The morning after Malakar was voted off Fox's hit show, the 17-year-old with the unique hairdos and hotly debated singing talent sounded tired but composed as he fielded questions during a teleconference.
Malakar, from Washington state, said he was surprised by the outpouring of support he received — "I'm just Sanjaya from Federal Way. ... I mean, it's crazy."
As for critics, he avoided letting the potshots get to him.
"It was a little hard, but I try to make everything into a positive and try to learn from it," he said. "I feel like I've grown. I'm more confident because I've had this experience. ... I'm ready to go out there and do it some more."
Given the divided reaction to him, was he considering hiring a bodyguard as he emerges from the isolated "bubble" of "American Idol"? He's already looking into it, he said.
After that: college, with the Berklee College of Music in Boston his goal, and a wide-ranging career that will probably include performances with his sister, Shyamali, 19, who unsuccessfully auditioned for "Idol."
With his run on the show just ended, he said, "I haven't had the opportunity to get any offers, but I'm sure they will come.
"I just want the full entertainment business and career, I guess," he said, searching for words and sounding at times very much like the teenager he is.
Malakar, who gave the world the "ponyhawk" hairstyle and at times left brutally erudite judge Simon Cowell at a loss for words, said he knew he was likely to be voted off this week. He performed Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About" on Tuesday's country-themed show.
Malakar was asked if he was surprised by his staying power, especially with Cowell's increasingly harsh criticism. "I was just focusing on trying to get past each week," he replied.
He respects Cowell as "an amazing person" and learned more from him than anyone else on the show, the teenager said.
Malakar, who left high school early and earned his diploma through testing (the General Education Development, or GED, exam), said "American Idol" became his "junior and senior year."
Tongue-in-cheek support from the Web site votefortheworst.com and Howard Stern wasn't responsible for his staying power, Malakar said; he credits his fans.
"My philosophy was to stay true to myself and just try to put my personality out there," he said.
It's an approach he said he intends to stick with.
"My main thing that I'm going to look for when I choose endorsements and stuff like that is something I really feel strongly about, and I'm not going to do something just for money," Malakar said. "It's not about money, it's about having an image and really putting your true self out there."
By Lynn Elber