February 2008 was The Moment for David on American Idol. This was when the tectonic plates cracked open a bit, and a larger world took notice of The Voice. For those who loved David before, this took them to a new level of connection. For those for whom David wasn’t on the radar screen, this finally got their attention.
David has been profoundly influenced by Eva Cassidy. He takes from her version of Imagine the expressiveness and melismatic flourishes that take this Beatles song to a different place. Do you remember when you first heard David sing Imagine? In the Beatles version, John Lennon’s voice is raspy, and he cultivates a cool sense of detachment. Most of us had heard this song innumerable times. We knew all the words, but they lay on the surface of our consciousness. When we listened to David’s intimate and emotionally charged version on February 26, 2008, we heard the words for the first time. As David sang the familiar words, we actually experienced Lennon’s idealistic vision.
When did David first encounter this song? We may never know, but we do know that he performed it in public at the tender age of thirteen. This is a song that David knew for years before performing it on American Idol. Certainly his comfort with this song gave him some solid footing on the stress-filled AI stage.
Imagine is a song that David has made his own, but he has seemingly chosen to sing it only infrequently. Each performance has been a lovely surprise. At the Ford Day event, it was the first time that we heard the song after the Idol competition ended. At the Los Angeles tree lighting ceremony it was a unexpected encore. On a personal note, davidfanLIZ still remembers the chills (and grabbing her concert buddy Rascal in delight) when David began to sing Imagine at the end of the Del Mar outdoor show. And on the return visit to American Idol in April, David stepped it up a notch when he confidently accompanied himself at the piano. What a difference from his first return trip to AI when he sang a more hesitant Touch My Hands and berated himself afterward. His growth and confidence as a performing artist were visible for all to see. The most recent performance of Imagine at Apple headquarters in the Bay Area offered yet another version, albeit only seen in video shot from a frustratingly long distance away.
Imagine is a song that will forever be David’s. Here are all the performed versions gathered in one spot for your enjoyment.
At the Wellington, Florida Boys & Girls Club on May 17th, 2004. David was thirteen years old.
David’s voice is high – the voice of a 13-year-old boy. But the power is there, lifted up by that soulful style that David seems to have been born with. The falsetto is choir boy perfect. And yet, no choir boy outside of a southern Baptist church puts the runs in a song like that! And it’s great how the younger kids crowd around him. It seems like David was a magnet, and perhaps it felt good to be in his aura even then.
David on Good Thing Utah – Age thirteen, unknown date.
“Mini Motown Monster” – this version is butter smooth compared to the one in Wellington. But the power isn’t there as much as before and it makes one wonder if this is around the time that David had his vocal cord paralysis. He seems to be saving his voice, as well he should. And even with that, a beautiful performance.
American Idol – Feb 26, 2008
What can be said about this performance that hasn’t been said already? David made this song his own that night and for anyone who saw it, it can never be sung by anyone else and come close to David’s version. Ever.
Murray High School, May 9, 2008
Home at Murray High School. He nailed all the runs, all the high notes – his voice was perfection that day. Charged with the emotion we all witnessed as David was welcomed home, he gave that song everything he had.
American Idol – May 20, 2008
What is so striking about this version is that David changed it up, adding different runs and phrasing than he did in the first AI performance. Only a few weeks apart and he made the whole song sound new.
Ford Day event in Dearborn, Michigan on September 19, 2008.
David sang to the crowd that day, making eye contact, turning to every section of the audience. No sign of any vocal distress, in fact, this might be the performance where his voice is the most powerful. There seems to be a new sense of freedom and intensity in David’s performance, perhaps in response to relief that the AI judging was finally over.
Hollywood Tree Lighting ceremony, Dec. 6, 2008.
Smooth as silk, gentle and sweet, this performance highlights David’s instinct for the subtle. Slowly building in strength, but never overpowering the song, his voice is perfectly controlled, and yet the emotion shines through as always.
Del Mar, June 21 , 2009
This was the first time David sang Imagine in public while playing the piano. He was tentative, as he often is the first few times he plays a new song while singing. But the VOICE was sheer perfection.
American Idol, April 15, 2010
Watching David’s beautiful hands play over those keys was almost a distraction from hearing him sing….almost, but not quite. Another new version, another set of runs, a perfect contrast between his power notes and his soft, near-whispered ones. This was the performance that let AI know, there was an artist in the house.
Apple Bash, May 21, 2010
How many different ways can the same song be sung? Ask David. Every time we hear this it has a few change-ups. It’s almost as though the highs and lows and runs depend entirely on David’s mood, the mood of the audience, and whether there are big fluffy clouds in the sky. Who could tire of listening to this song that now belongs to David?
~ davidfanLIZ and Marlie7