Gurpreet Singh Sarin performing in a Hollywood audition round of “American Idol” that aired last month. (Michael Becker/Fox)

Gurpreet Singh Sarin sure 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 Singh Sarin, who this week narrowly missed a spot in the finals of this season’s hit TV singing competition. With his long beard and colorful turbans, the 22-year-old from North Potomac, Md., was one of “Idol’s” most memorable non-finalists — and as the first Sikh contestant in the show’s 12-year run, a major rallying point for Sikh-American fans.

“You are a winner!” read a typical tweet aimed his way today. “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.

“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 us Friday. ”The opportunity to show my culture and my religion has been amazing.”

Singh Sarin performs in Las Vegas this week, in the “sudden death round” elimination that aired Thursday. (Michael Becker /Fox)

A Wootton High School grad, Singh 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.

Alas, that’s as far as it went: On Wednesday night in Vegas (for the episode that aired Thursday), the judges felt he’d made the wrong choice with his take on James Morrison’s “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You.”

Singh Sarin admits he was surprised to be eliminated. “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 Gaithersburg’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 said. “I want to see what I can do with singing.”

(Video: Gurpreet Singh Sarin audition for American Idol)

(Video: Gurprett Singh Sarin Hollywood audition)

Earlier: White House intern Molly DeWolf Swenson took time off to try out for “American Idol”, 1/27/11

D.C. native Austin Bisnow’s rough treatment on ‘American Idol,’ 2/3/10

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