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'Idol' finalists recall experiences before concert
(John Schultz/Quad-City Times) American Idol singers LaKisha Jones, Chris Richardson and Melinda Doolittle perform Wednesday during the opening numbers at the i Wireless Center in Moline.

Sanjaya Malakar loved chatting up Quad-City area native and “American Idol” stylist Dean Banowetz while he had his head-turning hair done.

Idol winner Jordin Sparks praised judge Paula Abdul. And when bloggers wrote that Melinda Doolittle looked like Shrek, the gracious contestant with the vivacious voice laughed it off.

In one-on-one interviews with a Quad-City Times reporter before the American Idol Live concert Wednesday night at the i wireless Center (formerly The Mark of the Quad-Cities) in Moline, five of the show’s contestants — Malakar, Sparks, Doolittle, Phil Stacey and Chris Sligh — talked about everything from snide judge Simon Cowell to the tabloids.

Dressed in a thick green scarf (on a day when the heat index was well into the 90s) and a brown beret, a fidgety Malakar said he spent most of his time on the show bantering with Banowetz, a DeWitt, Iowa, native. “He’s awesome,” Malakar said. “The hair people always are the most entertaining. Before the show, I didn’t do anything with my hair besides wet it and go.”

On its Web site Wednesday, the Times asked readers to submit questions they would like to ask the Idol performers if given the opportunity. About 80 percent of the e-mailed questions pertained to Malakar.

An East Moline reader asked whether Malakar really thinks he has talent or did young female television viewers vote via telephone to keep him in the competition because they thought he was cute.

“I think that I was underestimated to a certain point,” the baby-faced crooner replied. “Then, when I made the top 12, they realized I wasn’t just the one with the funny hair and pretty face.”

Although Cowell frequently blasted Malakar and said he did not have any talent, the seventh-place 2007 finisher said he “respected” the crabby judge. “He’s the only person who helped me. He told me what he thought. You need somebody to tell you what to work on when you’re being judged for your craft.”

Malakar said he snubbed an offer by Kentucky Fried Chicken to become a spokesman for the fast-food chain. “They offered me $5,000 and a lifetime supply of chicken if I would get my hair done in a bowl cut. I got the letter, laughed at it and threw it away.”

Curtis May, no address given, asked whether Malakar will include “Sweet Chariot” on his upcoming album, due out early next year.

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“I don’t know,” he said. “They’re (fans) just going to have to wait and see.”

Doolittle said fellow contestant Haley Scarnato made her up with a green facial after bloggers said she resembled Shrek, the green-skinned animated movie character. “We took pictures. My mama always said, ‘If you don’t laugh at yourself, everybody else will.’ ”

Sparks, 17, said she never expected to win the competition, although, she admitted, “Ever since I made it to the top 12, I said I think a young one should win this year. Every week, I taught myself. I’d say, ‘What can I do this week that I didn’t do last week?’ ”

She called Abdul a “sweetheart,” adding, “Sometimes after the show, she would give us jewelry that said things like ‘Reach for the stars, someday you’ll be one.’ She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.’ ”

Reader Kay Picolet wanted to know how the contestants paid to live in expensive Los Angeles while not working during the many weeks of the competition.

The chubby Sligh, who said he has lost 15 pounds during the tour by not eating Pop-Tarts and candy in his dressing room, said “Idol” did not begin taking care of the contestants’ bills until they made the top 12. “You pretty much have to do your own financial planning to get there,” he added.

Stacey, who is married with two young girls, said it has been difficult being apart from his family. “I never wanted to be a father whose children had to pay a price for their father’s success,” he added. A member of the U.S. Navy, he said the military granted him leave to do the tour. When he returns, he will have only one week of service left.

Alanna K. Goldensoph of Clinton, Iowa, wanted to know how the contestants deal with the negative publicity that comes with being famous. “We grew up singing in places like churches and schools, where everybody loves you whether you suck or not,” Stacey said.

“It was tough, I won’t lie.”

David Heitz can be contacted at (563) 383-2202 or dheitz@qctimes.com

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