'American Idol': David Archuleta interview (City Winery, 3/12)

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Posted Sunday, March 11, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

I've been in South Korea and had barely any Wifi to post anything. So I am literally writing this at the gate where Wifi is available before I depart for Atlanta. When "Idol" returns on ABC tonight, I'll be in flight and won't be able to live blog the first episode of the season, which is a bummer. I have pre-written my recap which will post as soon as the episode ends on the East Coast. Feel free to comment here if you'd like. 

For many "American Idol" fans, David Archuleta is frozen in time: a sweet 16-year-old kid who nearly won season 7 of the show. He had a rabid fan base and generated one major radio hit "Crush," which fit what many of his followers felt toward him.

That was a whopping decade ago. He is now 27 and all grown up - but still looks like a teen-ager.

"I was just last week on a plane," he said in a recent interview to promote his City Winery appearance March 12. (Buy tickets here.) "I was in the exit row. The flight attendant asked how old I was. 'I'm 27.' 'I just wanted to make sure.' "

"It seems like I'm eternally 15 years old," he added, without a trace of resentment about it. "But I now have to be more careful what I eat and I have to exercise. It's so easy to get a muffin top. I'm in the gym right now!"

He's had back issues since he was 19 and now has a personal trainer to help him exercise properly. "I'm feeling great!" he said.

Archuleta was about to perform in Hartford, Conn. when I spoke with him, the first time he said he's toured in the Northeast in seven years. He said his remaining fan base is super nice, the stalkers long moved on. The venues have noted how sweet the audiences have been, he said.

He said life experience has made him much more comfortable performing on stage. He can move around and dance and be free on stage, rather than just be frozen in front of a mic.

"I realize I can connect personally a lot more to the audience. Before, I had no idea what to say sometimes when I was 19. I realize there are certain things in my life that are important to me that can be important to other people... I like to tell stories and messages. It's a lot about teaching people to speak up, that their voice matters. They can be validated. I think it's challenging to think you're good enough. It's worth being heard. I've dared myself and challenged myself to speak up, to say what matters to me."

"If one person needs to hear this little encouragement, this whole tour is worth it to me," Archuleta said, "to life one person up, give them a little inspiration and encouragement as well as fun, emotional moments. I want to do a complete show."

He's had to deal with vocal paralysis in the past through training and therapy. Doctors, he said, find his throat fascinating. "The one vocal cord that is fully functioning learned how to make up for the one that's not fully functioning," he said.

Archuleta is fine with smaller venues. In the peak of his popularity, he was in arenas and big theaters. "It was crazy. It was very insane, sometimes very overwhelming to me. I'm sensitive to a lot of sound and people shouting and cheering."

He loves the size of a City Winery. "I like to talk," he said. "I like to engage. I like to make it like I'm having a conversation. Sometimes the bigger the stage, the smaller you feel. At this size, I can connect with you personally."

His new album "Postcards in the Sky," which came out last fall, focuses on believing in yourself.

Archuleta admits "Idol" was the toughest thing he had ever done. "It was really hard, all the pressure and all the eyes on you. I was being judged not just by the judges but everyone. We don't like to be judged or compared to in this society but that was what this show was about. Every single person had a nervous breakdown at some point. Okay, maybe no Chikezie." [Yes, that season 7 singer was chill.] He also said Jason Castro was super non-competitive compared to the others.

At the time, he said he was socially awkward and a people pleaser who wanted to make everyone happy. "I was so busy getting everyone's approval," he said.

The two years doing mission work as a Mormon was a game changer for him. He was no longer David Archuleta of "American Idol." He was just David. "I found myself by not worrying about me," he said. "I was caught up in helping other people, teaching them about God and Jesus Christ."

He said he became a missionary leader, not "some precious little stone that had to be taken care of and relied upon to make money."

Archuleta loves performing but if nobody shows up for shows anymore in ten years, he isn't going to shrivel and die. He realizes he is more than just a performer and can do other things if need be.

"I was so blessed and so fortunate to be where I am now," he said. "Instead of asking why, I say thank you. My favorite thing is to connect with people and music gives me that opportunity."