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Anoop Desai (born December 20, 1986) is an American singer who was a contestant on the eighth season of American Idol, placing 6th. Desai has credited his decision to audition for American Idol to the death of a friend, Eve Carson, who was murdered. During the broadcast of the wild card round on March 5, 2009, he gave a "shout out" to his alma mater and mentioned Eve, as it was the first anniversary of her death. Desai is the second Indian American to advance to the final stages of the popular reality show, the first being Season 6's Sanjaya Malakar.
Desai, an only child, was born in Cary, North Carolina. His family moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1998. He went to Fuller GT Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina. His parents both work in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. His mother, Nalini, is a biochemist with a Ph.D. in molecular biology; his father, Manoj, is a software engineer and designs computer software. Desai’s father was born in India, and his mother, also of Indian descent, was born in South Africa.
In the 1990s, Desai appeared on the WRAL-TV (NC Triangle) television children's show, "CentralXpress.com", and played the character "Raj". The show won multiple awards, including seven regional Emmys, two national Iris awards, and a national Gabriel Award.
Desai attended Carnage Middle School and Phillips Middle School, then later went on to attend East Chapel Hill High School, graduating in 2004. He was awarded a four year academic merit scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and was the Haywood W. Hinkle Carolina scholar from 2004 to 2008.
After being accepted and planning to attend college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Desai auditioned for and was accepted as a member of the UNC Clef Hangers, a long-standing male a capella group founded in 1977. He was accepted in the group as a senior in high school with the understanding that he would begin attending the University in the Fall of 2004. Desai served as the group's Music Director during his junior year and as the group's president his senior year. He remains President Emeritus of the UNC Clef Hangers. Desai’s performance as a soloist on the song “She Has No Time” was recognized with the BOCA 2007 (Best of College A Cappella).
Desai graduated from UNC in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double majoring in Political Science and American Studies. He was awarded the 2008 Peter C. Baxter Memorial Prize in American Studies, as one who exemplified "intellectual excellence, personal warmth and creativity." His undergraduate senior thesis was titled "Why Barbecue Matters in the South," wherein he analyzes barbecue as a religious symbol in the South, among other things. Before Season 8 of American Idol, he was a graduate student in the field of cultural anthropology, working towards a Master of Arts degree in folklore at UNC.
 American Idol
Desai rose to national fame with his participation in the eighth season of American Idol. He auditioned for the show on August 8, 2008 in Kansas City, Missouri, and was selected as a semifinalist following his "Hollywood Week" performances. Although he was not one of the three finalists chosen out of his semifinal performance group, he returned as a "Wild Card." The judges saved Desai for last on Wild Card night and after announcing that Matt Giraud had made the Top 12, Simon Cowell then revealed the twist of Season 8: that Desai would also move onto the finals, leading to the first ever Top 13 in Idol history.
Desai's first finals performance of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" was panned by the judges, with Simon Cowell saying that it was "very lightweight" and that he regretted choosing Desai for the Top 13. But Desai won the judges over again the next week, when he sang Willie Nelson's classic country ballad "Always On My Mind" for "Grand Ol' Opry Week." Even Cowell was impressed, and retracted his remarks about Desai not deserving to be in the Top 13. Desai's rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" three weeks later, which also garnered praise from the judges, prompted Cowell to compare the contestant to a "yo-yo", going back and forth between good and weak performances.
Nonetheless, Desai landed in the Bottom Two that week, just as he had the previous week. He finished in the Bottom Three during Top 7 week, when Matt Giraud was saved from elimination by the judges. This meant the next week would be a double elimination, wherein Desai ended up being voted off along with Lil Rounds.
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