Platinum-selling pop star David Archuleta doesn’t like attention, but he deserves yours.
At 6 years old, Archuleta, who grew up on a steady diet of musicals like Les Misérables and Evita, developed a love for singing as a way to find solace in the comfort of his backyard. Before long, family, friends and neighbors started to notice, and at 9 years old, coaxed by the promise of free quesadillas, he was singing for crowds at a local restaurant. And in 2007, when the then-16-year-old (now 26), appeared on American Idol, the world started noticing. Receiving 44 percent of nearly 100 million votes, the shy, fresh-faced vocal prodigy was runner-up on the hit show’s seventh season, finishing behind David Cook.
“I didn’t really want to pursue fame and stardom,” Archuleta, a devout Mormon, recalls. “But I felt like it was something I needed
A record deal with Sony/Jive Records, arena tours, a No. 2 single Billboard Hot 100, acclaim from the likes Bruce Springsteen, Kelly Clarkson and Rihanna, and international fame followed. But even after running the gamut from Top 40 pop to holiday music on six studio albums and 21 singles, released over the past decade, including a two-year break from music to embark on life-changing missionary work in Chile for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the TV personality, bestselling author and former Star Search Junior Vocal Champion and one of American Idol’s youngest breakout wunderkinds was still just finding his voice.
“I think American Idol, the whole process, from the momentum on afterwards, I never took time to slow down and think about who I was,” the singer says. “People wanted me to work in an adult world without growing up. … When I went on my mission, it was the first time that I took time to say, ‘Who am I? What do I want?’
“When I got back, I started doing music again, and that’s when I started working on this project.”
He’s talking about a series of three four-song EPs that, dueth release of Orion, combine to make a heartfelt artistic statement. Unburdened by the pressures and focus-group-think of industry handlers, yet set to pop tones sure to pleasantly surprise old fans and attract new followers to his already robust global fan base, it’s the first album the singer’s co-written and recorded as an adult.
“The music is all about saying, ‘Wait a second, why am I doing this in the first place?’ ” Archuleta says, explaining where his head was at when he relocated to Nashville to start writing songs with Music City luminaries like former Civil Wars star Joy Williams, Jeremy Bose, Trent Dabbs, Katie Herzig, producer Jamie Kenney and others.
“It was therapeutic working with them,” Archuleta recalls. “I wrote these stories [my career so far]. … That was a great experience and I learned a ton, and now I’m here and I’m like, ‘Wow! I get to create music, but this time I have my own reason to do it.”
“I connect to my songs more now than I ever have,” he goes on to say. “Before, my team had goals to fulfill; they didn’t really care about my story, they were just like, ‘Make sure you have enough love songs that we can release, because that’s what people want to buy.’ I’ve never been about romance and breakups and high school love and all that. I’ve always been about life, and self-introspection.”
“I think I’ll take a second change,” Archuleta sings with a familiar bell-clear powerhouse croon on lead-off single “Numb,” an airy pop tune with a refreshing calypso feel that shows some of the Utah-by-way-of-Miami native’s Latin roots. The track premiered via Billboard last November.
“This is like a new beginning,” Archuleta explains excitedly, saying he’s never felt so intrinsically fulfilled and electrified by his own music. “It’s not just taking another chance with music, it’s taking another chance on myself. … I need to be who I am or else I’ll go numb again.”
Like with “Numb,” the theme of the anthemic “Invincible” turns the phrase its title suggests.
“[It’s] about not having to be invincible,” Archuleta says. “I’ve felt too many times that I need to be perfect, I need to be invincible, I can’t show any weakness. But really, that’s what creates the battle with myself. … [Then I have to tell myself], ‘It’s OK, you can let go. Let the armor down. Put the sword away.’ ”
That idea carries on through Orion’s “Up All Night.” It’s a dance-pop gem Archuleta wrote about a rural Tennessee fishing trip he took with a family he befriended. Coming during a rough patch he was having in Nashville, the trip gave the singer some much-needed perspective at a time when he was imposing a paralyzing amount of pressure on himself to prove himself.
“They just cared about each other,” Archuleta says of the family. “Whoever I was, they just loved me and accepted me, and made me feel like a was a part of the family. … I felt whole again, I feel rejuvenated, and I went home and I couldn’t sleep that night. And all that happened was I went fishing with this family. I was like, ‘I have to get this feeling out of me.’ So I went over to the keyboard and [“Up All Night”] is what came out.”
“Say Me,” a string-section-boasting ballad co-written with Bose and Dabbs, is another rumination on the singer’s battle for self-discovery. “I need you to say me,” the lyric goes.
“That can be interpreted as a love song,” Archuleta admits. “I need you to say you, basically — believe in yourself. … There’s a difference between being prideful and cocky and believing in yourself.”
After a decade under the discerning eyes of American Idol judges, TV viewers, record label know-it-alls and music critics trying to shape and define his identity, Archuleta has discovered he’s the only one who can find himself, and, with confidence winning out over self-doubt, that’s what he’s done on Orion.
“These songs are about the struggle of finding your own voice and how hard it can be sometimes to believe in yourself. … I’m David. I’m the kid who always sat in his backyard, alone, singing to the cats. I don’t have to be cool, I just have to be David.”