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Sanjaya says thanks to Simon

‘Idol’ sensation on his critics, future plans and ... that hair.
/ Source: TODAY

Sanjaya Malakar was nowhere close to being the best singer on “American Idol,” but give credit where credit is due. The audience favorite with the wide smile and zany hairdos knows how to make an entrance — and his exit from the hit show was as gracious as any in the program's six seasons.

“I just didn't focus on the negative. I think it is important to stay positive,” Sanjaya, 17, told TODAY anchors Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira during a live appearance Tuesday. “There are always going to be people who hate you, and you are always going to have people like you. If you can just be yourself and focus on being positive, I think that is most important.”

Idol judge Simon Cowell didn't hate Sanjaya. He did, however, threaten to quit the show if the Washington State resident somehow managed to parlay his boyish good looks and popularity with teenage girls into an “Idol” win.

For Sanjaya, who was voted off the show April 18, it's all good — the praise, the criticism and the lessons he learned from his successes and failures in front of the camera.

“I didn't think I was the best singer, and I did say that on the show,” Sanjaya said. “I think we were each unique, and that's what makes the show so awesome, such a huge phenomenon. It's not about who's the best. It is about who is the best performer, who makes people feel their music the most, who gets people talking, and who gets people to vote for them.”

One of the most memorable moments of the sixth season came March 20 when Sanjaya moved studio audience member Ashley Ferl, 13, to tears. The scene was reminiscent of the sobbing bobby-sockers who swooned for Elvis Presley in the 1950s and after the Beatles invaded American in 1964.

“I was kind of scared. I didn't know I could have that effect on someone,” Sanjaya said.

Looking aheadSanjaya, who earned his high school equivalency diploma after his sophomore year, hopes to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston and explore music, modeling and acting following “American Idol's” traditional summer tour of top 10 contestants. Beyond that, he hasn't decided on a firm career path.

“I'm really just riding the wave now. I'm doing a lot of press,"” he said. “I really haven't had time to just sit down and focus on what has been happening in my life. It's crazy.”

Vieira couldn't let Sanjaya leave the Plaza without asking him if he had anything to say to his harshest critic, Simon Cowell.

“Simon,” Sanjaya said, peering directly into the camera, “I commend you for your honesty and brutality. I just want to thank you because you are person who taught me the most on the show.”