I wouldn’t perhaps go quite so far as to say that the advantage of not having to watch American Idol outweighs the pleasure of seeing and hearing David Archuleta sing, but it’s getting close. When one of the three songs earmarked for a seventeen year-old crooner with a thick vein of soul is selected by a nearly sixty year-old television producer whose most impressive previous credits include “TV Nightmares,” “Animals Do the Funniest Things,” and “Hidden Talents of the Rich and Famous,” you know (if you don’t already) that you are decidedly not the beneficiary of the most sophisticated musical presentation on the planet. And that’s too bad. Because David Archuleta is above this nonsense.
And that’s one of the reasons why I hope to God he doesn’t win it.
I realize that these are sacrilegious words to many of David’s fans, but history has already shown that actually winning this competition has nothing to do with eventual artistic achievement or success in the marketplace. But a win does demand a whole host of responsibilities, mostly promotional, that someone like David is neither interested in nor at this point particularly good at (and it’s really the last thing he needs to learn).
But most of all, the winner of this competition becomes saddled with the American Idol brand even more so that the runners-up, and that’s a dubious achievement to be sure. The question is really whether the American Idol brand is truly congruent with the David Archuleta brand, and the short answer is that no one knows just yet what the David Archuleta brand is. The worst thing that can be done right now is to over-define it with the heavy-handed mantle of “American Idol.” When David does finally determine the scope of his professional character he will almost certainly see the title as a hindrance more than a help.
In the beginning, it seemed obvious that David Archuleta was the quintessential American idol. Who better to serve as an example of young talent and national pride than a wholesome, handsome teenager from middle America with such refreshing humility, and manners that would put a diplomat to shame? But I’ve gradually come to see that the title–at least in the way that 19 Entertainment defines it, or even for that matter the way the majority of the American public wants it–is too narrow for David.
In many ways, David Cook is the ideal American Idol. He’s familiar, he’s predictable, he fits easily into a predefined genre with which everyone is quite comfortable. Because the scope of his professional character is already delineated the additional branding of American Idol won’t succeed in fully defining him. But perhaps most important, he’ll make people feel as though they’re choosing something a bit rebellious when in fact they’re choosing the most conventional contemporary archetype of them all.
The real rebel in this competition is David Archuleta. David fits no mold whatsoever, and that’s precisely why the press has had such difficulty trying to explain and categorize him (definable buckets being the critical workaround to having to characterize something truly original). Oh, the critics have tried glibly to pigeonhole David as a Disney type or a Christian singer or a boy-band figure, and there are perhaps elements of all of these in him, but none define him with any real measure, not the way the simple moniker of “rocker” defines David Cook. Originality is the true iconoclast, and indeed the only value that has the potential to really change the game, if not the world. I think David has a better chance of doing that without the crown.
As for last night’s performances, the first reminded me why I’ve carved out a slice of my life for this kid, the second reminded me how young he still is, and the third reminded me what a supremely silly production we’re all watching. I do think David was on the precipice of getting With You just right. He was close, and even started to nail it toward the end, but it was too late. And once again it had nothing to do with technical control but with command and control. David’s Buddha nature compels him to serve, but onstage he needs to lead. He can come to it naturally when he has an unambiguous grasp of the material, but the slightest doubts make him falter; not in his technique, which is so remarkably reliable, but in his dominion over the event. When David has dominion, no one can touch him.
Much of that will come with practical maturity. For such a prodigy, David is something of a late bloomer. This will, I believe, accrue to his benefit, but only if he is allowed to develop in as much of an organic way as may be possible, given the fact that he now has an audience to serve. Subjected to the demands of a crown, this likelihood would be further diminished. David belongs on a different stage than the one tagged with “American Idol.” The sooner he relinquishes that corporate meta-brand, the better.