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. Desai’s father was born in India, and his mother, also of Indian descent, was born in South Africa.
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.