It's hard being an American Idol contestant. It's hard enough to perform for judges, with an audience behind them, and an even bigger one unseen that's analyzing every gesture and head nod. It's hard knowing you're performing on a show that's almost old enough to be a teenager, which is venerable in TV-show-years. But it can only be harder when you're unofficially representing 200,000 people.
Gurpreet Singh Sarin, Idol's first Sikh contestant, was eliminated last night 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.
"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% of America's Sikhs live here. 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.
"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."
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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.