Sanjaya Malakar courtesy Fox Sanjaya Malakar courtesy Fox

Insulated as the American Idol contestants are - or at least have the opportunity to be - from the media buzz surrounding television's top-rated program, 17-year-old Sanjaya Malakar nonetheless had to have some sense that the tide was certainly against him, if only based on Simon's harsh criticisms. Accordingly, asked the show's headline-dwelling castoff if he ever thought of dropping out, out of deference to his fellow and better-received singers. "Not at all. Not at all," he told us the day after singing a farewell encore of "Something to Talk About." (His initial selection for "country week," by the way, was actually Janis Joplin's "Mercedes-Benz.") "I was going to stay as long as I possibly could and work every week and try to learn from everything that happened."

We then asked Sanjaya if his philosophy - his "strategy," if you will - was to simply, "Go for broke" by way of sporting such wild and buzzworthy hats, hairstyles and ensembles. Rather, he explained, "My philosophy was to stay true to myself and try to put my personality out there."

And that he did. - Reporting by Matt Webb Mitovich