I began writing this article before I knew that David was scheduled to appear on this week’s Idol results show. The premise of the article was that perhaps the recent relative quiet in Archuland was a time for reflection, and may have been serving as such even for David himself. I speculated the possibility that, in the two-year period since David found himself winning the largest television audience in the world and courting some of the most devoted fans on the planet, he may not yet have had a real opportunity to unpack what had actually happened to him. One learns (perhaps most) in the doing, but taking stock is vital, too. Maybe in this relatively quiet time, I thought, he may have finally had that opportunity.
I think it’s safe to say there has been some serious reflection indeed.
Some find fortune. Others have fortune thrust upon them. I’ve often wondered to what degree David was complicit in the creation of his own fate. I think the general consensus has been that if it weren’t for others egging him on, encouraging (among other things) him to put his talent on display, the voice of David Archuleta might still be confined to the room at the top of the stairs after a long workday at the local audio-video store. The television show “Glee” has tried to profile the unwitting talent, the one who has “the calling” thrust upon them, but somehow I can imagine even the most reticent Gleester belting out tunes in their bedroom with a firm vision of the audience just beyond in the dark, and vivid fantasies of fame and fortune. Whether David was unwitting or complicit, he has never betrayed a hunger for an audience nor an explicit desire for fame and fortune. On the contrary, in fact, he seems to have wanted nothing so much as protection, not exposure.
In the midst of this enormous trajectory of professional and personal growth, David has also sought shelter and comfort in a dimension of his life that offers a constancy and structure absent elsewhere. That dimension is, of course, his faith. It isn’t hard to understand how someone with David’s sensitivity would seek asylum from a world of weakness, vipers and vulgarity. Who could blame him? The desire to be tethered to something sacred, to be in the world but not of it, is understandable and admirable. But religion itself can sometimes serve as a substitute for objective inquiry and self reflection, substituting a host of apocryphal fables and arbitrary regulations for true spiritual development. I am not suggesting that David has fallen victim to this risk (we are sure to know more on this subject when his book drops), but there has always been a question for me regarding the degree to which David might be seeking retreat from himself. In particular, from his own power.
The discovery of one’s own power can be one of the most surprising aspects of accomplishment. And power can be frightening, even — and especially — when it’s your own. Anyone of any insight who has followed David closely realizes that his experience with the adjudication of power in his world has been, at best, a very mixed bag, and, at worst, a series of tragic disasters. It should come as no surprise, then, that David’s own formidable power — as evidenced by everything from the sporadic instances of truly unbridled performance moments to a reported stubborn streak a mile long — may well be the source of real apprehension for him. How does one adjudicate the power to hire and fire people, never mind the power to make people weep and scream and faint?
The one form of personal power with which David is obviously most comfortable is his voice. And yet, it is the remarkable control he exerts over this power, his instrument, that produces some of its most tantalizing effects. Indeed, it is often not the expression of power but the implication of it that creates excitement for an audience. This is something many contemporary performers don’t seem to realize. Of course, the power has to really be there, it can’t be a ruse or else it won’t play as a genuine threat. From where I sit, David implies far more power than he has ever actually expressed, and I have no doubt whatsoever that it is all really there. Every bit of it. The tension between implication and expression, between control and release, is what great music (among other things) is made of.
In the short span of a week, many of these persistent questions about David’s relationship to his own power have begun to be answered. If David wasn’t entirely complicit in the formation of his role as a performer, he is clearly taking the reins now. As always, David is nothing if not methodical. Those of us with a good deal more impetuosity in our nature can become awfully frustrated watching someone abide when action might be taken. But David is on David Time, not Rascal Time or Jive Time or even Earth Time. The upside is that when decisions are made in David Time, they are definitive, uncompromising, and sure. They are powerful.
The new adjudication of power is evident in David’s latest performance of “Imagine.” Relaxed, expressive and genuine, this performance is deceptive in its simplicity and extremely subtle in its new evocation of strength. David will always be the kind of singer whose charms and wonders appear to those who accept his invitation to connect. David doesn’t grab you by the scruff of the neck and drag you into his world, but merely shows you a door. It’s up to you to come in. In the earlier versions of “Imagine,” I think perhaps David hadn’t quite realized what his role was inside that world. I suspect he thought he was the entertainment. Now, I think he realizes that he is the host.
I’ve seen as much real power emanating out of David Archuleta this week as in the past two years combined. As with everything Archuleta, it is subtle but unmistakable. There is a new confidence, an assertiveness, that feels entirely genuine. David isn’t trying on some new attitude for size. This new expression of strength is deeply grounded, obviously the result of long and careful consideration and fertilization. And it’s not going unnoticed, either. Observe Simon Cowell’s expression as David is talking with Ryan onstage after the performance. Note that Kara DioGuardi, also in the frame, has that typical “aw, isn’t he adorable” look on her face, but Simon is plainly intrigued with the new Archuleta. He’s got that “well now, what have we here…?” expression.
I’ll tell you what we have here: New management. A new album. A new haircut. And a new and very exciting supervisor of the David Archuleta phenomenon: David himself.