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Saturday, March 17, 2007

American Idol's "Little Engine That Could"

Sanjaya Malakar is facing, most likely, one of his biggest performance challenges on American Idol 6. This next week's show determines who gets to join the Idol tour or simply go home. I've dubbed Sanjaya "The Little Engine That Could" after that famous children's story about the small train, who against all odds, rose to the occasion by pulling on inner strength and self-belief. He is one of the most talked about controversial contestants this year, attributed with attracting some strong alliances in Vote For The Worst and Sirius satellite's Shock Jock, Howard Stern. Stern's been drawn into this fray because he hates American Idol, plus discounting how derogatory or colorfully he may phrase it on his show, it masks Stern's propensity to take up a fight for the Underdog. After all, Stern knows fully well and first-hand what it is like to be that Underdog. Through sheer grit, wit and an uncanny insight into what may lurk in the back of folk's minds, Stern has fought his way to success.

The talk and controversy surrounding Sanjaya Malakar, this season is reminding me of the brouhaha that swirled around Taylor Hicks last year. Obviously there are vast differences between Taylor Hicks and Sanjaya Malakar. To point out only a few, singing style, appearance and experience levels. Both have in common the situation of having to overcome big odds stacked against them on this music reality show, Hicks stared down adversity and won, and of course, Sanjaya is really just in the beginning stages. This time last year Hicks was beginning to amass a loyal following. His fans on the Idol forums faced harsh criticisms with attacks on his appearance and much debated perceived lack of true "Idol form". His singing was criticized, his dancing slammed and made fun of, his hair color bashed. Other prominent difference between Sanjaya and Taylor Hicks, Sanjaya is only 17 years old, whereas Hicks is now thirty, and notably, experience. Taylor Hicks had toured for ten years the club and bar scene, a harsh fast training ground.

The quality upheld by Mr. Hicks that bolstered him through - confidence in himself. He faced those judges week after week, many times hearing scathing criticisms, especially from Simon Cowell. He was called everything from a drunken Dad at a wedding to a bar room act and ridiculous. Simon consistently pontificated on Taylor's low chances at winning the show. Week after week the Soul Patrol rallied, gaining force with numbers and enthusiasm to pull Hicks to the top of the Idol ranks. Throughout every insult and bad critique, Hicks amazingly, held his tongue - and smiled. Each time he responded in that way following those bad reviews, Hicks gained fans, votes and fame. Taylor Hicks has always reminded me of those boxers in the ring, whom no matter how hard he's hit refuses to take the knock out, the man keeps coming up swinging. Last season, I couldn't help but hear that Rocky Balboa theme in my head watching that man. He was and is an inspiration.

Sanjaya Malakar reminds me of Taylor Hicks for the manner in which he is facing the rejection and criticisms. Through every harsh review the boy stands there and bravely smiles at the panel. Last week, Randy called his song, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" unlistenable. Checking out the downloads portion of the American Idol site, Malakar sounds better than some of his rivals including the now gone Brandon Rodgers. Simon Cowell is stepping up the ante with demonstrating his displeasure with keeping this boy by saying in a press release that should Sanjaya win he would leave the show. I am appreciating how each week, Sanjaya returns to hold his head up and strive to do his best, and he's improving.

One positive review regarding this budding, young man on the site of MasterClass Lady blog Roseanne Simunovic writes about his February 27 performance, "Stepping Out With My Baby",
    Sanjaya –call me crazy, but I actually enjoyed this song. It was refreshing and, even better, totally unexpected. The band arrangement was super and your retro look and genuine, gentle demeanor was just the ticket for this laid back, jazz -infused number. I thought that your performance was wonderful and your voice wrapped easily around the melodic line.
Ms. Simunovic happens to be not your average casual blogger, she is a woman with high credentials in music knowledge, and has written numerous articles on American Idol for publication.

Last week was Diana Ross week on Idol, the visiting diva had praise for the boy saying he was about "Love", which lit up the guy's fanboards. She also had to say to Sanjaya, "there is something in your spirit that is the winning ingredient". I believe that something is his sincerity, his openness, his youth, obvious boyish charm that radiates with his every smile. Certainly he is not the most polished performer, nor possessed of the most stunning vocals, but he showed with grace and humility that under pressure, even the great pressure that is Simon Cowell, he has drive to carry on. One of the biggest draws to this show is watching the contestants strive to make their dreams come true. While cynically, in the back of my mind, I have reservations regarding this show and its seeming metamorphosis into not much more than a money making empire and cunningly produced reality show, there is a part of me that holds dear my childhood memories of wanting to believe in Peter Pan and fairy tales. Witnessing Sanjaya Malakar and his struggle buoys that part of me, takes me above my cynicism and sarcasm for a time. I'm hoping that within Sanjaya Malakar's mind, resonates the message behind my favorite children's story, "I think I can, I think I can." Anything can be possible if you believe.

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