When Sanjaya Malakar appeared on American Idol in 2006, he was seventeen and chasing his dream as a singer, all while figuring out his sexuality under public scrutiny. Now sixteen years later, Sanjaya has come out proudly as bisexual.
Sanjaya appeared on Season 6 of American Idol, and he made it all the way to the top 7 before getting eliminated. Throughout that time, he weathered biting critiques from notorious judge Simon Cowell, who was consistently unimpressed with his vocals. But it wasn’t just Cowell who was giving Sanjaya a hard time. Because of his fashion sense and adventurous hairstyles, viewers of the show felt the constant need to speculate on his sexuality, despite his repeated denials.
The public speculation often turned mocking and homophobic, which would be difficult for any teenager still exploring who they are. Now on a recent episode of The Adam Sank Show podcast, Sanjaya has clarified, “I identify as bisexual. At the time, I did not know, which was why it was so weird for me.”
Sanjaya explained his entire ordeal on American Idol in detail. Before landing the audition, he was in a committed relationship with a woman. He said, “I was exploring my life as a child, and then American Idol happened, and everyone was like, ‘Oh, he’s gay,’ and I was like, ‘Ok well now I have to say no,’ because at this point they are forcing me to make a decision and define myself.
“I grew up in a time when being called a f****t in school was the worst thing that could ever happen to you. You had to be as hyper-masculine as possible to fit in, and coming up in 2007, it was like ‘being gay is OK but you have to define yourself and there’s ‘this’ or ‘that.’”
It wasn’t just viewers that made figuring his sexuality out difficult—Hollywood suits were also pressuring Sanjaya to remain ambiguous. “All of my publicists were like, ‘Oh, just tell everyone you’re single. Be ambiguous. No one needs to know anything about anything because you don’t want to lose your fans,'” he said. “And I’m like, ‘OK, but why am I manipulating what I know of myself to figure out what kind of fans I’m going to get because I’m still trying to discover who I am?'”
The speculation around his sexuality was unfortunately nothing new for Sanjaya. “Growing up I was already the awkward theater kid,” he recalled. “I always got along with theatre kids, with gay kids and girls, so I was like: ‘OK these are my people.’ But I don’t know, everyone keeps telling me that I am gay and I’m like seven. I don’t even have any attraction to anyone so why are you telling me this?”
Despite all of this, Sanjaya is now in a place where he has himself figured out and is comfortable sharing his sexuality with the public. While he has not formally come out to his family, he is confident that they would accept him whole-heartedly. He explained, “For me, at this point I don’t really care about what people know of my sexuality, and if I got into a serious long-term relationship with a guy I would bring him to my family, and they’d be like, ‘Oh, cool.'”