March 12, 2009 — -- 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 The 22-year-old former high school valedictorian had been shot several times, and $1,400 had been withdrawn from ATMs using her debit card.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.
Desai's Ties to Eve Carson
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.
"I love Ne-Yo right now," he said. "I think that I'm a pop R&B singer. I'm a contemporary R&B singer. So that's really the type of album I'd like to release. Love to do some collaborations with Luda[cris] and Kanye [West] ... but we'll see. Wherever this takes me, I know that I'm going to have a great opportunity to do my music."
Hogan Medlin, a UNC sophomore who sang with Desai in the university a capella group the Clef Hangers and served on the student body government with Carson, remembers the two being very good friends.
"There was one time, when we were with the Clef Hangers, we were on the corner on one of the streets of Chapel Hill singing to no one in particular. The only person who watched us stopped, smiled and danced the whole time was Eve," Medlin said. "She really took an interest in Anoop's passion and his abilities as a singer."
Medlin said students and people all over Chapel Hill are rooting for Desai.
"We host watch parties on campus at clubs and bars downtown. We're trying to get the whole community to come out and support Anoop," he said. "He's so relatable, very approachable. A lot of people are taking ownership of where he is on 'American Idol.'"
The fact that Desai's doing it in Carson's honor makes it all the more meaningful for the community.
"Something this past year that a lot of us have felt is that there's a greater call to achieve things and do things you wouldn't normally do. A lot of that has to do with Eve and how she inspired us to dig a little deeper," Medlin said. "She was someone who would try to find strength in someone else, bring that to the foreground and make them the best they could be. Anoop's doing just what she would have wanted."
Reporting contributed by ABC News Radio's Andrea Dresdale.