On June 14th, 2011 Sanjaya Malakar turned heads at the Musicquarium Lounge in Seattle, Washington with a tight set of grooving, soulful pop. Malakar was a popular but controversial finalist on season six of American Idol when he was only seventeen years old. He made headlines with his daring fashion and hairstyle choices from week to week; choices that often overshadowed his vocal ability. For many naysayers, he was the embodiment of everything that could be considered negative about American Idol.
Now twenty-one and poised to tour nationally this summer (and release his first full-length album later in the year), Malakar proved how much can change in four years. As the closing act of the Songs for June benefit for the cancer support group Gilda’s Club Seattle, he sang and performed confidently while leading a four-piece band. Opening with a version of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing,” Malakar was in strong voice, clearly giving his all in an attempt to win some new fans while supporting a worthy cause.
Some notable naysayers were forced to eat crow. Seattle radio personality Rick Robertson, who hosted the benefit, personally apologized to Malakar after the show for having “judged a book by its cover” based on his dislike of American Idol. The next day on Robertson’s new KXRX internet radio program, he drove the point home even further. “It pained me to promote Sanjaya, after starting this new show,” Robertson explained, “But now I got this kid’s back - I’ll go see him again. He’s a good performer and singer.”
During a set that also included covers of The Zuton’s “Valerie” (modeled more closely after Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson’s version) and Squeeze’s “Tempted” (also Malakar’s latest single release), the audience reacted enthusiastically to the positive energy. As would be expected, there were numerous fans and supporters present. But there were also those in the audience who, like Robertson, had preconceived notions based on Malakar’s Idol reputation. Another musician who performed earlier in the evening offered strong praise, calling Malakar a “great singer” with a “tight and tasteful” band.