His faux-hawk got most of the credit for keeping him on American Idol. But critics won't sway Sanjaya Malakar when it comes to pursuing his music career. We caught up with the teen heartthrob 24 hours after he finished celebrating his 18th birthday. Here is what the controversial singer had to say about becoming a legal adult, recording his first album and getting a "good, old-fashioned country butt-whooping" from Phil Stacey on the American Idols Live! Tour.
TV Guide: Where are you today?
Sanjaya: We're in Greensboro, North Carolina.
TV Guide: Are you exhausted yet?
Sanjaya: Yeah. I just got back from Chicago at 5 o'clock this morning. It was my birthday yesterday so I went there.
TV Guide: Happy birthday! Did everyone go with you?
Sanjaya: No. I actually went to see a concert but it was raining, so it was canceled. So everyone came to Greensboro and I went to Chicago basically to buy a pair of shoes.
TV Guide: What concert were you supposed to go to?
Sanjaya: Stevie Wonder.
TV Guide: Were you really bummed?
Sanjaya: Yeah. But it's OK. I figure I'll see him in concert another time.
TV Guide: Did you meet anybody else there?
Sanjaya: My mom and my sister were there.
TV Guide: Did you just end up going out to dinner instead?
TV Guide: Did anybody sing "Happy Birthday" to you?
Sanjaya: Yeah, actually at the show the day before, my sister came on stage after my song and led the entire audience in singing "Happy Birthday" to me. That was really, really cool!
TV Guide: So you had thousands of people sing "Happy Birthday" to you?
Sanjaya: It was pretty insane.
TV Guide: So you didn't perform in Chicago yesterday, right?
Sanjaya: No. I was in D.C. the day before yesterday, then everyone came here. It's hard to keep track.
TV Guide: Did the Idols do anything for your birthday?
Sanjaya: I haven't really been able to celebrate with them yet. But hopefully we'll be able to have some kind of party. The guys are going to kick my butt because it's my initiation into manhood because I'm 18, so that's cool.
TV Guide: They're going to beat you up?
Sanjaya: Well, Phil described it as a "good old-fashioned country butt-whooping." So I'm fine with that. I figure I probably need it. I'll probably have big welts on my face at the next show.
TV Guide: So they're going to come after you unexpectedly?
TV Guide: I'm sure you'll sleep well tonight then.
Sanjaya: Yeah [Laughs].
TV Guide: Aside from that, are you excited about turning 18?
Sanjaya: I guess for voting, but I'll be 19 when I vote for president. I don't smoke so that doesn't really excite me.
TV Guide: You can go to casinos, right?
Sanjaya: I can go to some casinos, but gambling doesn't really excite me. It's cool, though. Legally I'm an adult. I can travel as an adult now.
TV Guide: Any stories from the tour?
Sanjaya: I've been trying to sleep as much as possible. Right now I'm exhausted because I barely slept last night and I had a two-hour flight at 4 o'clock in the morning, so I just got here. I've just been trying to catch up on sleep as much as possible. I'm definitely an insomniac.
TV Guide: What do you do to try to fall asleep, then?
Sanjaya: When I'm on the bus, I try to sleep as much as I can. The lull of the bus is kind of like a crib, so that's kind of nice. But I basically just lay down before I fall asleep.
TV Guide: You have very enthusiastic fans. Have you met anybody memorable on the road?
Sanjaya: Actually, I'm really happy with my fan base. At first I was kind of freaked out because they were a bunch of screaming 12-year-olds. But it's actually a lot more diverse than I thought it was. There's all kinds of people. It's cool. I actually got a little stuffed monkey from a fan. I named it Dog and I wore it on stage. That was pretty cool. That was my little guest star for the show.
TV Guide: You wore it on stage at the show they were at?
Sanjaya: I wore it on stage at the show they were at.
TV Guide: Why did you name a monkey Dog?
Sanjaya: Because as soon as it makes sense for me to have one, I'm going to get a dog.
TV Guide: What kind of dog do you want?
Sanjaya: I really want a Lab Russell terrier. I don't know if those exist, but it's a Jack Russell terrier/Lab mix. That would be a really cool mix. But if not, I would want a Jack Russell terrier.
TV Guide: Are you going to get a rescue dog or buy one from a breeder?
Sanjaya: I think I'd definitely go to the Humane Society. They need help, so why not?
TV Guide: Maybe that can be your 18th birthday present to yourself.
Sanjaya: Yeah, definitely. But right now, I don't even have a place. I'm moving to L.A. in October.
TV Guide: Are you nervous about moving?
Sanjaya: Yeah. I'm a little apprehensive; I've never really wanted to live in L.A. because I'm very much a Seattle boy. If it made sense for me to do it, I'd much rather stay in Seattle, but it doesn't make sense, because I want to be in the entertainment business. So why not go to Hollywood?
TV Guide: Are you moving alone?
Sanjaya: Actually, my family is moving out with me. My mom and my sister are moving out. My sister and I are getting an apartment together, hopefully near the water.
TV Guide: Are you just going to stick to singing, or are you interested in acting, too?
Sanjaya: I'm definitely going to focus on music because that's my passion. So I'm going to do that and definitely focus on that. But I'm interested in other things, like acting and modeling. So basically I'm just going to see where the road takes me and ride the wave. I'm excited about it.
TV Guide: Have you been approached with any offers yet?
Sanjaya: Yeah, I've gotten a couple of things, but it's basically all just ideas and stuff. I've been talking to people, but once the tour is over, I'll really be able to focus on it.
TV Guide: Any projects you're excited about?
Sanjaya: I'm really excited about my album. I'm going to start working on it as soon as I move out to L.A. I'm going to start meeting with writers.
TV Guide: What kind of album do you want to make?
Sanjaya: That's a hard question. See, I don't necessarily know how to describe it; when I do, it sounds like I don't know what I'm talking about. But I have a really, really, really good idea. Basically, it's just going to be me. It's going to be my personality in the form of music.
TV Guide: Are you going to do pop or R&B? I'm assuming you're not doing country....
Sanjaya: Actually, I'm moving to Nashville to record.
TV Guide: Really?
Sanjaya: No. See, it's going to be an R&B-rooted vocal style, but I want to integrate jazz emotion and rock energy and world beats, world sounds. So it sounds kind of schizophrenic, but I'd marry them in a comfortable way. I'm confident it will sound good.
TV Guide: Have you spoken with any labels about a record deal yet?
Sanjaya: Yeah, we've been talking. But nothing is really concrete yet. I've been focusing a lot on the tour. We're free from contracts, so we can start negotiating. As soon as the tour is over, I'll be able to really focus on that.
TV Guide: What was your favorite city you've visited on tour so far?
Sanjaya: Unless we have a day off, we really don't get to see the cities, just the venues. That kind of sucks, but we've had a couple of days off in places like New York. We had a day off in Philadelphia and I saw Wicked. That was really, really cool. It was amazing! Afterward, we went out and ate with a couple of the cast members.
TV Guide: Would you ever want to do Broadway?
Sanjaya: Yeah. I was in musical theater from second grade for four years. I also acted throughout high school. So I'd love to do that. That would be really, really fun.
TV Guide: How's the food been on the road?
Sanjaya: Some of the cities are pretty good, but for the most part, it's kind of hard, especially since I'm predominantly vegetarian. I'll eat chicken and fish but I don't eat any red meat, so it's hard sometimes to go into catering and see a steak or whatever it is. Or, say, see Philly cheesesteak sandwiches in Philadelphia and know I can't eat that even though they're supposed to be stupendous.
TV Guide: Do they accommodate your diet?
Sanjaya: They always have some diet, but it's not necessarily that good.
TV Guide: Are you living off of steamed vegetables and bread then?
Sanjaya: Yeah. People don't realize vegetarians don't only eat vegetables. If there are restaurants around, I can go get stuff. I keep myself fed! It's just a lot harder.
TV Guide: Are you losing weight because there aren't many food options?
Sanjaya: I've been consistently the same weight for a long time. I guess that's a good thing, because at least I'm not losing weight. I feel like I should gain weight, but I'm always running all over the place.
TV Guide: Any plans to celebrate the end of the tour?
Sanjaya: Actually, they had an end-of-tour dinner yesterday while I was in Chicago. So, unfortunately, I wasn't able to go. But hopefully we'll all get together again and celebrate. I'm sure we will.
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