[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....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.
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....
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.