Credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX © 2007 Fox Broadcasting Co Photo: Sanjaya Malakar Performs in American Idol Season 6

While there have been many memorable American Idol contestants over the years, who can forget the voice — and the hair! — of Season 6 sensation Sanjaya Malakar? In an exclusive Wetpaint.com Q&A, Sanjaya shares his thoughts on this year’s crop of American Idol hopefuls, Simon Cowell, and life after Idol.

WP: Who are your favorite contestants on Idol so far this season?

SM: Some of the ones that stood out have been Naima Adedapo and I really like Thia Megia. She has a really unique tone. She’s 15 and for someone that young she really knows her voice. I know for me when I was that young I didn’t really know how to make my voice the best that it could be. I hadn’t spent the time to really get to my voice on that level — she obviously has.

WP: Any early predictions on who you think will win this season?

SM: (Laughs) I have no idea! I think I’d be able to make some guesses if I hadn’t done the show and I didn’t know how unpredictable it is. It has a lot to do with endurance. You have to stay healthy and stay on your game mentally and physically throughout the entire thing. That’s really what will make you win. It’s a little early to figure out. You never really know what you’re getting yourself into.

WP: What is your advice for aspiring Idol contestants?

SM: For one: keep yourself healthy. If you are auditioning, know how you want to represent yourself. Be confident in that, because If you don’t really know you’re not going to have that same kind of presence that makes the judges say, ‘You have it. You’re worthy.’ But also have fun with it. If you take it too seriously you won’t have the right kind of experience.

WP: What do you think of the new judges?

SM: I think they’re great. This year it’s obviously more of a performer-heavy group. I think it’s easier to take a performer’s criticism because they have that experience. It’s more like, ‘Hey, I’ve been there. I know because I’ve done it.’ We had that with Paula and with Randy but with Simon it was more an executive looking at it and thinking, ‘How will I be able to market you? How can I sell you if you become a star?’ I think [Paula and Randy] also made him a little more frustrated because they didn’t quite have that same perspective.

WP: Do you miss Simon being on the show?                                                                  

SM: Yeah… A little bit. I liked him, I thought he was funny. I think having that harsh reality was a good balance to Paula’s sweet. But then she left and it kind of got fumbled around a little bit until they settled on three solid judges. It was a good move to go in this direction.

WP: What are you up to now? We know you joined a new off-Broadway production called Freckleface Strawberry. Can you tell us a bit about it?

SM: It’s a musical adaptation from a children’s book that Julianne Moore wrote. When she was around 7 to 10 she had freckles and red hair and all of her friends at school would make fun of her. They called her ‘Freckleface Strawberry.’ So she wrote this book to show that even if you have what you consider flaws and insecurities it doesn’t really matter. Underneath it all you are who you are — that’s what’s special about you. In the play, each character has their own little thing that makes them really comfortable and cocky, but there’s also always that insecurity, that thing you’re not as good at. ‘We’re all different just like everyone else,’ is one of the main lines from the book and the play.

WP: You're also planning an album. Can you tell us about that?

SM: It’s called ‘Life, Love, Music’. I’ve been writing songs for the last couple of years. I’m not trying to make hits, necessarily. Obviously, I’d like them to be, but I’m trying to make songs that say something. Most of them are from life experiences and observations. It’s really about keeping the music organic and honest and emotional. It’s going really well and it’s always exciting to see something that you’ve put so much energy and emotion into come to fruition.