Idol Chatter

Pairs of hands all over the country were clasped in prayer last night. “Thank you, God,” said thousands of mouths, exalting their voices to the divine. Were they thanking Him for good weather, for providing food, or for curing a sick loved one?

No. They were thanking Him for finally getting Sanjaya off of “American Idol.”

Sanjaya Malakar, a 17-year-old from Washington State, has been the single most talked-about candidate on the show this season. Not because he’s the best. Not because people loved the inspiring story of how he couldn’t be happy he made the Top 40 because his own twin sister got cut. No, the reason he was so popular was this: He had little talent (except for his hair, maybe).

To be fair, I liked Sanjaya until he made the top 24. He came off as a sweet, although kind of naive, kid. I preferred his voice to those of other male contestants like Sundance Head, Jared Cotter, and the way-overrated Chris Richardson. It wasn’t until Sanjaya made the top 12 and had to sing next to people like frontrunner Melinda Doolittle, that it became clear how outclassed he was. Then he became the darling of Web site (which asks people to vote for the least talented singer on “Idol,” thus undermining the show from within) and Howard Stern, who urged his listeners to vote for Sanjaya.

Here’s one thing I think went largely missing in the hubbub surrounding Sanjaya, whose increasingly wacky hairstyles and underwhelming performances became more interesting than anything else on the show: He’s 17. I don’t care how mature he is, he’s still 17. The second youngest male contestant on the show, Chris Richardson, is 23. The other teenager on the show, Jordin Sparks, has been mostly praised by the judges and in the press.

I remember myself at 17–major body image issues, definitely not comfortable in my own skin. If you’d put me on TV and made me endure the kind of public ridicule Sanjaya’s been subjected to, I would have needed psychological counseling.

In a season that even the judges have called lackluster, Sanjaya was used to get people to tune in. The more people hated Sanjaya, the more they tuned in to mock his singing and see what crazy outfit he’d come out wearing next. The show capitalized on his unpopularity. The only winner was “American Idol,” who spits out aspiring performers with no remorse while collecting enough ad revenue to feed a third-world country. And why were they able to keep getting away with it? Because you, and me, and plenty of other Americans kept watching. Because we implicitly tell the producers their cruelty is okay by continuing to endorse their program.

We are all Sanjaya. If you were on the street and fell, would you want people to point and laugh, or would you want them to help you up? What if they broadcast your fall on TV and asked the whole world to laugh at you? Sanjaya managed to keep a sense of humor about being constantly mocked. I doubt I could do the same.

If you’re going to thank God that Sanjaya is kicked off the show, at least thank God that this guy won’t have to keep dealing with being regularly humiliated on television.

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