Excerpt: 'Dancing to the Music in My Head'

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.

My song selection surprised most everybody associated with the show. They probably didn't think I could do justice to a Kinks song, because I was the mellow crooner guy who, when it came to choreography, walked around the stage and did a little Gospel Rock dance move. To them, "Sanjaya" and "garage rock 'n' roll" didn't add up.

During dress rehearsal, I ran through "You Really Got Me," and it felt all wrong. Maybe everybody was right. Maybe I wasn't that guy. Maybe I wasn't a rock singer. Maybe it wasn't my thing. But I took Peter Noone's suggestions and went for it, went all the way there. As a matter of fact, I went farther than all the way there, jumping off the stage, running through the aisles, generally acting the rock 'n' roll fool. The arrangement ended on three percussive hits—Bap! Bap! Bap!—during which I leapt back onstage and fell right on my butt, then raised my arms to the sky, as if falling on my butt was my plan from the get-go.

Ken and Nigel stared at me, frozen. It looked to me from the stage like they were freaking out, but I wasn't sure if it was out of happiness or horror. I was certain, though, that they never expected that sort of energy burst out of me. How could they have known that when we Malakars get excited, we get excited. It's a heredity deal.

After a few moments of awkward silence, Ken cleared his throat and said, "Um, wow. Wow. Wow. I didn't even know you could do that. And, um, I don't even know if you should try that. Maybe you should go with Herman's Hermits."

The last thing I wanted to do at that point was kick into "Woke up this mornin' feelin' fine / There's somethin' special on my mind"—after having fun with the grungy Kinks song, it would be hard to be all cheerful with the Hermits—but I was a good soldier, so I gave it a shot. But I wasn't that good of a soldier; I completely overdid the song and cheesed it up as if it was a piece from a Broadway show. In other words, I tanked it. Ken rolled his eyes and said, "Do whatever song you want." I'm sure he had plenty of other fires to put out and didn't have the time to argue with me about tune selection. He probably thought that if I got voted off, it was my own fault.

Since I was planning an all-out performance, I wanted to keep my style relatively simple, but still be bold. The stylist found a gray jacket with the alphabet printed all over it, and we built around that. We kept the hair natural so I could toss it while I ran around. I thought it looked good. And apparently, so did the Crying Girl.

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