, some of the chatter about the kid revolved around his wistful femininity and questioned his sexuality, so I’m glad mainstream Americans didn’t know about this “a” thing.

The reader comments on’s coverage of Sanjaya’s “Idol” journey reflect a polarized view of Sanjaya’s personality and star power, although even the self-professed “Fanjaya” admit he’s not the world’s strongest vocalist. (Full disclosure: I’m the Director of Content for Either way, it’s to Malakar’s credit that he put himself out there in the public spotlight and accepted the sometimes brutal criticisms of the judges (viewers’ votes kept him on the show). And I’m glad that in most of the discourse about him, race hasn’t been an issue.

That’s a relief in a week that also saw Korean American Cho Seung-Hui commit the worst shotting spree in U.S. school history, at Virginia Tech. Asian Americans tensed up, more than half-expecting a racial backlash, and so far, that hasn’t happened, at least nopt to any great extent that I’ve heard. That’s a good thing….

As for Sanjaya, who seems to have a teen-idol chord with young women, he looked spiffy in a blue pin-striped suit at the Correspondents’ Dinner. He sat at the People Magazine table for the event, which was emceed by comedian Rich Little.

Has his 15 minutes of fame already passed him by?