Depending on whom you ask, this year's season of American Idol is either its worst or best. While its true that the talent quotient of this year's contestants may have fallen a little more on the lackluster side (save for Melinda and Lakisha), the judges and host Ryan Seacrest have provided viewers with enough of their typical side-stage antics to keep us laughing, reading the gossip columns, and ultimately, asking for more.
So what factor this season is so polarizing that viewers either love him or hate him? If you've missed it, his name is Sanjaya Malakar, and his singing is pretty horrible.
Sanjaya made it past this year's try-outs earlier in the season with a clever combination of Tiger Beat cute, and shy, boyish charm. Early on, his singing was clearly better than the scores of other contestants around him, but as mass eliminations ensued, it became evident that Sanjaya's popularity had very little to do with his voice. In fact, the competition has since become defined by what wacky hairstyle and outfit he'll don next.
For those who view American Idol as a legitimate singing competition, it is obvious why many are disappointed with this year's season: Sanjaya continues to walk while other, more talented competitors fail to receive the votes they need to stay on the show.
So why, then, do people love the guy?
For tween girls ages 10-12, Sanjaya's appeal has everything to with his cuteness and his hair. No explanation needed. But for viewers who do not fall into that demographic, Sanjaya is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with American Idol. Sanjaya is an illustration of how the current vote-as-much-as-you-want from any phone in America isn't as much a reflection of a contestant's ability as much as it is of their folksy popularity with voters (sound familiar?). To echo past guest singing coach Peter Noone: American Idol isn't a singing competition, it is a voting competition.
Groups everywhere from Votefortheworst.com to listeners of Howard Stern have organized drives to vote for Sanjaya, all to expose the show's flaws while being able to enjoy the Court Jester of Song further embarrass himself for one more week. For them, Sanjaya serves as the revelation that the emperor has no clothes.
Honestly, Sanjaya's continued presence has provided this season with a much needed comedic detour. After all, one can only listen to talented sirens deliver flawless performances so much. And even as potential artists drop like flies in the wake of Sanjaya's vocal stench, it does prove a point that there is more than enough wrong with the show's voting system. (American Idol voting reform, anyone?)
However, at the end of the day, after all the singing is done, it should be noted that it was the judges and producers who originally put Sanjaya in the competition. Not Votefortheworst.com. Not Howard Stern. Not even the ten year old girls at home.
To Simon, Randy, and Paula: we love you (depending on whom you ask).