Excerpt: 'Dancing to the Music in My Head'

All of which meant that this week—which was British Invasion Week—was even more important than the previous week ... which had been even more important than the week before that ... which was more crucial than the week before that. The pressure was building, and I knew that if I didn't come up with the best performance of the season—no, the best performance of my life—it was back to Seattle.

Really, I wasn't so concerned about going home—I had great friends and my sister, Shyamali, waiting for me, which would be wonderful. I just didn't want to blow my opportunity to hit the road. You see, the Top 10 finalists go on the two-month American Idol tour, a tour that would give me the opportunity to travel across the country and perform for thousands of people each night. Even though I was only seventeen and I had (fingers crossed) a long singing career ahead of me, there was absolutely no guarantee that I'd ever get a chance like that again, so I had to step my game up and make sure that Simon didn't trash me too badly, which might convince the viewers to let me go. If I got cut, I'd move on to the next phase of my life, and that would be okay.

But you know what? I didn't want to get cut.

British Invasion Week, the brainchild of Idol's England-born executive producers Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe, was the first week that I waited until the very very very very last minute to pick my song. Twenty-four hours before the performance, I hadn't decided whether to go with the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" or Herman's Hermits' "I'm into Something Good."

"I'm into Something Good" is a cheerful, poppy, feel-good kind of sappy tune that's supposed to make you happy all over. Lyrically speaking, "You Really Got Me" is equally feel-goody ("I always wanna be by your side / Girl, you really got me now / You got me so I can't sleep at night"—if you didn't know the melody, you might think it's a Bryan Adams ballad), but musically, it's more grrrrrrrrrr. Crunchy guitars, hard-hitting drums, growly vocals; if I could pull it off without looking silly—and avoid people thinking Oh, look at Sanjaya, Mr. All About Love, trying to get all gritty—I might be in pretty good shape.

So I went with the rock song. Unfortunately, that week's mentor was none other than legendary Brit rocker Peter Noone, leader of Herman's Hermits. In my one-on-one meeting with Peter the day before the live telecast, after I told him I couldn't decide whether to sing his tune or the Kinks song, he said, "Well, I'm a bit biased. If you did Herman's Hermits, that would certainly make me look good. But you choose what you'd like."

After I finished performing both tunes for Peter, and after he told me that I'd done a good job, he seemed kind of disappointed when I explained that I'd decided to go with the Kinks. I felt a little badly about rejecting his song right in front of his face, but I felt in my gut that "You Really Got Me" would give me a better chance to survive. Peter was cool about it, though, and gave me some good advice: "If you're going to sing the Kinks, you really have to go for it. You have to go all the way there. Don't be afraid." Paula had said the same thing several times over the past eight weeks, but it made a bigger impact on me to hear it come from a guy who was friends with Ray and Dave Davies.

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