Which fluff story has ranked as high in the headlines as Nancy Pelosi’s kaffeeklatsch with Bashar Assad, the Hill’s continued obsession with special prosecutors, and Iran sending British sailors to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s neckware-phobic stylist? It’s a name you’ve probably heard by now on programs usually reserved for news of Muqtada al-Sadr’s mayhem, bursting housing bubbles and Don Imus’ verbal diarrhea: Sanjaya, the “American Idol” contestant who won’t go away no matter how much Simon Cowell and the non-tone-deaf public will it. “If he should win it all he will be remembered as the guy who killed ‘Idol,’ one of America’s all-time favorite shows,” Fox News host John Gibson dramatically prophesized in a “My Word” segment. Sanjaya Malakar, a mop-topped high-school student from Washington state, was actually good during his audition, when he crooned Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” He made it through the Hollywood rounds into the top 24, and the manic speed-dialers took it from there. He has defied icky performances, gained a benefactor in Howard Stern and become the darling of Votefortheworst.com. Irate “Idol” fans have accused call centers in India of stacking the vote in his favor. And while we’re still waiting for celebrities to make good on promises to flee the country after two Bush victories, Sanjaya’s weekly “Idol” victories have so chagrined some that they’ve gone on hunger strikes. It’s the ultimate love-hate relationship, one that – based on Sanjaya’s late-in-the-game surge and never-ending buzz – most politicians would kill for. And after a prominent State Department source recently confided in me that he preferred “Idol” to foreign policy, I began thinking about what politicos can learn from Sanjaya, particularly as the Campaign 2008 race begins to sound as shrill as an “Idol” wannabe bred with a hyena. • It’s OK if people think you suck. As MTV recently wrote, “Sanjaya figured it out” – and that is his secret weapon. He hasn’t wallowed in the fact that his popularity is based on marginal talent, and like William Hung before him has milked this flash-pan notoriety like a pro. A large contingent of the public will love your “little engine that could” mentality, even if your talent runs out of track. • Pony hawks and war hawks both draw attention. But the public respects a candidate who makes a bold statement onstage, even in the form of Sanjaya’s now-legendary hairstyle that simulated the effects of electric shock. And if either coif or platform puts you in the headlines the next day, smile and stand by your decision. • You don’t always have to know the right words to win votes. Sanjaya’s continued success despite flubbing lyrics is one reason for his haters’ ire, but it seems to matter naught in the final vote. His secret? Smile, make love to the camera and let your locks flow. And remember that making preteen girls weep for joy gets you more screen time than kissing babies. • The Howard Stern endorsement cannot be underestimated. Remember when he endorsed Christine Todd Whitman for New Jersey governor on the promise that she would name a rest stop in his honor? She flushed the competition. Now he’s pushing the Sanjaya vote. A Sirius election effort might likewise be in store for Campaign 2008; Jeff the Drunk is probably even available for hire as a campaign manager. • Establish a demographic of loyalists that defies the odds: Those who like the underdog. Those who think you’re a stud. Those who feel sorry for you. Those who are in on the joke to make you the big winner. Those disparate groups add up to lots of votes! • Never count out a comeback. Just when Sanjaya seemed like a standard fixture of the bottom three, destined to become the bottom one, he came roaring back late in the game, leaving others to face the nail-biting elimination. It ain’t over until the full lineup of publicity-seeking guest coaches sings. On a New Hampshire call-in show Friday, Hillary Clinton was asked her opinion on what Americans can do to stop the weapon of mass Sanjaya. “That’s the best question I’ve been asked in a long time,” she said on WOKQ-FM. “Well, you know, people can vote for whomever they want. That’s true in my election, and it’s true on ‘American Idol.”‘ Sanjaya hasn’t made it this far by playing it safe, so can any politico expect to win with cop-out answers like that? Perhaps she just feared alienating the obviously powerful Sanjaya voting bloc. — Bridget Johnson writes for the Daily News. E-mail her at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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