Fifteen years after becoming a household name as the teen contestant with amazing hair on “American Idol,” Sanjaya Malakar is ready to speak his truth. Now 32, bearded and nearly bald, the pastry chef and bartender lives in Montana, but is making headlines in Hollywood.
Malakar just came out publicly as bisexual on a new podcast, but he also discussed the cruelty he endured as a minor on the show in 2007, and what he’d like to say to judge Simon Cowell today.
Why Malakar Told Podcaster About His Sexual Orientation Before Telling His Parents
On a new episode of The Adam Sank Show, published on August 22, 2022, Malakar talked about his confusion as a child when people would tell him he was probably gay, long before he had any thoughts of romance or attraction. The chatter only intensified when he was on season 6 of “Idol,” subjected to public scrutiny on virtually everything about him when he was just 17.
“I was the awkward theater kid,” he told Sank. “So I got along with theater kids, I always got along with gay kids and with girls. So I was like, ok this is like, my people.”
But that didn’t mean he identified as being gay, he said. During his run on “Idol,” in fact, he had a serious girlfriend but said show producers and publicists encouraged him to say he was single in order to attract more fans.
When Sank asked if he’d like to share how he identifies today, Malakar said, “I identify as bisexual. At the time (of the show), I did not know.”
Malakar said he doesn’t see this as huge news.
“Like, at this point I don’t really care what people know of my sexuality,” he said. Malakar revealed that he hadn’t even formally told his parents at the time of the interview because he doesn’t think it will be a big deal to them.
“If I got in a serious long-term relationship with a guy, I would bring him to my family, and they would be like, ‘Oh, cool.’”
Malakar Does Have a Message for Simon Cowell
During the podcast interview, Sank recalled being one of the countless stand-up comedians who made fun of Malakar in 2007; the singer would receive enough votes from fans to stay on the show week after week, but was routinely panned by the judges — particularly by Simon Cowell — and critics. He made it into 7th place before being eliminated from the show.
“I should have f***ing known better,” Sank said. “I was a moron in 2006. We forgot you were a real human being.”
Malakar responded, “Yeah, a child.”
Both Sank and Malakar said they’re grateful times have changed, and believe it would no longer fly for an on-air judge or comedian to ridicule a teenager as much as it was allowed back then. Sank played an audio clip in which Cowell could be heard telling Malakar on-air that his performance was “utterly horrendous,” and then getting irritated with host Ryan Seacrest for standing up for the teen.
“It was as bad as anything we see at the beginning of ‘American Idol,'” Cowell continued. “I know this has been funny for a while, but based on the fact we are supposed to be finding an ‘American Idol,’ it was hideous.”
Malakar said that though Cowell’s words stung, the public hatred toward him was even harder to handle. Sank pointed out that probably wouldn’t have been as harsh if Cowell had toned down his rhetoric. But Malakar gave the judge a bit of a pass.
“I was very aware that he was being paid to say these things,” Malakar said, adding that he thought it was sad he had to act that way to make his mark in the industry. He revealed that Cowell did approach him at an after-party following the finale and that he said, “I just need to say, I have so much respect for you in how much grace you took my comments with.”
Asked whether he has a message for Cowell today, Malakar responded with a laugh: “Thank you for showing me exactly what the industry is about and teaching me that it’s not necessarily what I needed to involve myself in.”
Malakar is no longer involved in the music industry, although he said he occasionally plays a gig with local bands. In 2020, when most Americans were still in some variation of a lockdown due to the pandemic, Malakar did a Facebook Live concert of cover songs that can still be seen online.