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American Idol’s First Sikh Contestant is Back in the Spotlight

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AMERICAN IDOL XIII: L-R: Keith Urban,Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. CR: Michael Becker / FOX. © Copyright 2013 / FOX

Like most performers, Gurpreet Singh Sarin will never forget the first time he performed live on stage. But unlike most, this singer's first public performance had an audience of millions, as he took the American Idol stage to sing Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind" for the show's judges and everyone watching at home.

“It was the first time I ever performed with a band,” said Sarin, the first-ever Sikh contestant, in what was then 12 seasons of the singing competition.

The University of Maryland grad says that prior to auditioning for the show, his musical background was rooted in Indian classical and devotional music. “I saw a lot of connections between Indian ragas and the blues and jazz music,” Sarin said. That connection led him to start posting his own covers of popular R&B songs to YouTube.

“I noticed that a lot of people would like my videos,” he said. “People didn’t expect a guy in a turban singing Justin Bieber and John Legend songs.”

Gurpreet Singh Sarin made history as American Idol's first Sikh contestant.
Sarin’s first performance had an audience of millions, on the American Idol stage, singing Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind." Michael Becker/Fox / Courtesy Gurpreet Singh Sarin

After making it through the Idol auditions, Sarin received a considerable amount of attention on social media because of his turban and beard -- and not all of those tweets were positive.

The 24-year-old Maryland native says he never focused on the negative.

"I was so focused on getting further in the competition that I didn’t pay attention," Sarin said. “I knew that people wouldn’t necessarily know how to interact with me because of my appearance.”

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Sarin says he is now working on balancing his artistic ambitions after Idol, with his professional career based on a computer and information science degree.

He's just released his first post-show single, “Compassionate Father,” a pop song by Virginia-based songwriter Ken Coleman that explores religious bigotry and prejudices.

“It’s a very spiritual song,” Sarin explained. “I am a big believer in one love for all and this song is definitely about that.”

“They were like ‘You want to be a software engineer? We just saw you on TV.’"

Since leaving the show, Sarin has been focused on finishing his last semester of college, and securing his first job. He quickly discovered, however, that escaping his reality show past wasn't going to be easy.

“When I first interviewed with the consulting firm I’m with now, they were a bit hesitant,” Sarin said. “They were like ‘You want to be a software engineer? We just saw you on TV.’ But it was such a blessing to be on the show, they were just curious about the experience.”

Gurpreet Singh Sarin made history as American Idol's first Sikh contestant.
Gurpreet Singh Sarin made history as American Idol's first Sikh contestant. Angad Singh / Courtesy Gurpreet Singh Sarin