David may be a born singer, but unlike many other young, aspiring talents, David is not a born performer. Quite the contrary. As a child, his shyness and humility required that he be coaxed and cajoled into singing for small groups of relatives and friends, and slowly but surely in front of increasingly larger crowds. In fairly short order, those crowds became multitudes, and David’s audience today is global and growing.
It is an interesting irony that someone who was at first so audience-shy is so responsive to the live performance setting. No producer has yet gotten near to extracting in the studio what David is capable of onstage. In the course of his early development as a performer, he could have conceivably developed an emotional wall between himself and the audience — tuned them out, as it were — in order to manage his nerves and his lack of confidence. Instead, he bravely opened himself. He shared his vulnerability. He connected. I suspect David gradually discovered that far from being a frightening place that required sheltering, the stage, for him, was just the opposite. The stage was a place unlike any other in the world, a place he could control, and where opening his heart was always met with love.
If Star Seach was alpha and American Idol was beta, David’s US 09 Tour was by all rights the first full-fledged, ready-for-prime-time, worldwide release of the cross-platform, widget-ready power-app known as David Archuleta. And gosh dang it if the thing didn’t dazzle right out of the box. Oh, it took a couple of test-runs to warm up, but the general consensus among the early adopters is that by Sayreville, the app was performing functions and showing off features that hadn’t even been advertised. Some even thought a couple of showings warranted an ESRB rating sticker.
In truth, the US09 Tour was perhaps not the ideal vehicle by which to experience the true depths of connection for which David Archuleta is already becoming known. Comprised mainly of middle-of-the-road pop material from his very respectable but ultimately uninventive debut album, the tour wound up drawing more on David’s less-developed skills as a performer than on his remarkable gifts as a sophisticated vocalist. And the success of the tour–not just in box office receipts but in the strength of David’s delivery on date after date–is that much more remarkable because of it. In the end, David’s first solo tour will have been more important for David’s own development as a performer than for his career, the cultivation of his audience, or the fulfillment of his fans.
The two component parts of the phrase, “performing artist” can be quite different from each other within a single individual. There are plenty of performers who possess rather dubious credentials for actually getting on a stage, as well as many great talents whose lights will be forever under a bushel. What is perhaps surprising about David’s evolution as a performer is just how much practice he has actually had, and how long it has taken him to reach certain levels of aptitude. David Archuleta is nothing if not methodical.
The interesting thing is, there is never anything that strikes one as methodical about his performances (except for possibly some of the pre-song patter, which he seems hell-bent on delivering word-for-word, regardless of the circumstances or how quickly the band comes in to challenge him). Every note, every musical moment — and, increasingly, every move and gesture, every shoulder pump and hunker-down — feels utterly spontaneous. And even though his progress is methodical, even incremental, it always amazes me how it also seems to have happened so fast. Wasn’t it just a year ago that the prospect of David commanding a stage and working a crowd was about as likely as hearing him curse like a sailor? I have come to the conclusion that the reason his thoughtful, incremental progress seems so rapid is because he chooses just exactly the right increments. David doesn’t take risks just to see what will happen. He decides what will work and then he bets it all.
This is perhaps best exemplified by Zero Gravity, the buoyant club-track-in-training co-penned by Mr. Archuleta himself (it’s no surprise and no accident that a majority of the best cuts on–and not on–the album are David’s). At it’s tour debut, Zero Gravity felt distinctly like an experiment. David didn’t seem at all certain of it’s place in the current repertoire, or even of his own synergy with the song. But the audience response was immediate and clear: He had a crowd-pleaser on his hands. Within just a few shows, David had worked Zero Gravity into a pumped-up, get-down, sexy and spirited hit.
Most performers who find early success because of prodigal talent don’t tend to evolve much beyond their initial scope of skills. They may explore different realms and dimensions of their instrument, try different directions in style and mood, but the sum and substance of their appeal doesn’t usually evolve in a fundamental way. I think David is unique in this regard. It seems clear that even with the magnificent voice, the unerring musicality, the impeccable taste, and now the emerging skill in songwriting and stage command, we are still only scratching the surface.
The implication of still greater potential signified by David’s careful progess into his own comfort zones, his methodical embrace of his own power and of the widening world at his feet, is at once astonishing, exciting, and absolutely frightening. If David 1.0 can galvanize audiences, surprise critics, and cause such mass hysteria, spiritual epiphany, and obsessive Googling, what is in store for the world on the arrival of, say, David 4.3?
I have to laugh a little when I think about what’s really possible in the future from David. For some obvious (and perhaps not-so-obvious) reasons, David is extremely guarded about any direct expression of sensuality. When he is in the world of his music (which for him is a different world altogether), he can’t help it, of course, and his sensuality oozes out of him like the juice from a sweet summer pear, one which lacks any knowledge of having been bitten or of even being so ripe. What is it going to be like when he truly embraces his own sensual nature? What instrument exists that can measure the power certain to surge from a David Archuleta who uses his sensuality consciously, intentionally, like he uses his miraculous voice? We think he’s smoldering now… My friends: These are cool, collected embers compared the raging brush fires that this guy is capable of.
But at the end of the day it is The Voice. For many people, there is an unmistakable tone, a timbre, a frequency of some kind that David produces which, at certain moments, pierces through every emotional barrier, every cynical thought, and touches a place of deep and abiding tenderness, that universal point of perspective where sadness and joy become one, and the great fullness of wise recognition, the great surges of profound understanding, overflow and become tears. One of the few experiences that can bring us to this place in a veritable instant is great art. There weren’t perhaps enough of these moments in the US09 tour, but there were some. One of them is offered here, with thanks to genevievewang and StarryNites01.
David Archuleta is immensely powerful not because he is now becoming a pro at leading a crowd or commanding a stage, or even because of a nascent sensuality that is slowly extending itself, but because he invites you to listen and not just hear; to participate with your heart and not just your senses; to realize that music is not a broadcast but a communication.
People feel unusually close to David because his natural state is, ironically, one of intimacy… an intimacy that I dare say he can cultivate and is comfortable with only onstage. For better or worse, this is the mark of a true star and a great artist: one who can locate their true nature only in the realm of performance; who is most powerful and most vulnerable in that odd and magical public setting. It is these artists who have such passionately devoted fans, because somehow their fans know that for these rare and generous individuals, their time onstage is indeed not just a performance. It is life.
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