Anyone who knows my backstory as an Archie may recall that it was due to the insistence of the ex that we watch that singing show which eventually led to my discovery of David. It was all Joshua’s fault. (Well, of course, everything was Joshua’s fault — he is the ex, after all). Even though my fanaticism is a source of endless amusement for him now, he was compelled to acknowledge, after finally viewing some recent YouTube selections, a real and growing appreciation for David. Ha ha! Another one bites the dust! Joshua is also a musician, has always had terrific taste in music (especially pop music), and — like David — is one of the biggest Mariah fans on the planet. After just a few viewings, Joshua had this to say about David:

I can hear the emotional connection his voice can make really clearly, and I definitely get a spiritual kind of vibe from him. His pure heart is very evident. I think it’s great that someone like that has managed to make music a career, it’s so rare that someone with that kind of integrity reaches that position.

It’s always such a pleasure to witness new fans discovering the Archuletor and feeling the connection, that it got me to thinking about how one might program a new fan initiation…. What are the essential Archuleta moments so far?

With great thanks to TDC’s own inveterate video archivist, Marlie7, I hereby offer a Rascal Redux of the Essential Archuleta. These are all, except for one, live performances captured on video. And they are in chronological order, not priority order.

Essential #1: “Imagine
It started earlier for many of us, “he had me at Heaven,” is a familiar refrain, but “Imagine” really set the bar — not only for David but indeed for the entire seventh season of American Idol. This performance captivated a nation, and even prompted a personal phone call to David from John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono. This is when it became clear that David not only had skills that were way beyond his years, but an ability to make heart connections through music that few performers ever achieve.

Essential #2: “Think of Me”
A personal favorite, the switched-up, slightly Baby-Faced version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s love song from his musical, The Phantom of the Opera, is one studio cut (and an early one at that) which benefits from David’s inclination to produce more laid-back, prettier tones than he does in a live setting, where he drives for more intensity. This recording is not without it’s power, however. Check the astonishing combination of depth and clarity David achieves in the runs and long notes in the final measures of the song. Just remarkable. (This media has no video — audio only.)

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Essential #3: “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
It was something of a personal gratification for me to hear David perform Elton John because I had made that association very early on. I think between his soulful voice, his piano-man vibe, and his songwriting skills, the Elton John parallels may very well play out over the course of his career. This performance is essential for other reasons, though. American Idol is a pressure cooker, a grind, an extremely taxing enterprise for all the finalists, not to mention the final two. The expectations for both Davids were high, but Archuleta had stumbled once or twice, a few of his song choices were questionable, and the tide of both public opinion and aggressively-manufactured AI PR was rising in favor of Cook. Going into the finale, everyone knew that Archuleta had to bring it and leave it all on the stage. He surely did that and more with this stunning — and all-too-brief — performance.

Essential # 4: “Angels” Live in Tulsa 09.13.08
The irony of David performing onstage is that his live performances easily surpass his studio recordings (one of these days a producer will come along who knows how to get out of David in the studio what he is capable of in front of an audience), except that it’s actually taken some time for his skills as a stage performer to catch up with his skills as a vocalist. Near the end of the Idols ’08 tour, David had become comfortable enough to turn out this amazing, quintessential Archuversion of “Angels” by Robbie Williams. You can just feel him gearing and grinding and juicing the pulp out of every morsel of the song until, by the last third, there is nothing left and nowhere to go but up, and he levitates into the stratosphere with a musical energy that is simply breathtaking.

Essential #5: “A Thousand Miles” Hollywood, 12.06.08
What I wrote at the time this appeared is about the best I can say it, so here it is again: This performance of “A Thousand Miles” represents everything that is so remarkably appealing about David Archuleta. It is on the axis of what sometimes seem like opposing attributes: powerful and tender, sweet and virile, effortless and masterful. This piece is ideal for David’s strengths: soulful and longing, but with an unwavering sense of hope; like melancholy delivered with light. The rhythmic lyrics broken by long vocal lines are perfect for revealing the most exciting and impressive aspects of his instrument. This is a desert island track for me, because it sweeps me away from wherever I am and into a place where only David Archuleta can serve as host. And what a privilege it is to be his guest.

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Essential #6: “O Holy Night” Hollywood, 12.06.08
There are times when David goes to a completely different place and takes anyone along who is willing to go there with him. The ability to make such an exceedingly difficult song sound both technically proficient and so simply drawn from the heart is a rare gift. This performance feels like an act of pure generosity.

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Essential #7: “Don’t Let Go,” Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ 02.26.09
The Sayreville show, early on in the schedule of David’s first solo tour, is acknowledged to be something of a watershed in the evolution of his performing power. There was a level of intensity combined with sheer abandon that hadn’t been seen before. Although there might be later versions of “Don’t Let Go” that could be slightly superior in certain ways to this one, it represents the first time David had allowed some real and genuine sensuality to saturate his performance.

Essential #8: “To Be With You,” Idaho Falls, 03.21.09
One of the only songs from his first album that can arguably be described as really being in David’s wheelhouse, “To Be With You” shows off his remarkable instrument to quite beautiful effect. It’s tough to pick a top performance because David is quite consistent, always fully present,  and manages to give 110% almost all the time, but this one is certainly among the best.

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Essential #9 : “Apologize,” Hartford, 06-21-09
I was still in Del Mar after the opening show of the summer tour when this appeared online and I watched it, open-mouthed, tears streaming, at least a half-dozen times in one sitting. One is invariably tempted to wonder whether the news reports of David’s father’s arrest which had come out earlier that week might have contributed to the emotion here, but in any case the intensity is quite stunning.

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Essential #10: “Zero Gravity,” Sunrise, Florida, 08.01.09
The Zero Gravity performances are some of the most exciting and surprising ones to have come out of David’s ’09 tours. Something of an experimental addition at the first few shows of the winter tour, ZG quickly captured audiences with its bouncy club-track vibe and David’s jump-up, get-down, pop star delivery. Here’s a recent version at full-throttle.

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I don’t expect this list will be without controversy (is there anything I post that is without some controversy?!). Are there competing lists of what constitute the essentials? — Bring ’em on!

— Rascal