If you were watching American Idol back in the mid 2000s, you surely remember Sanjaya Malakar, the 16-year-old whose singing voice, along with speculation about his sexuality, made him the target of merciless mockery both on the show and online.
In a recent interview, Malakar, now 32, addressed his brief brush with fame and notoriety--and came out as bisexual, as well.
Malakar shared his experience on the podcast "The Adam Sank Show," giving an insight into the impacts of bullying and homophobia on young LGBTQ+ people.
Malakar was instantly and mercilessly mocked during his tenure on American Idol, including by judge Simon Cowell, who called his singing voice "utterly horrendous."
Despite the judges' distaste for him, he rode wave after wave of at-home voting from fans all the way to 7th place. Many attributed this success to figures like Howard Stern urging people to vote for Malakar on a website meant to sabotage the competition called 'Vote for the Worst'.
Along the way he was mercilessly and publicly mocked. But it wasn't just his singing voice that online trolls made fun of--speculation around Malakar's sexuality played into the negative attention as well.
During the podcast, Malakar told Sank he now identifies as bisexual. But at the time of his appearance on American Idol, he did not know what his sexual identity was--and it made his difficult time on the show all the more confusing. He told Sank:
"I identify as bisexual. At the time, I did not know, which was why it was so weird for me…"
Malakar also said that by the time he was on American Idol he'd been dealing with speculation about his sexuality since he was just a young child--long before he understood what sexual orientation even was.
"I was raised by women, I was in theater, I had a hard time figuring out how to interact with young boys.”
"Everyone [kept] telling me that I’m gay, and I’m, like, seven. I’m ,like, I don’t even have any attraction to anyone, so why are you telling me this?"
Things spotlight that was on him once he joined American Idol only intensified the confusion.
“I was exploring my life as a child, and then American Idol happens, and everyone’s like ‘He’s gay.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, now I have to say “No.’ Because at this point, they’re forcing me to make a decision, and to define myself.”
Malakar told Sank that while childhood adversity had left him well equipped to deal with the backlash, it was traumatic all the same--and it was the fans that made it far worse than anything Cowell threw at him.
“I definitely had quite a bit of verbal abuse from stepdads growing up. So I was really good at letting it kind of wash off my back.”
“Obviously, it affected me. But more than what Simon said, what was perpetuated online by haters… like, the people that loved me were so balanced by people that were literally starving themselves until I got cut from the show.”
“So that effect that I had as a child on that many people had way more of an effect on me than the things that Simon was saying.”
On social media, people were thrilled to welcome Malakar into the LGBTQ+ community and applauded him for speaking up about his experience.
Nowadays, Malakar has a whole new life--and it definitely doesn't involve caring about what people think. He's had a lot of fun on social media making light of his past as an online pariah, to joyously hilarious results.
Malakar now works as a professional pastry chef in Montana, with his favorite sweet dish to make being his grandmother's egg custard recipe. As he told Insider earlier this year:
"I tend to make myself comfort-food foods, and egg custard is the ultimate. It's just milk, egg, sugar, vanilla, a little bit of nutmeg, and it's perfect."
But don't expect to see him on any cooking reality shows any time soon. Malakar told Insider he fears it would ruin his love for cooking much like American Idol did with singing for a time.
Thankfully his love for music eventually returned, and as he's shown on social media he can actually sing, for the record!
Though his reality days may be behind him, Malakar did tell Insider he would be willing to go on a show like The Masked Singer just for the pure shock value. As he put it:
"I would want to go on, sing a song or something, have people be like, 'Oh, sh*t!' and, then, be done."
Whether that ever happens or not, it seems like Malakar is getting the last laugh nowadays--and a well earned one, at that.