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Review from Las Vegas

American Idols Live: Archuleta Wins the Night

“…It appeared to this witness that the walkaway winner of the evening was 17-year-old David Archuleta. Sure, he was the runner-up on the actual show that spawned this concert and its 53-show tour (Vegas was stop #4). But Archuleta brought his A-game (or some other sports cliche) and proved he’s on course to be a musical star in the long term…”

– Joe Brown, Las Vegas Sun, July 5, 2008

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Praise from the Praiseworthy

“You know this most recent ‘American Idol’ singer-David Archuleta? He’s sensational. He’s got gorgeous, gorgeous natural talent.

– Barbara Cook, Windy City Times, June 2008

Some of you may be aware of this comment, but I wonder if most of you realize how significant it is. Barbara Cook has a been a luminary in that rare cross-section of classical, pop, and Broadway vocalists for going on four decades. She is often referred to as “the singer’s singer.” Her own voice is an immensely expressive lyric soprano, not to everyone’s taste (including my own), but she is also revered today as a one of the world’s most sought-after vocal coaches.

According to a 2002 New York Times article on her famous master classes, Ms. Cook began working with voice students in the late 1970’s, shortly after she began her second life as a cabaret and concert singer following a spectacular career on Broadway. These days, Ms. Cook is as revered for her performances–many critics marvel that her voice at nearly eighty is better than ever–as she is for her teaching.

Her lessons are called master classes because she doesn’t delve into the technical details of singing such as breath control, sound production, or tonality, as much as she focuses on the importance of emotional transparency. Indeed, she is known for challenging singers to relinquish technique, to dispense with the very notion of performing altogether, in order to create a connection between the heart of the material, the heart of the artist, and the hearts of the audience.

No wonder she loves David.

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Subversive Nature

Several weeks ago while listening to Studio 360 I was reminded of one of my comments during the AI show season, an observation that despite the easy assumptions about David’s apparently genteel, straitlaced conformity, he was in fact the real rebel of the bunch. “Originality is the true iconoclast,” I had written,  “and indeed the only value that has the potential to really change the game, if not the world.”

The public radio show was profiling a project entitled Edible Estates by the the L.A. based artist and architect Fritz Haeg. On the surface the project is about remaking the conventional American front lawn into artistic arrangements of organic produce. Haeg has been installing his gardens since 2005, and always with as much help as he can get from the local community and especially children. In addition to some of the more obvious principles underlying the effort, Haeg expressed his view that there was something actually quite provocative, even radical, in the seemingly innocent effort.

“I’m really very interested in the contrast between taking something … almost kind of ‘grandma,’ like a vegetable garden, and making it provocative.”

“I don’t think it’s interesting anymore to be provocative with violence and sex and all of those things that we don’t respond to anymore because we see them so much. I think there are more subversive ways to be provocative. Today it seems like it’s with knitting and gardening and things like that, that go against our media-centric and highly commercialized society.”

This struck me as another very real dimension of David’s status as a cultural rebel. It’s also one of the reasons he isn’t right for, and isn’t likely to align himself with, the likes of Disney, which represents not the modern, provocative nature of gentle integrity but the less enlightened, old-school version of propriety that gave rise to the very hyper-maniucured lawns that Fritz Haeg is seeking to till.