‘Turbanator’ eliminated on American idol, carves huge following.

Gurpreet Singh Sarin was the first Sikh contestant on American Idol.


Bureau Report

NEW YORK: The dream run of Gurpreet Singh Sarin, the first Sikh contestant on American Idol ended on Wednesday night, narrowly failing to make it to the finals, but he left an indelible mark on the competition with his silken smooth voice.

Gurpreet Singh Sarin
Gurpreet Singh Sarin

Sarin was eliminated after his rendition of James Morrison’s “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You.” It seems that without his guitar, his voice lost some of the softness and intimacy that attracted the judges. They were critical but, at Gurvendra Singh Suri’s house in Southlake, northwest of the DFW airport, nearly thirty people from the local Sikh community loudly cheered for the Sikh from DC, reported the Dallas Observer.

“That was terrible,” said Randy Jackson in the judging.

“That was not terrible!” yelled a woman in the living room.

Manbeena Kaur of the Sikh Coalition, a group dedicated to civil rights, estimates there are around 20,000 Sikhs in Texas. If she’s right then 10 percent of America’s Sikhs live in the state. Exact numbers are hard to pinpoint since the Census Bureau doesn’t track religious affiliation, but the Pew Research Center says its projection of 200,000 is “more likely a floor than a ceiling.”

That’s over 200,000 people in America who have almost no representation in popular culture. Which is why the people in Suri’s living room were so excited for Sarin, who came on stage in a bright yellow turban and matching pants, and seems to always be smiling.

“I’m sure the judges are fair,” said Suri (after Nicki Minaj chastised Sarin with a “Honey child, hell no”). “We want him to win, but we’re biased.”

Priyanka Hooghan, who met Sarin at a conference in DC a year and a half before he got on Idol, was also at the Suris’ viewing party. She was there the first time Sarin sang in public: “On the streets of DC, on a Friday night, singing Adele.” She was one of the people who encouraged him to sing for people, and while sad he’s off the show, she was glad he got to show more of America how talented he is, said the Observer.

“It’s a rare opportunity,” said Suri’s wife, Manjeet, while latecomers watched Sarin’s performance on DVR. She said that she wanted her daughters to know that if they were talented they could achieve anything, so she wanted them to watch Sarin’s performances on Idol. And of course, she wanted him to win.

“I’m happy he got on,” said Raunak Bajaj, 10, who stood out with his shiny pink head covering. Though Sarin was off the show, Bajaj still yelled, “Let’s go, Gurpreet!”

Ganeev Suri, a 13-year-old who said she’s the only Sikh at Carroll Middle School, said though she wished Sarin had won, she wasn’t upset the judges kicked him off.

“God chose if he would win or not.”

As soon as Mariah Carey said, “Gurpreet, I’m sorry,” moans and yells drowned anything else she had to say. But the meter at the bottom of the screen, the one measuring Twitter’s approval of the judges’ decisions, immediately jumped to 70% against, and the Suris’ living room cheered louder than at any other point in the night.

“America disagrees!” cried Suri. Maybe this was the best possible outcome for the night. American Idol’s first Sikh contestant didn’t have to win over the judges for America to still want him around.

The Washington Post recounted Sarin’s dream run, saying he got the raised-eyebrow treatment when he first walked in front of an “American Idol” camera — the whole hmmm, doesn’t look like a pop star! set-up that reality TV producers love to give quirky contenders like Clay Aiken or Susan Boyle.

But it turned out they could sing, of course — and so, too, can Sarin. With his long beard and colorful turbans, the 22-year-old from North Potomac, Md., was one of “Idol’s” most memorable non-finalists.

“You are a winner!” read a typical tweet aimed his way. “You opened doors for Sikhs, and showed the world how amazing our people are!” Another Indian America wrote: “A little kid pointed at me and said that looks like the guy from American Idol last night. [Gurpreet], you have made a difference.”

While some sensitive viewers may have winced at first at “Idol’s” jokes about “The Turbanator,” the nickname was one that Singh Sarin claimed for himself, and he welcomed the curiosity his appearance drew, said the Post.

“I knew that my uniqueness would catch the producers’ eye, but I wasn’t sure how much of an impact that would make,” he told the Post. ”The opportunity to show my culture and my religion has been amazing.”

A Wootton High School grad, Sarin spent his first three years of college majoring in computer and information science at the University of Maryland Baltimore County but took a semester off for a Department of Defense internship around the time he attended one of “Idol’s” cattle call auditions in Newark last summer. Judges were pleasantly surprised by what his husky light tenor could do to Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” — but were on the fence until he charmed Nicki Minaj by noting he owned a marigold turban that would match her hair color of the moment. After the cutthroat Hollywood auditions, he easily ascended to the top 40.

Sarin admits he was surprised to be eliminated, said the report. “As you get past one or two steps, you get closer to the prize, it’s harder to see yourself leaving so soon,” he said via phone while beginning his trip back east. “I really got to bond with the other contestants and the producers.”

What’s next? He’ll finish his degree in May via University of Maryland University College’s online program, but for a guy who only began his public singing career a year ago — entertaining the lunch crowd at the Potbelly in Gaitherburg’s Rio Center — this sudden blast of fame has him wondering if he should pursue more than just computer science.

“My experience on ‘American Idol’ has definitely opened a portal,” he told the Post. “I want to see what I can do with singing.”

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