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Gape not: Sanjaya has pop formula

March 23, 2007|Ann Powers

A pop-music critic's take:

OK, musical tastemakers: Shut those gaping jaws. Sanjaya Malakar has survived another week in the "American Idol" labyrinth. Thank Howard Stern or worry about the young lady who vows a hunger strike until he's voted off (check her act at www.myspace.com/starvationforsanjaya). But don't act surprised that this season's preteen dream is still around.

From the minute he flirted his way into his first audition, Sanjaya has projected all the qualities of a tween (formerly teen; kids grow up faster now) star. Like Andy Gibb, he has a grin that gleams like the planet Venus. Like Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, his hair is a subject unto itself. Like Wilmer Valderrama, he is a heartthrob well suited to the era of multiculturalism. Like Leonardo DiCaprio, he's a young man who seems like he'll never stop being a boy.

Most of all, like a host of pop stars from David Bowie to Pete Wentz, Sanjaya is femme. Tween and teen stars appeal to girls just beginning to explore their sexuality; their fantasies gravitate toward the familiar. Familiar is female. Sanjaya's awkward stance and undaunted prettiness are sweetly girlish; where the other male contestants lamely swagger, he poses and smiles. As for the voice -- have you ever listened to the Monkees? In tween pop, it's about the whisper, not the scream.

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