When the result was announced, Malakar wiped away tears and got a big hug from LaKisha Jones, the next lowest vote-getter.
"I'm fine," he told host Ryan Seacrest. "It was an amazing experience."
"I can promise you: We won't soon forget you," Seacrest replied.
Malakar then performed one last song, "Something To Talk About." Putting his own twist on the song, the 17-year-old known for his pretty looks and ever-changing hairstyles ad-libbed: "Let's give them something to talk about ... other than hair."
"I'm beginning to sense something here," a grinning Cowell said when Malakar wound up in the bottom three.
Malakar was routinely savaged by Cowell as he developed into one of the weakest, most awkward "Idol" finalists ever. Still, the gangly teen managed to outlast better singers by cultivating an unlikely fan base that helped him survive round after round of viewer elimination.
Though his breathy, childlike singing voice paled in comparison with other finalists, his ability to stand out kept him in the competition. He consistently delivered the season's most talked-about performances, even daring to sport a ponytail mohawk that added pizazz to an otherwise tepid rendition of Gwen Stefani's "Bathwater."
That, of course, wound up fodder for watercooler discussion on G-rated morning programs and smart-alecky Web sites, stoking suspicion that Malakar was self-consciously manipulating the media to carve a place in "American Idol" history.
Malakar also had the backing of friends and family in his home state of Washington. "He's very handsome. That's most of it," marveled his friend Pat Wright, a gospel choir director in Seattle. "He's a teenager, and young girls and guys really like him."
Malakar seemed buoyed by his widespread fame.
"Welcome to the universe of Sanjaya!" he proudly proclaimed on a recent telecast, following a backhanded compliment from an exasperated Cowell.
Indeed, after panning another of Malakar's performances, Cowell threw up his arms and said there was nothing he could say to prevent people from voting for the oddball-turned-national phenomenon.
But, in the end, Malakar could not win enough votes to join the ranks of Taylor Hicks, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
He will, however, live forever on YouTube.
By Erin Carlson