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"American Idol": Anoop, there it is?

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Might 2009 be the year that North Carolina gets its "American Idol" mojo back after being shut out of the finals the past two years? If the rumors going around this week are true, that could happen.

Even though the Hollywood round doesn't air until next week, an alleged list of the top-36 finalists has leaked out. Unofficial and uncomfirmed though it may be, the list includes UNC-Chapel Hill folklore student Anoop Desai, whose Jan. 14 audition occasioned much odd commentary from the judges -- including Simon Cowell's observation that he looked "a bit geeky." Shades of another North Carolina "AI" finalist, perhaps? Geekiness aside, the judges gave him a unanimous four-thumbs-up ticket to the Hollywood round, which starts airing Tuesday night.

During Desai's audition, Cowell also expressed amusement about the topic of his undergraduate folklore thesis, the mythology of Southern barbecue. But Glenn Hinson, chairman of UNC's folklore curriculum, says Desai's thesis is an excellent piece of scholarship.

"It's really great, all about barbecue and regional identity," Hinson says. "Anoop is insightful, with a great sense of the Southern consciousness. His commitment in coming to the folklore program was absolutely, unambiguously to the South. When he got his undergraduate degree, there was no question in my mind that he was coming right back."

But for this semester, at least, it appears that school will have to wait on Desai's "AI" run. It started last fall, when Desai would go missing for long stretches with no explanation.

"At first no one was quite sure what was going on," says Hinson. "It was a very well-kept secret. We all knew he sang, but most of us had no idea what was going on with 'American Idol' until he was well into things. He's scarce these days. Nobody sees Anoop anymore. He just ain't around."

Check Desai's "AI" audition here; and if the UNC Clef Hangers alumnus does advance deep into the competition, you'll no doubt be seeing this again and again in the coming months.

ADDENDUM: Another North Carolinian on that top-36 list is Rick Braddy.

(Thanks, Lem.)

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About the blogger

David Menconi has been the News & Observer's music critic since 1991. Before that, he spent five years at the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo. He has a masters in journalism from the University of Texas and a B.A. in English from Southwestern University. You can find more of his writing here.