March 29, 2007

"Malakar is the rare male performer who relies so utterly on styling."

Robin Givhan on Sanjaya Malakar. (She's the WaPo fashion writer. He's the "American Idol" guy with the smile and the hair and the voice that was good back before the competition narrowed.)
[His hair] has been pin-curled into a thick mop of ringlets, slicked straight as if it had been fried by a Japanese perm and, most recently, scooped into a single row of upswept ponytails to create a faux mohawk....

As America's ears bleed, it sounds as though Malakar no longer is attempting to sing -- that is, to enunciate lyrics while simultaneously carrying a tune. How can he compete with Lakisha Jones, whose lusty voice could blow out woofers, tweeters and everything in between?

So Malakar has given himself over to style. Substance, what little of it there is on "American Idol," be damned....

At 17, Malakar does not ooze testosterone. He has a slight build that never fills out his studiously hipster clothes -- such as his graffiti blazer from Lulu last week. He typically looks as though he has been borrowing his wardrobe from a grown-up. When he is onstage, he gives no indication that he can dance. And when he races into the audience, one worries that at any moment he will trip over his shoelaces. Historically, he can be compared to Shaun Cassidy or Leif Garrett -- Tiger Beat regulars with bland voices but splendidly tousled hair....
And what's so bad about that? Young girls feel their affection for boys, not men. It's not easy to hit exactly the right zone. You could say that what's bad about Sanjaya's success on "American Idol" is that there are other competitors who are doing something more deserving of the win? Simon likes to say: "It's a singing contest." But it's an idol contest. And it's harder to be the boy young girls love -- to be David Cassidy or Peter Noone -- than it is to sing beautifully like Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones.

You know, I love the show "Survivor," and the reason I love it is that it's a contest without rules. The contestants are trying to survive a sequence of votes and be the last person standing. Although there are various challenges along the way with specific rules, you can only win immunity. To actually win the show, you have to do something -- who knows what will work this time? -- that will leave you as the last one standing. You have to invent a way to win. Often the "survivors" have to remind themselves that "this is a game." It's a game, but what is the game? Just: to win.

"American Idol" can be like that too. You can have a strategy of being the best singer, but there are many other possible strategies. The least creative one is to simply sing well. That's not much fun. I like a contestant who comes up with an unusual strategy. I loved Jonny Fairplay, who devised a villain persona, and got to the final 3 in the Pearl Islands season of "Survivor." He came up with some cool strategies.

So give Sanjaya his due. It takes real nerve and style and charm to do what he's doing. He could try just a little harder with the singing, but since it drives folks mad that he's playing the game the way he is, it's part of a strategy. It gets Vote for the Worst votes. Why not snag those votes too?

ADDED: Andrew Sullivan endorses voting for Sanjaya on the vote for the worst concept because he wants to "subvert" the "far too self-important show." But I invite him to think more deeply about the positive side of Sanjaya, and the show's long-term homophobic edge. Not only do Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell continually taunt each other with references to homosexuality, but also Simon has for years acted squeamish about the less-than-fully-masculine male contestants. His hostility toward Clay Aiken was monumental. I think there is a similar issue here, where Sanjaya is setting off the old aversions. I think any young guy who would fit the David Cassidy niche so loved by young girls would tend to evoke homophobia in some people. Call them on it by supporting Sanjaya. And this is not meant to imply that I have any opinion about whether Sanjaya is gay. I don't. I'm not good at detecting whether people are actually gay, but I think I'm pretty good at raising questions about whether people are homophobic.

18 comments:

SteveR said...

He may be smart enough to survive but he's ultimately making a joke of the process he had to have been committed to early on. And people are making a joke out of him. So maybe he owes AI no serious attempt to be a legitimate musical artist.

At 17 I doubt he's that thoughtful, he's stumbled into this act and the Howard Sterns/Votefortheworst.com groupies are playing along.

Cedarford said...

I agree instantly that this is not a singing contest - it is an idol contest. And you are the 1st media/blogger person to state it badly because I think people instictively shy away from saying Lakisha can wail away but she will never be more than a studio voice or background band accompanyist. No tours for LaKisha. Short, fat, stumpy - perhaps a "Nubian Queen" nod from hip hop...like a Latifah..

Which leaves good singers with attractiveness and charisma...

and, of course...... Sanjya.

The Survivor analogy is bad. Because Idol left themselves wide open to attack by those who want the millions that come to their timeslots if they can destroy Idol or at least knock down its ratings through manipulation.

I'm surprised it took Howard Stern and the moguls at other TV networks so long to come up with a Sanjaya strategy.

On Survivor, while the rules were so open, and someone could easily try to win by winning over others, by shitmouthing Jeff Burkett and every aspect of the Show..Why, they'd have to have a campfire accident and have to be medivac'd out of the Australian Bush.

Of course, Idol can react by tearing the tennybopper fave rave down, but he does seem like a nice kid. Still, at a certain point, as someone with 10X his talent is ousted, it could get nasty with the fans and the media elites manipulating votes on America's top show.

30 million people vowing to boycott any Howard Stern advertiser would give his megarich sponsors pause. Same with a campaign branding Stern racist for helping oust black contestants far more qualified than Sanjaya.

Sometimes that really blows up in the mogul's or broader elites faces as they try to push an attack on stars they wish to destroy.

hdhouse said...

ohhh there is a little Mitt Romney in all of us I guess.

Jennifer said...

I agree that he seems to actually believe he deserves to be there and that he is actually trying to win. More so than the spoilers of past years, anyhow. And I completely agree that the "it's a singing competition" is utter bs. Simon doesn't even believe that or he wouldn't critique performances/styling/personality, etc...

But, I really can't relate to Sanjaya-as-love-object. As a young girl, I had a thing for Bruce Willis.

Craig Landon said...

This may be the worst post of yours I've read.

Survivor doesn't have rules? How 'bout the one that says you can't kill or disable competitors? Then we'd see who the REAL "survivor" is.

"Simon likes to say: "It's a singing contest." But it's an idol contest. And it's harder to be the boy young girls love -- to be David Cassidy or Peter Noone -- than it is to sing beautifully like Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones."

Are you serious? Young girls loved Fabian and Frankie Avalon for god's sake. Malakar & his sister show up at an agency the same time as Lakisha and Malinda. Who they gonna interview first?

This was a "poke the alligators" post.

Elizabeth said...

So American Idol isn't a singing contest. I won't argue with that.

But "And it's harder to be the boy young girls love -- to be David Cassidy or Peter Noone -- than it is to sing beautifully like Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones"--that's overstating things! Singing beautifully takes talent, dedication, and work. Making little girls swoon? Not so much. You know, David C. and Peter N. could both carry a tune.

Jeez, this topic turns in on itself: anyone remember the Brady Bunch episode where Greg is being groomed to be a pop star, complete with shiny gold matadors-style rock star outfit? He's serious about his music, and is aghast to hear the recording result, where his voice has been synthesized out of recognition. Why did you choose me, he wails, if you don't like my singing? They answer, Kid, you fit the suit!

reader_iam said...

You have to invent a way to win.

That is the nut of this post; everything else is extraneous.

Also the nut of the Althouse philosophy???

(That's a sincere and serious question.. and the consequence[s] for asking be damned.)

reader_iam said...

I'd have also highlighted the "you can only win immunity part," except that within my broader question, that's clearly been rendered irrelevant at this point, for whatever reason[s].

Elizabeth said...

reader_iam,

you keep turning up with interesting things to say, right when I'm heading off to bed. It's tempting to stay up a while longer and exchange a few lines, but I'm really tired. I like knowing there are other night owls, though.

Ann Althouse said...

i_am: You mean, life itself, blogging, or lawproffing?

George said...

Is this guy the son of Fuhrer Melakon of Ekos?

I hope Professor Gill doesn't have anything to do with this....

jult52 said...

Ann - This comment about it not being a singing competition goes to show again that you aren't all that interested in music. There are reality shows which select people based almost entirely on their appearance (Tyra Banks' Top Model, that Pussycat Dolls monstrosity) but AI isn't one of them.

I still remember when you were going gaga over that Constantine idiot. At least Sanjay is much more likable.

jimspice said...

I don't get this. Why does everyone say he's bad? My guess is it's one of those hop on board things. I have a bit of musical training; he's not bad. He'd beat all of us. Is he the best still competing? I don't think so, but that's debatable, of course. But he's NOT bad.

And, come on, that audition with his sister? Tell me their back and forth wasn't cute as hell.

Spice

SteveR said...

How can AS be critical of anyone or anything that is 'self important"?

Pot meet Kettle

Galvanized said...

Ohhh, yes, Johnny Fairplay was indeed a villain. I still wonder how his grandmother feels about him, or if he would do the show again had he the chance. I just wanted to wring his little neck. LOL

Scott said...

As a 50 year old gay man who has only seen Sanjaya's pictures online and in the New York Post, the guy makes me smile.

Sanjaya: The Hope of Audacity

Patrick J. Shea said...

Ahem. Even Sanjaya has seemed shocked by his continued success. He legitimately realizes that his talent pales in comparison to many of the other contestants. He has a subdued, mildly innocuous voice, but no sense of rhythm, phrasing, or stage presence. His poor choices of song have not suited his voice, often highlighting his shortcomings as a singer. In other words, his performances are bad because of an almost total lack of planning or style. I remain unconvinced that he has any strategy at all. And as someone else noted, it doesn't take much to get a teenybopper to squeal.

As for the show's background level of quasi-homophobia (it's really more about effeminance) as a reason to support Sanjaya... that's more than a little on the silly side. I don't sense any real animus. How Ryan "wearing a dress" has anything to do with Sanjaya, I cannot fathom.

What's interesting to me is the popularity of the thumb-in-the-eye approach of Votefortheworst. Stern, of course, is just trying to piggyback on the popularity of Idol, but Votefortheworst is a much more interesting phenomenon.

downtownlad said...

If I had to place a bet, I'd say all 3 of them (Sanjaya, Simon, and Ryan) are all The Gay.