The latest "American Idol" wildcard is Anoop "Noop Dog" Desai who is fast becoming a fan favorite with his cheerful appeal and moving story.
Desai, "Idol's" amiable Indian-American contestant, cut through the competition Wednesday night, hanging on as one of the top 11 in season eight of Fox's ultra-popular singing competition. Despite his much criticized rendition of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" Tuesday, Desai managed to drum up enough fan support to stay in the race, while voters sent Jasmine Murray and Jorge Nunez packing.
Desai could benefit from "Idol's" newly implemented "Judges' Save" -- a rule that allows Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Kara Dioguardi to band together, override the public's vote and save an eliminated contestant on one occasion this season. If and when immunity is granted to the lowest vote-getter, no contestant will be ousted that night, which will result in a double-elimination the following week.
But with an ever-growing band of fans who call themselves "Anoop's Troop," who coined the nickname "Noop Dog" and come to "Idol" tapings toting handmade signs, Desai may not have a problem staying in the competition. He's already an underdog, having been eliminated in February only to be given a second chance in March's wild-card round, where he was almost cut again.
After making it into the finals last week, Desai, 22, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina, revealed his reason for being on "Idol," moving both his supporters and those who don't know him.
"It's been a tough day. We're all thinking of Eve, and I love you, Chapel Hill," Anoop announced to millions of "Idol" viewers.
Desai was referring to Eve Carson, the student body president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was kidnapped and murdered last March. The 22-year-old former high school valedictorian had been shot several times, and $1,400 had been withdrawn from ATMs using her debit card.
Carson's murder sparked a manhunt in North Carolina and a wave of fear at campuses across the country. Weeks after her death, police arrested two men, 21-year-old Demario James Atwater and 17-year-old Laurence Alvin Lovette. Both remain in prison awaiting trial.
Carson and Desai were close friends. She encouraged him to pursue his musical talents and to try out for "American Idol." In a conference call interview with reporters last week, Desai talked about how he thinks of Carson every time he performs on the show.
"When we graduated in May, they passed out to the entire senior class these big buttons that just say 'Eve' in Carolina blue letters on them," he said. "The buttons are black, and I carry that in my pocket every time I go onstage or go on to a results show just to remind myself that I'm doing it for her."
Carson's parents declined to comment for this story. Desai and his parents are prohibited by "Idol's" rules from talking to the press now that he's in the finals.
Desai, who majored in political science and American studies and studied cultural anthropology at the graduate level, also talked about his influences and what an album by him might sound like.