What's Sanjaya's Secret Weapon?

Sanjaya Malakar has interesting hair. This much, everyone seems to agree on.

But for the most part, that's where the praise for the wispy, sweet 17-year-old "American Idol" contestant ends.

Malakar has been almost universally panned by the judges, bloggers and show watchers as perhaps the worst contestant ever to set foot on the "Idol" stage.

Malakar's vocals are weak, and his stage presence awkward. On last week's show, the judges seemed flabbergasted by his butchering of Diana Ross' classic "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

As one Rolling Stone blogger summed up: "Stop in the name of suck, dude!"

So why is Malakar among the final 12 contestants on the wildly popular reality show? Could it be that his outrageous awfulness is actually his secret weapon?

He Has Howard Stern Behind Him

That's one theory floating around to explain the Sanjaya mystery.

He is the favorite of VotefortheWorst.com, a Web site started by Dave Della Terza during season three, after Della Terza said he realized that "American Idol" was a reality TV show more than a talent competition.

"People like Antonella Barba and Sanjaya Malakar, interesting as they are, don't really belong in a competition to find the next big singing superstar, but they're cast as foils for the show to create drama," Della Terza said in an e-mail interview. "So we say, let's make the show more entertaining by helping to keep them around."

Della Terza said the Web site receives about a million hits a day now and up to 3 million on show nights.

There is no way to gauge how many votes can be directly attributed to the Web site. However, according to Alexa.com, a site that monitors Internet traffic, VotefortheWorst.com is the second most popular "American Idol" Web site behind the official AmericanIdol.com.

Della Terza believes the site has helped keep past contestants such as Scott Savol, Kevin Covais, Kellie Pickler and even season five winner Taylor Hicks around longer than their talent warranted.

And Della Terza has a powerful new ally this year in Howard Stern, who has been advocating voting for Malakar and plugging Vote for the Worst on his Sirius satellite radio show.

In fact, Della Terza, 24, talked to Stern by phone Tuesday on the show.

"I think it would be funny as hell if Sanjaya won," Stern told Della Terza.

With his estimated 5 million listeners, it seems feasible that Stern could have some impact on the final results.

"Tonight is the vote, we're all going to be voting," Stern said. "I'm going to be voting over and over and over again."

Calls to "American Idol" and Fox were not returned. But show producers have said in the past that it's impossible to know why people are voting for a certain contestant.

And according to the "American Idol" Web site, the show has monitoring procedures in place to prevent individuals to "power dial" or vote many times from the same phone line.

"There is a part of people who want him to succeed," said Jenny Eliscu, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. "They want him to do well, so they keep rooting for him."

'Malakrazy' Girls

Other conspiracy theories to explain the Sanjaya phenomenon are floating around as well.

One suggests that Malakar's distinction as the show's first Indian-American contestant has brought him a well-organized Indian voting bloc.

While more people of Indian descent may be tuning in to "Idol" to watch Malakar, there is no evidence that Indian-Americans are flooding the phone lines to vote for him.

"There's not a concerted effort to make him win," said Rohit Pradhan, a frequent blogger on DesiPundit.com and other sites catering to Indian interests.

Pradhan added, however, that there is online chatter about Malakar being on the show.

"I definitely think Indian-Americans take him as one of their own," he said. "There's a feeling of pride, or being part of mainstream America."

On the "American Idol" Sanjaya fan site, the message board posters lean heavily toward the 'tween girl demographic.

Many message board posters call themselves "Malakrazy."

Emily4Sanjaya posted a picture of Malakar (in his David Cassidy-style shag incarnation) decorated with flashing hearts and the message, "Vote like you're out of you're minds or … vote like it's the end of the world!"

The goal of many posters, at least at this point in the competition, is to get their guy into the Top 10 so he can be part of the "American Idol" tour.

For his part, judge Simon Cowell has said he would quit the show if Malakar won.

So what does Della Terza think will happen this week when the votes are counted?

"My prediction is that Sanjaya will probably go home this week because the producers don't want him on the tour," he said. "Will Sanjaya get the least amount of votes this week? I don't know. I think the producers are working overtime backstage to make sure Sanjaya is the one who will go home any way they can."

John Berman contributed to this report.