Sanjaya Malakar -- who grew up learning Hare Krishna bhajans from his father Vasudeva Malakar and went on to become the most controversial contender in the singing contest American Idol, and arguably its most visible and most discussed participant -- was "sent home" on Wednesday night.
Some 38 million people cast their vote, as voters have been doing the past month and half, each week, after watching the performances on Tuesday, and Sanjaya came last!
Suspense mounted Wednesday evening, as three of the show's lowest vote getters were isolated from the remaining four competitors, who were deemed "safe." And then one of the three was sent to join the "safe" group. Two more -- Sanjaya and LaKisha Jones -- were left. And then came the bad news: he was out.
Sanjaya, like many of the previous losers, fought his tears -- 'I am fine'. Sanjaya, whose ever-changing hairstyles has brought him plenty of attention, told host Ryan Seacrest, "It has been an amazing experience'.
He then sang Something to talk about, and adlibbed: 'Let's give them something to talk about... other than hair'.
American Idol, one of the hottest shows in America, which gets about 25 million viewers each week, has now six contestants left. Sanjaya, whose hairdo often drew more attention than his voice, was the butt of jokes on comedy shows but he also found support in very unlikely quarters. The highly controversial radio talk show host Howard Stern had asked some 10 million of his listeners to keep on voting for Sanjaya so that he could become the winner. Stern hates the show, and he said if Sanjaya won, it could collapse and even close down.
On Tuesday night's show, Simon Cowell, the creator of the show, and one of its three judges, flung venom at Sanjaya, calling his performance 'utterly horrendous'. He had said early on in the show he won't be with it in its next season if Sanjaya became the Idol.
But the son's defeat is seen as a cosmic act by his father in Seattle. He thought there was a divine reason for it. Sanjaya's father said good karma would be with his son and his daughter. Incidentally the senior Malakar came to America from India as a Hare Krishna pujari.
"I am very proud of the fact that he could endure a lot of criticism and reach this level," his father said in a chat over the phone. Two weeks ago Malakar had gone to Hollywood to be with his son. "We went to the Hare Krishna temple, and we prayed. He received the prasad. And I told him that whatever happens in the competition, he should take it as something good, and he should not forget there is a path of bhakti."
Sanjaya, 17, lives in Federal Way some 100 miles away from Seattle, and is also very close to his uncle's wife Christi Recchi who trained him as a gospel singer. But his father said Sanjaya has not forgotten his Indian heritage.
"America still loves him," said Malakar senior. "He would not have lasted so long otherwise. People of Indian origin here and in India love him. I will not be surprised if more and more Indian kids show up in this competition in its next season."
Sanjaya's dad met his mom when she a Krishna devotee. She no longer is a follower and his parents are divorced. But his dad continues to be a strong member of the Hare Krishna community in Seattle.
"Both Sanjaya's parents are very spiritual," said Christi, who Sanjaya has always said is his second mother. Rechhi's daughter is also close to Sanjaya; they are almost of same age and attended the Total Experience Gospel Choir together in Seattle. "Sanjaya has a very good heart and a lovely singing voice. What you have seen him do on American Idol does not show his talent enough. You must listen to him singing gospel songs."
Sanjaya, a minor, had to be accompanied by an adult during his stint on Idol in Hollywood, where the show was taped. His mother, who divorced his dad seven years ago, has been with him from the beginning. Older sister Shyamali, who had entered the contest too and had been eliminated quite early on, even before she reached the semi finals, has been showing up at the show every Tuesday to cheer her brother
There were also millions of voters who were taken up by Sanjaya's smile and genial personality if not his voice. "You cannot ignore the innocence in Sanjaya," his aunt Recchi said. "Time and time again he has shown he is unflappable. I have been praying for him every day, and I will continue praying for him all my life. He is going to do a lot of good in this world.'
Many of Sanjaya supporters on sites like VoteForTheWorst.com and SurvivorSucks.com have been writing to his hometown, even before the elimination, to have him recognised. The town has been receiving thousands of e-mails, like for instance a letter which described him as 'one of the most popular people in the world at the moment and the face of Federal Way to the rest of the world'.
"Considering that Sanjaya Malakar is likely bringing more attention to Federal Way than the city has received in a long time, it would seem like Federal Way officials would want to follow the lead of the home city of Idol favourite Blake Lewis (Bothell in Massachusetts) and recognise Sanjaya," one letter said. "Just think of all the money being brought into the city by reporters from various tabloids who are probably staying in hotels and dining in restaurants in their city in hopes of getting the latest Sanjaya scoop from his friends and relatives."
But Federal Way officials were not enthusiastic about the idea of honouring him. But his father, his aunt, Christi and friends believe he will get a big welcome when he returns home.
"And I intend taking him to our local Hare Krishna temple. We will pray together once again and have the prasad together," Vasudeva Malkar said. "Shyamali could join us too."