American Idol Invited Sanjaya to Reunion, But Wouldn’t Pay Airfare

Sanjaya Malakar
According to American Idol alum Sanjaya Malakar, producers invited him to appear on the Great Idol Reunion special, which aired in May to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary. He agreed to do it, but with a caveat. He didn’t want to be the butt of a joke. Because, previous Idol appearances usually involved different ways to make him look foolish.

“I went back and it just felt like they were really excited for me to be able to be made fun of more,” he told Insider. He was grateful for the show, but said he felt like American Idol played a game of “let’s see how many punchlines we can get out of him.”

Many of you remember Sanjaya as the Season 6 contestant who kept advancing round after round, beating out contestants whom die-hard fans considered better singers. The “highlight” of his run featured a performance of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” while a young fan (“Crying Girl” as she came to be known) sobbed in the audience. He eventually left the show in sixth place. 

The last time Sanjaya appeared on Idol, Jimmy Kimmel rolled him out on stage in a “time capsule”

He tried to roll with the Idol invites that invariably turned cringe. For instance, he participated in a bit on the ABC season One finale in 2018, where Jimmy Kimmel literally rolled him out on stage in a “Time Capsule.” Later, Sanjaya joined a group of “losers” on Jimmy’s late night show to sing a “We Are the World” parody. So when Sanjaya was invited to appear on the show in May for the 20th anniversary, he decided to set ground rules.

He insisted Idol treat him like an artist. Idol producers said his flight was too expensive

“I’m totally down,” Sanjaya recalled telling the producers. “I just want to say one thing: Every time I’ve ever gone on to ‘American Idol,’ I’ve been the butt of the joke.”

“If I do come back,” he added, “it would be really great if I was able to present myself as an artist, not as a reality-television joke.”

After Sanjaya set new terms for himself, he said, a showrunner told him his flight to Los Angeles for the reunion would be too expensive to cover. “I guess boundaries are expensive,” he told Insider.

Shaking off the “joke” image proved to be impossible

When Sanjaya competed on American Idol season 6 in 2007 as a teen, he had no idea that shaking off his “joke contestant” image would be so difficult. 

“I didn’t realize how intensely it would happen that there would really be no turning back,” he said. “And there will be no way ever for me in my life to take back the memories that so many people have of me in their living room.”

“Getting a job after doing ‘American Idol’ was really difficult for me,” he said. “Not because people wouldn’t hire me or anything like that, but because I had people telling me: ‘No, you can’t get a job. If you get a job, people won’t value you as much as an artist.'”

Sanjaya works as a pastry chef, but will to appear on The Masked Singer

He recalled people telling him, “You don’t want people to see Sanjaya from American Idol working at a pizza shop.”

But there is rent to pay. These days, Sanjaya works as a pastry chef, which he enjoys. Would he compete on another reality show? After American Idol he competed on Fear Factor and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.  But these days, he wouldn’t do a food competition because he’s afraid the stress would ruin his love of cooking.  But he is down for The Masked Singer! Do you hear that FOX?

About mj santilli 34574 Articles
Founder and editor of, home of the awesomest fan community on the net. I love cheesy singing shows of all kinds, whether reality or scripted. I adore American Idol, but also love The Voice, Glee, X Factor and more!