Tag Archive: Stefano Langone

Catching Up With Sanjaya Malakar


This week, Stefano Langone went home on “American Idol’s” top 7 results show, joining the illustrious ranks of other seventh-place finishers like Jennifer Hudson, Kimberly Caldwell, Ace Young, Ryan Star, Kristy Lee Cook, Anoop Desai, and Tim Urban. But perhaps the most notorious seventh-place contestant is Season 6’s Sanjaya Malakar, who continues to be namechecked in the blogosphere and on E!’s “The Soup,” despite keeping a relatively low profile in the four years since his elimination. Even Josh Groban tweeted about Sanjaya recently, totally out of the blue. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

For those of you who were living under a rock in 2007, when Sanjaya dominated the airwaves, he was one of the most polarizing contestants in “Idol” history. He garnered the wrath of Simon Cowell (who threatened to quit if Sanjaya won) and some “Idol” fanatics (one of whom went on a hunger strike until he was voted off), while he gained the love and support of Vote For The Worst, infamous “crying girl” Ashley Ferl, and even Howard Stern. Thanks to his effusive personality and impressive head of hair, Sanjaya went a lot farther than many doubters expected, and he continues to remain in the public’sa consciousness. He even starred in a Funny Or Die video titled “I Am Art,” co-produced by Will Ferrell, in which he claimed he was really a graduate student named Bill Vendall who created “Sanjaya” as an art project for his thesis. Genius!

But it turns out, Sanjaya is very real. So where is he now, in real life? Well, he’s kept pretty busy, if a little under the radar. His lush fauxhawk is long gone, but he’s still making music. In 2009, he released both an autobiography and EP with the title Dancing To The Music In My Head, the latter of which featured a love ballad about “walks along the beach,” a Bollywood-inspired world music track, and a revenge song, “Tell Me Who I Am,” that seemed to be directed right at “American Idol.” (“I don’t need your couch critiquing anymore,” Sanjaya snarled.)

Last year, he released a Christmas disc, as well as the single “4 AM,” plus he made appearances on “Hell’s Kitchen” and the 300th episode of “The Soup.” This year, as his first professional theater venture, he joined the cast of the family-friendly off-Broadway musical Freckleface Strawberry, based on the children’s book by actress Julianne Moore. But his most high-profile post-“Idol” endeavors have been a starring role in a Nationwide Insurance commercial (the same “Life Comes At You Fast” ad campaign that Kevin Federline shot a spot for) and his participation in the second season of “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here” alongside Janice Dickinson, two Baldwin brothers, and Speidi. Sanjaya came in fifth on that show, but he was totally robbed–this was a reality competition that even Simon Cowell would agree Sanj deserved to win.

Obviously Sanjaya-mania has died down a bit since Season 6, giving the now-grown-up contestant some time to reflect. Looking back, he understands why he received such harsh critiques at the time. Speaking by phone from New York, where he is currently wrapping up his off-Broadway run as well as recording and assembling a new band, he says: “Pretty much all my vocal training, I got on that show. It’s hard for me to go back and watch all my ‘Idol’ performances, because I see all those things that I learned that I shouldn’t do! Most of what the judges said was true, it was just said in a harsh way. But I value that so much, because that’s what made me grow.” He doesn’t even harbor any ill will towards his toughest critic, Simon, saying, “I really respect him, and I think he kind of taught me the most because he was so hard on me. He really helped me figure out how to fix all my bad habits.”

It should be noted that Sanjaya was just a child–literally, he was barely 17–when he was on “Idol.” He muses: “The thing is, I think between 16 to maybe 22 or 23, you’re still growing and learning. So having to do that in public while you’re still young is…interesting.” It’s amazing he was able to come out of such a whirlwind unscathed, but luckily, he was on “Idol” back in the pre-Twitter era, and he therefore remained blissfully ignorant regarding his haters. “While it was happening, I was in such a bubble; we were pretty much cut off from the outside world. They tell you that you shouldn’t go on blog sites because people say all kinds of things and hearing all that kind of messes with you. So I never knew what the outside world was saying until after I was off the show,” he explains.

But Sanjaya sympathizes with the youngsters on “Idol” this season, with its lower age limit. “As soon as I heard [about the age limit being lowered to 15], I felt kind of uneasy about it,” he admits, “just because you can’t possibly know yourself when you’re 15! You’re growing and learning and going to school and gaining all these experiences, and then when you’re thrown into something like ‘American Idol,’ all that stops. You have to make those compromises and decide, ‘What do I no longer want to be able to have in my childhood?’ Mentally, so much stuff is thrown at you and you’re put in situations where you’re totally stressed out and tired and anxious and nervous–and you still have to perform at your best! It’s crazy to me. But [Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, this season’s youngest remaining contestants] are great. When they develop, they’re going to be even better.”

Speaking of developing, Sanjaya is still working on music, with a new single out in late May (just in time for the “Idol” finale) and a full album due by the year’s end. So what kind of music is dancing in Sanjaya’s head nowadays? “It’s R&B-influenced vocals with kind of funky…I don’t want to say hip-hop, but it has a little bit of hip-hop influence,” he says. “It’s a nice fusion of funk and neo-soul.”

And as for my suggestion, that Sanjaya pursue music by auditioning for Simon Cowell’s new show, “The X Factor USA”? Well, he’s a little cagey–but he hasn’t ruled it out. I personally think he should go back on TV and show Simon everything he’s learned in the last four years…and if you think so too, post your endorsement and encouragement on the message board below. Otherwise, Sanjaya will continue to go the indie route, and we will see if he has the last laugh.

[Top photo courtesy of Fox]


Well, after 52 million votes, and about 52 minutes of filler, on Thursday another overlong “American Idol” results show came to an end, along with Stefano Langone’s “Idol” run. This was no huge surprise, considering that he was a Wild Card to begin with, and had been in the bottom two the last couple of weeks, although I must say he did give his best performance of the season this week with Ne-Yo’s “Closer.” But Stefano took the bad news in stride, exhibiting the same class and sportsmanship he always has on difficult results nights, and pointing out that as someone who almost didn’t make the top 13 at all (and once nearly died in an accident), he was lucky to have made it this far.

Honestly, it was Stefano’s roommate, James Durbin, who seemed way more upset. The moment Ryan Seacrest announced that it was Stefano–and not the other contestant in the bottom two, Jacob Lusk–who was getting the boot, Stefano’s BFF lost it, openly breaking into sobs with his face in his lap. And at the end of Stefano’s goodbye performance, of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately,” James rushed up, hugged Stefano from behind, and swung him around in the air. Aw. It was truly sad to see this bromance break up…but also sad to see Jacob so blatantly ostracized.

Really, as the contestants said their goodbyes over the end credits, Jacob seemed like the odd man out, hovering on the sidelines exchanging icy handshakes. It appeared that James, and possibly some other contestants, would have preferred that Jacob go instead. The poor guy must have felt awful–kind of like that night when Stefano got booed after he stayed over Pia Toscano.

As for the last spot in the bottom three, that came down to Haley Reinhart and Scotty McCreery. It seemed that Scotty might finally find out what it’s like to feel the cold molded steel of those bottom-three stools (his performance this week was unanimously panned, plus he went first in the kiss-of-death slot, while Haley did Adele proud). But of course, the invincible Scotty was safe yet again. However, at least Haley, who was also undeservedly in the bottom three last week, didn’t have to sweat too much, as she’d barely had a chance to settle into her stool before Ryan whisked her back to the comforting couch, stage-whispering in her ear, “You’re safe!”

For now, that is. But if Haley keeps landing in the bottom three after dynamite performances like this week’s, how much longer can she survive? Apparently America prefers female singers who try to ape Lady Gaga–like tonight’s guest performer Katy Perry, who sang “E.T.” in some sort of bizarre, LCD-enhanced, queen-of-the-sea-monkeys outfit. What happened to Katy’s cute little ’40s pin-up onesies and original rocker-chick style? Or her old “Adam Lambert” Vegas cape?

And finally, speaking of guest performers, Season 7 champ David Cook, “someone who never felt the sting of rejection” as Ryan put it, was a bright spot, triumphantly returning to the show to sing his fun and Foos-y new anthem, “The Last Goodbye.” (What a fitting title for a results show, huh?) In terms of showmanship and onstage professionalism, Cookie totally showed the top 7 (who’d just slaughtered Train and Coldplay in two typically corny group numbers) how it’s done. But audio-wise, David’s performance lamentably seemed a little off, as if he couldn’t hear himself properly. Did the same sound techs who botched Jacob Lusk’s performance Wednesday night work on David’s too? Well, at least David’s mom seemed happy, since she was mainly there to meet Steven Tyler. Mama Cook got her wish, hugged Steven a little too snugly (David cocked an eyebrow and mock-sternly told Tyler, “We’re gonna have to have a talk once the cameras are off”), and even flashed the metal horns. NowI see where her rocker son gets it from.

Parker out!


For Rock and Roll Hall of Fame week, the night started off with just the right superstar talking points: Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Elton John, James Brown… Will.I.Am? Errrkay. The week’s co-mentor is a Jimmy Iovine crony — and a serious hitmaker in his own right — much like Gwen Stefani, who styled the Top 9 in her own L.A.M.B. line (it must be said: did Gwen also dress Randy Jackson, or is he auditioning for a spot in the Black Eyed Peas?) Neither was seen in the studio audience, according to our own Shirley Halperin, but Todd Rungren was along with Christian Slater (more on him later), pimping his new Fox show Breaking In. Also spotted in the house: Season 8 finalist Scott MacIntyre and his fiancée Christina Teich, who canoodled every chance they got. 

Up first was Jacob Lusk, who said that he changed his song from “Let’s Get It On” to “Man in the Mirror” because his moral code prevents him from conveying that raunchy a message or something like that. Then, he threw down a challenge: if he ends up in the bottom 3 on Thursday night, then America “wasn’t ready to look at themselves in the mirror.” Ok, Jacob — way to triple dog dare the audience. We’ll see how that works out for you. 
As for the performance, Jacob seemed to be having trouble with his in-ears at the beginning of the song so he just yanked them out. He then sang a duet with Naima… Ok, not Naima, but Siedah Garrett, who co-wrote the Michael Jackson hit. Jacob looked a little awkward trying some hip swivels, but I like him working with a partner. Too bad he didn’t try to do something that had a little more rock in it.  After beckoning Garrett back out and crediting her with writing the ‘greatest song ever written,” Steven Tyler then gave his standard critique: “that was beautiful.” Steven, please do us all a favor and try another adjective. Jennifer said Jacob makes us feel like we can do anything (except get it on, perhaps?). Randy was proud of him and said he had “Jacob moments all over the place.” 
Haley Reinhart probably has the best shot on a rock-and-roll-themed night, with that Janis Joplin growl on “Piece of My Heart. It was time that she embraced the Joplin comparison, but if you’ve never seen footage of the legendary singer, check out one of the greatest moments at WoodstockMelissa Etheridge also absolutely KILLED it performing the same song at Woodstock 94 decades later. So Reinhart had big shoes to fill Wednesday night, and she had the rock look down decked in leather, but for some reason hiding her legs in pants (a bummer for Idol’s few male viewers, no doubt). Still, she brought it down with a bluesy finish that had Jennifer growling while speaking — it’s infectious! Jennifer said the competition was off to a strong start and Randy agreed, welcoming Haley back for the umpteenth time this season. Steven credits Janis with giving rock and roll “the voice in 1968,” and Haley brought it back. A mighty big compliment for what was by far Haley’s strongest performance, even if I still see her as Miley Cyrus’s long lost twin. 
For Casey Abrams to do “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” the same week the mighty Constantine Maroulis returns to the stage was a tall order. Even Jimmy warned him that he sounded too Vegas, so Casey changed his song as well, even deciding to bring out the upright bass. It turned out Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Fogerty’s vocal was a much better match for Casey. Though he’s still gritting his teeth when he sings, which puts me off every time, this was a fine performance. Randy told him that he made CCR proud, and proclaimed him a revolutionary for making the upright bass cool again. Steven called him a “true musician,” and Jennifer said she would pay top dollar to be in the front row, which is, of course, a fraction of what she pays for a pair of her Louboutin shoes. 
Lauren Alaina came next with Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” which had Christian Slater cheering in the audience. Lauren’s country spin holds up and is pleasant enough but I’ve heard it done better. Still, Jennifer called her amazing, and Randy wasn’t jumping up and down, but alluded to people in previous seasons (ahem, Kelly Clarkson) who sang the heck out of that song. Steven loved her voice and was borderline drooling over Lauren, telling her, “You came here an immature little girl. Now you’re a natural born woman.” Walk this way, Lauren. Walk this way.
James Durbin also referenced a past Idol, channeling the Adam Lambert look on his slowed down version of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I understand James trying to turn in a more subtle performance a la Adam, but the song’s lower register threatens his pitch. He can’t help himself, though, and lets out a wail at the end. He even, yes, weeped. Jennifer and Randy loved his sensitive side, and advised him that chances like these advance careers. As for Steven, perhaps he needs a reminder that George Harrison was in the Beatles when he wrote that song.
Bringing out the country side of rock was Scotty McCreery with “That’s All Right, Mama” by Elvis Presley, and for the second time, we got an upright bass!  Scotty grew up idolizing Elvis, and dagumit, he sounded like him on Wednesday night! If you closed your eyes and listened, it was as if the King were there possessing young Scotty (his hip swivels even rivaled Jacob’s). The unlikely teen idol this season had girls bum-rushing the stage (orchestrated by Nigel Lythgoe, says Shirley) but left me wondering: did Elvis hold his microphone to the side? Just putting it out there. Randy announced that we were witnessing the “new Scotty,” while Jennifer wanted to know if Scotty watches rap, because she feels some “flavor.” Um, not so much. Steven, in classic form, whips up another Tyler-ism, “I thought you were all hat, no cattle.” 
As promised, Pia Toscano took on Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High.” I would have preferred “Proud Mary“ but that’s just me. Meanwhile, Gwen dressed her like a lamb. As in Mary Had a Little Lamb. I have to hand it to Pia, she is so in control of her vocals, it’s scary. She even used pyrotechnics, and actually moved around the stage. Christian Slater’s daughter also loves Pia, and I’m having trouble seeing my dreamboat from “Heathers” as a dad. Sigh… Jennifer told Pia how special she is and declared that her mission is to make Pia even greater. Randy was pleased that Pia can deliver an up-tempo song and I was loving Pia’s jewelry. Steven made another head-scratching quip: “There’s a million guys, in a million bars, having a million drinks about you tonight.”  Again — what? He really is becoming the male version of Paula!
Still looking for connection, Stefano Langone chose Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves a Woman.” Coached by Will.I.am and Ryan Tedder, they tried their best to get him to be more Percy and less Michael Bolton. Stefano kept his eyes open, used his sweet falsetto, and engaged in a way we haven’t seen yet, but he was nearly wheezing towards the end and I still felt like I was on a cruise ship (Simon Cowell, come back!). Jennifer was, of course, super proud of him, and cried out “Baby, baby, I knew you had it in you!” But Randy wasn’t feeling it, instructing Stefano to let the song marinate. So Idol is now a cooking show. 
Idol’s “imperfect boy” and Vote For The Worst’s love child Paul McDonald considered toning down Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” but Will.i.am and Jimmy disagreed, advising him to do all kinds of crazy things, like drink his own spit and get all “method” with his hair. It’s unclear whether Paul listened, but he nevertheless redeemed himself with impressive energy, nearly attacking the guitarist with some crazed dance moves. It’s a barn burner, y’all! Randy gave him three words, “I loved it,” and Jennifer said the performance was right in Paul’s lane. It all led to a raucous end to the show as the contestants boogied through the credits, but was it enough to erase the stench Paul left on stage last week?
Bottom 3 this week? I call Jacob (because he dared me), Stefano, and a toss up between Paul and Lauren. What say you, Idol Worshipers? 
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