If there were ever any remaining doubts as to David Archuleta’s sincerity–or, for that matter, the kind of direct availability of raw emotion that signifies the truly gifted performing artist–they would have been vanquished this past Friday in Murray, Utah. Though as terrifically contrived as everything else about American Idol, David’s so-called homecoming (never mind that he couldn’t sleep in his own bed due to security concerns) was by all indications a heartfelt affair. But screaming girls and proclamations, street signs and golden microphones were no match for the sheer luminosity of David himself.
Through all of his humility and even occasional (though diminishing) embarrassment, David has a rare and remarkable ability to be utterly vulnerable in public. This rattles some people. It makes them uncomfortable to the point of not wanting to believe it; it’s frightening. Which means that it’s also incredibly courageous.
Genuine vulnerability in performance is a holy grail. Actors work on it incessantly. David’s childhood reluctance to perform despite a fervent passion for singing was an early indication of the rare combination of outward expression and inward sensitivity that would result in such a uniquely compelling artist. But what was compelling about David on Friday was who he showed himself to be off-stage.
Unlike so many young people of aspiration who give off the dubious impression of having imagined every artifact of success, David never seems to be anywhere other than where he is at that very moment. He has neither anticipated it nor been there before. In some circles, this is known as the Buddha nature, a wisdom of the present moment that is cultivated with what is very particularly referred to as a “childlike wonder.” Those who elect to pursue this path in a conscious way often confront the need to unlearn a lot of ego defenses and protections, most of which are well-cemented by the teenage years. In this light, David might appear to be what some call a Bodhisattva. In Tibetan Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is anyone who is motivated by compassion and seeks enlightenment not only for themselves but for everyone.
It is a strange and in some ways unfortunate comment about the world we live in today that we put a greater value on–and perhaps even more belief in–an overworked phrase, a self-conscious display of diplomacy, or a well-articulated acknowledgment, than we do on a simple and heartfelt expression of emotion like “oh, wow.” And if David’s full and compassionate presence wasn’t evident enough in his game enthusiasm in the local Fox studios, or his passionate performance of The Star Spangled Banner at the Utah Jazz game after a long and tiring day, then it was at least in the enormity of his gratitude displayed at his autograph signing, when the immensity of his support–over 9000 people by some estimates–became visible to him. The freedom of expression David showed in that moment is at once an indication of great humanity and a powerful potential for great artistry.