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‘American Idol’ brings out a string of surprises - Sligh exits, Malakar safe

American Idol, running in its sixth season currently, saw a few surprises on Wednesday. The last elimination round resulted in Chris Sligh, who hails from Greenville, South California, leaving the show. Sanjay Malakar, supposedly the weakest link, is still safe thanks to a huge fan support.

Sligh sang, “Every little thing she does is magic” on Tuesday’s episode, but failed to impress the three judges of the show. His weak performance invited acerbic comments from the jury. “The rhythm made it a train wreck for me”, said Randy Jackson, a famous record producer & bass player. Paula Abdul, a former pop star, seemed to agree with him. “I thought it was a mess”, said Simon Cowell, UK producer as well as the third member of the jury.

Sligh, thus, shared a place among the bottom three along with Phil Stacey, from Florida and Haley Scarnato, a former wedding band singer. Stacey missed the birth of his daughter, Machaela, to audition for the show. Stacey has won over the judges quite a few times. On Tuesday, the day before the elimination, Cowell commented on his performance saying, “This may surprise you Phil, but, I actually thought that was very good.” Haley Scarnato gave a lukewarm performance on Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”.

With Sligh’s exit from the show, the competition remains amongst nine participants. Sanjaya Malakar, the most talked about contestant, has been safe due to a huge fan following amongst teenagers. He also has an enormous online fan bank, which keeps him going. Malakar’s real problem though is delivering powerful performances. The judges are also not very keen about Malakar as a possible winner.

The results of the latter stages of the competition completely depend on public voting. The three judges analyze the contestants' performances in order to facilitate the voting process. Votes can be registered by telephones, text messages, or online.

Malakar, with his mercurial hairdos and a quirky smile, has initiated a nationwide debate over the credibility of the show. Voices all over the country have opined that the show, instead of delivering real talent, has become a tool of commercialization. The voting process tends to ignore talent over senseless favoritism.

Fans on the website have posted serious misgivings about Malakar winning the show. One of the questions that voice a similar concern is, “will Malakar kill ‘American Idol’?” Simon Cowell has gone as far as to state during one of the shows that if Malakar wins, he will quit as judge from the show.

After another weak performance on Tuesday, Malakar walked away into the next round with much ease. "Sanjaya, I don't think it matters anymore what we say ... I think you are in your own universe and if people like you, good luck," Cowell said on Tuesday.

Much of the credit for the online support for Malakar has been due to the website, which parodies the basic concept behind the ‘American Idol’ show. Radio jockey Howard Stern has been contributing in a similar way by encouraging the masses to vote for Malakar.

The site has allegedly been slammed with a distributed denial of service attack. The site was stormed by 400 megabits of traffic per second; just two hours after the ‘Idol’ show went on air. Site owner Dave Della Terza, has told the Chicago Sun-Times, that he receives nasty emails containing death threats, from fans that do not support the site’s actions. One such "Idol" fan has even gone to the length of announcing a solo hunger strike on her MySpace blog.

"Sanjaya is a really cute kid with a unique look and an incredibly dreamy smile that can get thirty 12-year old girls to vote a million times apiece on speed dial," said pop culture expert Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television.

Malakar, who hails from Washington, may not be as talented as the rest of the participants, but he has an enormous fan following, which may see him through as the winner.

The ‘Idol’ results show, with ratings of 16.0/25 has kept FOX channel on top of the competition in the 9pm slot. The results episode also witnessed a performance from the celebrity coach, Gwen Stefani along with famous pop star, Akon.

‘American Idol’ began its first season in June 2002. It has originated from the UK reality program ‘Pop Idol’. Televised on FOX network, the show was started by Simon Fuller, manager of various pop bands such as spice girls and S Club 7.

Ryan Searcrest hosts the show. The show has Rick Minor as the music director since 2005. Minor has been responsible for roping in superstars for the show, including Mary J. Blige, Prince, and Al Jarreau.

The main contest also hosts certain subsidiary competitions such as the WSMH (Channel 66) "Sing for Your Seats" contest and the American Idol Challenge.

The former is a contest, which has two finale tickets as the prize. The finale tickets are not up for sale. The contest offers two free tickets as well as free airfare and stay. Participants above the age of 18 and in the viewer ship region of channel 66 are invited. 15 people are selected randomly, and then asked to sing before a panel of judges.

The latter is a contest open for viewers, where one trivia question is put forward. The contest offers a weekly prize of $10,000, a trip for two to Los Angeles to see American Idol in person and be on the set of the Ford Music Video and to be entered into the drawing for the Grand Prize of $100,000 and a trip to Los Angeles for the American Idol Finale.

The show also has a charity agenda of its own. On the March 8 results show, it was announced that the show would give back to people in poverty in both Africa and the United States. The show has begun a combined AIDS/hurricane Katrina relief effort. Exxon mobile is the main corporate sponsor for the same.

The Grand Finale of the sixth season will be held in May 2007.