For those of you who were living under a rock in 2007, when Sanjaya dominated the airwaves, he was one of the most polarizing contestants in "Idol" history. He garnered the wrath of Simon Cowell (who threatened to quit if Sanjaya won) and some "Idol" fanatics (one of whom went on a hunger strike until he was voted off), while he gained the love and support of Vote For The Worst, infamous "crying girl" Ashley Ferl, and even Howard Stern. Thanks to his effusive personality and impressive head of hair, Sanjaya went a lot farther than many doubters expected, and he continues to remain in the public'sa consciousness. He even starred in a Funny Or Die video titled "I Am Art," co-produced by Will Ferrell, in which he claimed he was really a graduate student named Bill Vendall who created "Sanjaya" as an art project for his thesis. Genius!a love ballad about "walks along the beach," a Bollywood-inspired world music track, and a revenge song, "Tell Me Who I Am," that seemed to be directed right at "American Idol." ("I don't need your couch critiquing anymore," Sanjaya snarled.) 4 AM," plus he made appearances on "Hell's Kitchen" and the 300th episode of "The Soup." This year, as his first professional theater venture, he joined the cast of the family-friendly off-Broadway musical Freckleface Strawberry, based on the children's book by actress Julianne Moore. But his most high-profile post-"Idol" endeavors have been a starring role in a Nationwide Insurance commercial (the same "Life Comes At You Fast" ad campaign that Kevin Federline shot a spot for) and his participation in the second season of "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here" alongside Janice Dickinson, two Baldwin brothers, and Speidi. Sanjaya came in fifth on that show, but he was totally robbed--this was a reality competition that even Simon Cowell would agree Sanj deserved to win.
It should be noted that Sanjaya was just a child--literally, he was barely 17--when he was on "Idol." He muses: "The thing is, I think between 16 to maybe 22 or 23, you're still growing and learning. So having to do that in public while you're still young is...interesting." It's amazing he was able to come out of such a whirlwind unscathed, but luckily, he was on "Idol" back in the pre-Twitter era, and he therefore remained blissfully ignorant regarding his haters. "While it was happening, I was in such a bubble; we were pretty much cut off from the outside world. They tell you that you shouldn't go on blog sites because people say all kinds of things and hearing all that kind of messes with you. So I never knew what the outside world was saying until after I was off the show," he explains.
But Sanjaya sympathizes with the youngsters on "Idol" this season, with its lower age limit. "As soon as I heard [about the age limit being lowered to 15], I felt kind of uneasy about it," he admits, "just because you can't possibly know yourself when you're 15! You're growing and learning and going to school and gaining all these experiences, and then when you're thrown into something like 'American Idol,' all that stops. You have to make those compromises and decide, 'What do I no longer want to be able to have in my childhood?' Mentally, so much stuff is thrown at you and you're put in situations where you're totally stressed out and tired and anxious and nervous--and you still have to perform at your best! It's crazy to me. But [Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, this season's youngest remaining contestants] are great. When they develop, they're going to be even better."
Speaking of developing, Sanjaya is still working on music, with a new single out in late May (just in time for the "Idol" finale) and a full album due by the year's end. So what kind of music is dancing in Sanjaya's head nowadays? "It's R&B-influenced vocals with kind of funky...I don't want to say hip-hop, but it has a little bit of hip-hop influence," he says. "It's a nice fusion of funk and neo-soul."
[Top photo courtesy of Fox]
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