Indian American teen wonder Sanjaya Malakar, comfortably survived another elimination round on the hit US show American Idol after singing a Latino number, a performance that even the judge Simon Cowell, so far hostile to him, found "wasn't horrible".
Malakar, who in the words of The Washington Post's TV columnist has completely taken over the "American Idol" singing competition, was among the five declared "safe" in Wednesday night's results round that left seven in the fray.
Even before he sang one note Tuesday night, Malakar, the focus of YouTube parodies and the site Votefortheworst.com, got a rave review from megastar Jennifer Lopez and then a rare if reluctant compliment from judge Simon Cowell.
Sprouting Marc Anthonyesque facial hair in honour of J. Lo's appearance as guest "mentor", he left her utterly smitten. "He chose a beautiful Spanish song and I have to tell you, he really impressed me!"
J. Lo gushed to the camera after rehearsing "Besame Mucho" with Sanjaya. "I love Sanjaya!" she giggled, adding, "I think Simon might be impressed."
"I have to tell you he really, really impressed me," said Lopez as his ballad, sung in Spanish, hushed the excited crowd.
"I couldn't understand a word of it, you sang like a 14-year-old and - I'm going to hate myself for this - it wasn't horrible," judge Cowell, usually very harsh on Sanjaya's singing aspirations, confessed.
"You are one of the smartest contestants we've ever had," a mesmerised Randy Jackson told Sanjaya, who has an Indian father and an Italian mother. "Smooth. It was nice - very, very nice," said Paula Abdul.
As America watched transfixed by his singing and his hair, Malakar's pastor and choir director in his Seattle hometown said: "I hope people know I'm so proud of this young man."
"He's a perfect example of what our young people are made of these days," added Pat Wright with a piece of advice for him, "My thing to Sanjaya is to take it all with a grain of salt and laugh all the way to the bank."
Malakar's folks said they're not surprised at how far he's gone with cousin Camila Recchi saying, "He was comfortable, really outgoing, always a performer, bouncing off the walls, singing and dancing."
His aunt Christi Recchi said all the attention had not changed her nephew, and she had a message for the critics.
"There are better ways to spend your time and energy (besides) bashing some 17-year-old kid who has been swept up in this whole thing."
Describing Malakar as "The one and only Sanjaya!" MTV's Jim Cantiello said: "Oh, Sanjaya.
Not since Culture Club's prominence has an androgynous singer captured the hearts of young girls - and Jennifer Lopez - which is why I consider Sanjaya to be the Boy George of American Idol."
"Sick of Sanjaya? It's all your fault," said MSNBC's Helen A.S. Popkin blaming the viewers.
"You are totally ruining 'American Idol'. You and the King of All Culture Hackers, Howard Stern, that dude at VoteForTheWorst.com and maybe some other people ... but mostly You(Tube)."
"Say what you want about Sanjaya Malakar and his so-called supporters. There's something about this kid that seems to be pulling the lurkers out of the corners and into the act.
It's a cool trend and probably not one that's going to die down any time soon," she said.
"The Next Big Things on the Internet aren't usually foretokened by business models or white papers, said Popkin.
They're quite often the products of people goofing around, playing at silly nonsense like keeping Sanjaya on 'A.I.'.
"And while Sanjaya may be a below-average singer, he's rapidly gaining a more important role in history as an example of where the virtual world connects with the real. And he couldn't have done it without You(Tube)," she added.
The one who had to go home from the eight contestants was Haley Scanato, 24, for scoring the fewest from 35 million votes, the season's highest votes cast for the nationally televised talent contest.
Malakar's effortless rendition of "Besame Mucho" on the Latin-themed edition was his best in recent weeks, converting many of his erstwhile critics to grudgingly start saying that he may last till the end.
Earlier in the week Ricky Minor, American Idol's music director had told New York Post: "I think he could win the show."
Calling Sanjaya Malakar arguably the best known Indian name in recent US history, Jyotirmoy Datta, arts and humanities editor of Desi Talk, wrote in a recent issue of the New York weekly: "To most teenagers he is a cute darling; he may be a little fly whizzing between the huge wheels of the American entertainment machine, but the more whacks he gets, the merrier and higher and jollier his flights - with more and more fans rooting for him."
Datta added: "Sanjaya is also one of the few teenagers on the show this season. Previous seasons have had more teenagers as finalists, but this time through there is only Sanjaya for the boys and Jordin Sparks for the girls. Teenagers like to vote for teenagers. I think they feel some cosmic connection to them, solely because of their age."