I realize that you were never–or at least almost never–in it for the win. But it may still take some time for you to realize how fortunate you are to have avoided the heavy mantle of “American Idol.” You’ll understand someday that your potential for legitimacy on your own terms is vastly improved without it.
Because your opportunity to work and create in the music industry is for all intents and purposes identical to what it would have been had you in fact won the dubious distinction of a title, it is just as important for you to assess this inevitability with care and measure. I offer the following to you for whatever worth, if any, it may have.
1. Don’t Rush
In regards to the first music you select as your calling card to world, your producers and sponsors will tell you that the most important thing to them is quality, as well as your own satisfaction. Don’t believe them. What they really want is speed. They will want to capitalize on your current success and visibility. Many of them will cynically believe that your teen girl fan base will buy anything you release at this point, and they fear losing the momentum and attention you’ve gained. Don’t be pressured. Stand your ground. Learn to say “no” until you feel something is absolutely right. Your youth gives you an enormous advantage in this respect: You’ve got all the time in the world. Everyone else needs to rush. You don’t.
2. Beware The Sycophant
This is going to be difficult for you, David, because your compassionate nature inclines you toward giving people the benefit of the doubt. You see the good in others and want to trust them. You’ll need to temper this inclination. The entertainment industry is full of great actors, most of whom are not on a stage or in front of a camera. And it’s not even so much that they don’t mean what they say when they say it, as much as that they are capable of saying just the opposite ten minutes later and meaning that, too. Integrity is in short supply in this industry. It doesn’t mean that they are bad people. They just do questionable and selfish things. There’s a Buddhist saying: “Love the bee but beware the sting.”
3. Avoid Categorization
In the course of your discussions with producers, agents, and publicists, you will hear time and time again (so often, in fact, that it will sound like a skipping CD) who or what you should be “like.” Understand that the one thing the entertainment industry is designed to avoid at all possible costs is originality. They can’t explain it, they can’t package it, they can’t promote it. You need to trust your audience more than you trust the industry. Your audience will get it. They will understand you. Don’t let anyone put you in any labeled buckets other than one labeled “David Archuleta.”
Successful creative people know that art comes from a sense of play. Your most treasured skills and techniques were probably developed not in practice sessions with Dean or in contests or performances, but in your own room, listening to recordings and experimenting with your voice, or noodling around on the piano. It is sometimes very hard to remember to bring that sense of play into a studio when a lot of highly-paid people are standing around. Don’t let it throw you. If you’re not having fun, call a break. Go play a video game. They will wait for you. Artists are not considered Divas because they require certain ways of working but because of how they treat people. That will never be an issue for you, so don’t shy away from having everyone work the way you want to work. They will respect and appreciate you for it, because they’ll know that it means getting a better result.
5. Live and Write
One of your biggest challenges may be in finding the courage to live who you are more than what you feel is expected of you. And that has everything to do with who you are as an artist as much as it does who you are as a person. If the proposed idea is to trust the God in your heart more than the one on the page or in the pulpit, it is not intended to contradict spiritual teaching but to emphasize the power of a personal connection to the source of all things. Spiritual work involves cultivating an awareness of that connection. If you are here, you were meant to be here just as you are. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to change. Your contributions to music might well involve writing. Maybe not now, or even in the near future, but someday, and possibly in a big way. Great writing flows from a deep immersion in life and in being human, with all its messy contradictions, its bliss and its terrors, from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Godspeed, David. You’ll never know the depths to which you have touched and connected so many lives.