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“I’m singing Stand By Me by Ben E. King and it came out in 1960. This has always been a fun song for me to sing. I always sing it in my room, to myself, to, I don’t know, my dog or something….” — David Archuleta, American Idol, Week 12, 2008
I have to admit that the first time I heard David say these words, I laughed at the youthful story, remembering my own teen years, singing with my girlfriends at a pajama party, hairbrushes serving as microphones. But over the months, we’ve watched interview after interview where David reveals some quirky anecdote, a surprising viewpoint about himself or a way of thinking that baffles the mind (think “cinnamon” and “mazeltov”).
At first blush, these might be viewed as mistakes made by someone uninitiated in what to say in an interview. They are often amusing, endearing responses. But viewed in the context of months and months of interviews by the ridiculous DJs, as well as the thoughtful interviewers, perhaps what we are seeing is a glimpse of a characteristic that forms the foundation of David’s artistry — a complete lack of guile.
David wears no mask, on stage or off. He opens himself up in ways that most of us would not, and perhaps, could not do. He doesn’t try to be cool, but considers questions carefully then answers them honestly, if awkwardly. He responds to cheesy games with responses that often stun or confuse the interviewer. Always real, always authentic, David shows us exactly who he is, even if that person is a confusing mix of savvy adult and naïve boy.
On stage David does the very same thing — but oh, how the music incites him to dig deeper. No one can fake the intense emotion that David brings to his performances. He opens up what is in his heart and lets it pour out through his voice, his movement, his expression.
Nothing is held back. Unlike the choreographed performances of today’s “packaged artists,” David dares to do what comes naturally — developing his performance skill by letting go with abandon, immersing himself in the power of the emotion that the music inspires. He feels it. We feel it.
Whether David is performing a deeply intense Don’t Let Go or the hopping, jumping, party-mood-inducing Zero Gravity, he fully engages with the music, taking us with him to whatever emotional landscape lives inside him at that moment.
Seasoned performers would pay to know how to do that. I’m not sure you can learn how to do that. Not unless you are willing to strip off the façade of cool, check your ego at the door, and allow yourself to respond honestly and authentically to what is happening right now. This is the difference between an entertainer and an artist.
David Archuleta is an artist.