By Shirley Halperin
Updated March 28, 2007 at 07:05 PM EDT
American Idol, Sanjaya Malakar
Credit: Frank Micelotta

Should we just call it the Sanjaya show? Because as soon as the ponytail mohawk made its American Idol debut last night, all talk of other contestants ceased to exist. How far is this kid gonna go? I guess that’s the nature of the show, it’s how they suck you in with the best of contestants, the worst of auditioners and the just plain mediocre.

Before the mohawk made its entrance, this taping of American Idol was shaping up to be kind of ordinary. The psychedelic Coke cups are gone, the judges entered with very little fanfare, except for Randy who grabbed the microphone to demonstrate that he was on time (“You can see who gets here early, yo”), and the signs weren’t nearly as good or catchy as last week’s. The best one I could see (and remember, they like to stick us press people waaaay in the back and fully out of view) said, “Simon: did it hurt when you fell from heaven?” Ouch!

But Ryan got a kick out of one girl’s sign which asked him to be her date for the prom. “Yes, I wanna go to prom,” he said just before the show started. “But who’s paying for the limo? I wanna figure out how to split the finances ahead of time.” I can see it now, a 16-year-old Ryan Seacrest waiting on a white stretch in Dunwoody, Ga., pulling out his pocket calculator to divide $96 by four, for the fifth time.

But I digress…

addCredit(“American Idol: Frank Micelotta”)

Since it was only an hour-long show, the pace was pretty swift last night. LaKisha kicked things off and quickly got the audience up ontheir feet with the Donna Summer classic, “Last Dance.” The performanceinspired the first standing ovation of the evening, and certainlyLaKisha’s confidence must have been restored after last week’s lukewarmreview.

Chris Sligh was up next, welcomed by a deafening scream. His turnwas a little shaky though, and even Paula had a hard time following thebeat. Gina Glocksen, on the other hand, got the night’s second standingO. The Glock most certainly rocked it, redeeming herself after lastweek’s subpar take on “Paint It Black.” But “chalk and cheese?” Theaudience let out a collective “What?” when Simon uttered that Brit-ism.Anyone know what it means? I don’t.

During the commercial breaks, the audience was entertained by KidIdol, where random seven to 10-year-olds in the crowd are given themicrophone and three minutes to show their skills. Well today, therewere plenty of volunteers. There were two pre-tween girls who butchered(in a cute way) the Romantics’ “What I Like About You,” Brian, a pudgymaybe eight-year-old who hilariously mumbled his way through “SexyBack”(Justin and Timbaland’s parts), another boy who did a dead-on CarrieUnderwood, and two more hopeful future Idols. Simon, not surprisingly,wasn’t impressed.

We’ll get to Sanjaya later, since we have some inside informationabout the now infamous faux-hawk. But first, Haley, who had a lot ofsupporters in the crowd. I thought she sounded pretty good in thestudio, but again, she didn’t do it for Simon.

Another break and the judges take a couple of questions for theaudience. The first was for Simon: “Do you ever feel bad when youinsult people?” His answer: “No.” And for Paula: “Can we get you tosing a song?” Her answer? “No.” Titillating stuff, huh?

Moving on to Phil and Melinda. During both performances, Simon wascarefully monitoring the audience’s reaction, while Paula was startingto really get her groove on. So much so that she was almost bopping indouble time to Blake’s version of 311’s version of The Cure’s “LoveSong,” which, you may recall, was recorded for the movie 50 First Datesand got moderate radio play at the time. Remember when Chris Daughtrydid Live’s version of Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line?” He got a lot offlack for not acknowledging that it was a recorded cover by hisfavorite band. I doubt Blake will get called on it, since thearrangement is pretty close to the original, but it still wasn’t thebest choice for him. Blake may have to kick his 311 addiction soon, asSimon hinted.

Fan favorite Jordin Sparks kicked things up a notch, cementing herfront-runner status, while Chris Richardson made his many admirersproud and closed out the night. Not a monumental Idol, but it certainly had its moments, which brings me to…

Sanjaya. I’d heard about the crazy hair before the show started, butthe description did not do the ‘do justice. Sadly, when Sanjaya walkedout and there was an audible chuckle, it felt more like people werelaughing at him than with him. I give him props for taking the GwenStefani theme to the next level. She’s sported her share of mohawks, andso has No Doubt drummer Adrian Young. Sure enough, when we ran into Idolhair guru Dean Banowetz, he confirmed that Gwen was indeed theinspiration. “Because it’s Gwen Stefani, pretty much anything goes,”said Dean. “She’s known for her hair, and Sanjaya was like, ‘I wanna doa mohawk.’ But it’s kind of hard to do one with hair that long, so wedecided to do the pony-hawk. Seven ponies, seven is a lucky number…who knows, it might just keep him in.”

Indeed, as the contestants filed out through the backstage door,Sanjaya was barraged with pre-pubescent fans asking for autographs andphotos, as were the rest of the Top 10 (check out some photos here),but he seemed to take the longest. Doesn’t look like the end of theroad is near for young Sanj. As Simon put it ever-so-succinctly, he’sin his own universe, and good luck to him.