Before I begin, let me prefice this by saying I am not a fan of Sanjaya Malakar. I believe his success is damaging the credibility of American Idol, and I literally can not wait until he gets voted off the show.
Having said that, I have started to think that Sanjaya might (gulp) be the second coming of Tamyra Gray.
What, you say? How dare I compare the pitchless wonder to one of the greatest Idol contestants ever? Sacrilege!
Bear with me as I lay out this theory...
There are two different kinds of Idol contestants -- those who come out every week, regardless of the theme, and perform in their own style, adapting their song choice to what they do; and those who wholeheartedly embrace that week's theme, evoking the style to the extent that they attempt to actually become an artist from that genre or time period.
Ruben Studdard, Chris Daughtry, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, and Bo Bice are examples of the first kind of Idol contestant -- they would take a song, be it from the 60's, a country tune, or a current pop hit, and sing it in their own unique style. Every song Ruben sang, be it "A Whole New World," "Sweet Home Alabama," or "Nights on Broadway," was a Ruben song. LaKisha Jones and Chris Richardson are doing that this year -- each week, the song, regardless of the theme, feels like LaKisha or feels like Chris. This is not a bad thing -- in fact, it could be a great thing. A successful Idol contestant, after all, should be able to sing anything, and the success of Ruben, Daughtry, 'Tasia, Carrie, and Bo is a testament to how well this strategy works in the competition.
Then there is the other kind of contestant -- the one who really throws himself into each week's theme, adopting the persona of the time period or style in an attempt to really summons the vibe of the genre. In my opinion, Tamyra Gray is the perfect, and most succesful, example of this kind of contestant (Nadia Turner is another, slightly less successful example). For the motown theme, Tamyra was Diana Ross. For the 60's, she became Tina Turner. She turned into Roberta Flack for the 70's, Cab Calloway for standards week, Dionne Warwick for Burt Bacharach week, etc. From hairstyle to clothing choices, Tamyra didn't adapt the song to her style, she adapted her style to the theme. And it was often thrilling to watch.
So, I come back to my original question -- is Sanajaya Malakar the second coming of Tamyra Gray?
As far as I am concerned, no contestant since Tamyra has so immersed themselves in the different themes as Sanjaya has. For British invasion week, he rocked out like the Kinks, hairstyle and all. For Gwen Stefani week, he transformed into a ska punk rocker, complete with faux-hawk. Tony Bennett week meant Sanjaya slicked his hair back and rocked a white suit. And now, according to comments made by Jennifer Lopez's manager in this morning's Variety, it appears Sanjaya will actually sing a Spanish-language song. Talk about really embracing the genre!
Of course there is no way for Sanjaya to even hold a candle to Tamyra Gray -- he simply doesn't have the vocal chops (not by a thousand miles) or the performance savvy. But (and of course I am not the first person to suggest this) I believe Sanjaya's success in this competition has come, at least in part, because of his willingness to really throw himself into each week's theme. Despite the nails-on-chalkboard sound that he produces, there is no denying the entertainment value in watching someone embrace the spirit of each week's genre like Sanjaya has. And it creates an additional excitement value -- what will he do next?
So yes, maybe Sanjaya is the second coming of Tamyra -- in some sort of alternative universe where pitch and tone are irrelevant.
Now that we've identified that -- can we please get rid of the kid?