'Go for it': David Archuleta talks Mariah Carey advice and new album in exclusive interview

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It’s been 10 years since David Archuleta hit the American Idol stage and caught an entire country’s attention with his rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” He was a gifted teenager with a budding fanbase and the vocal chops to show for it. 

In the last decade, Archuleta has seen the world, tasted pop radio success with his massive hit “Crush” and taken time off to reflect on his journey.

But 27-year-old Archuleta is still the poised and kind-hearted kid he was back in 2008, and some, according to Archuleta, think he actually still is a kid.

Celebrating the decade anniversary of his debut album, Archuleta is back with a second Christmas record “Winter in the Air.”

The Spectrum talked with Archuleta about his new record, a decade in music and taking advice from some of pop music’s legends.

Q: You got your start way back and even spent some time on “Star Search” –– a show that gave young artists a platform to show off their talent. Was it nerve-wracking to put yourself out there like that at a young age?

A: Yeah. I think the hardest thing about it was cameras because, for some reason, ever since I was little, I had a camera phobia. I couldn’t stand thinking of other people looking at me. I don’t know, I just thought, ‘oh man’ and to think that people were looking at me … I didn’t think very highly of myself and how I looked and how I acted and stuff so [I thought] “I’m inconveniencing everyone with having them look at me.” So I just dreaded cameras. My friends all knew –– even up through high school –– that I wasn’t going to go in pictures. I would always run away. I’ve gotten over it now, but that was probably the hardest part for me, thinking people were looking at me. 

Q: Once Idol rolled around, plenty more people definitely looked at you and you garnered  a massive following in the early stages of the show. Simon Cowell called you the “one to beat” from the jump. As a 16/17-year-old kid, did you feel pressure to deliver each week knowing that you were the front-runner?

A: I didn’t feel that much pressure until people started telling me that that was the impression that everyone was getting. When people started interviewing me in between the shows like “Oh, so you’re the one to beat” and I’m like “what?” I didn’t even think I would get that far on the show. I went to audition because I prayed about it and I was like “there’s something I need to learn from this experience.” But from the experience of just going to audition, I didn’t think I was going to get far. Like, I’m not competitive, I hate cameras, what on earth am I doing? 

One of the things I learned was how to get over a fear of cameras. They always have cameras on us. My concern about people thinking I would be a weirdo for freaking out about cameras was more powerful than actually freaking out because of the cameras. I was like “OK, I’m just going to calm down and work through it” and I did. Now I don’t care. I’m totally fine with cameras. 

Q: On the show you met music’s biggest legends and they gave you a lot of advice. I watched back and you met Mariah Carey and she told you to push into your falsetto. And I listened to the recent Christmas record, and during your cover of “White Christmas,” you really went for that.  How much time did you spend with the “mentors” and what memories do you still have of meeting Carey and the others?

A: I was only 17, but I never really learned how to use my falsetto, especially because I had my vocal paralysis. So I just never knew how to use it. Once [Carey] told me to try it and stuff, she didn’t teach me how to do it, she just said “go for it and [you'll] figure out how to do it.” I spent the rest of the week just practicing it. It was there. I just had to gain some confidence. Now I use it, like in “White Christmas,” I do a whole verse. 

Q: The next step after Idol was your debut album, which is about to celebrate its 10th  anniversary. You recently commemorated “Crush” with a viral tweet for the same reason. That was actually the first record I ever bought as a kid, and probably the only physical CD I purchased three times. How does it feel to see fans who grew up on your music?

A: It’s funny because I look at myself and I’m like, “Oh yeah, that’s right, I’m 27 now.” And I don’t feel like I’m that old because everyone still thinks that I’m a teenager. People still ask me on the airplanes like “oh, are you traveling alone, do you need someone, are you old enough to travel alone?” I’m 27. They’ll even ask for my ID at the check-in counter and also boarding onto the plane. I guess I still feel like I’m young and I guess I still like Pokemon and things like that. I meet these people and they’re like “oh my gosh, I have my kids listen to your music” and they’re like “I loved you when I was 13 and this is my daughter,” and I’m like “what?” I’m meeting these kids and it’s like “oh my gosh, you weren’t even born when this song was out.” That’s where I freak out. I’m like “Oh my gosh, I am old.” They’ll be like “I love this old song, this old tune ‘Crush.’” That’s an old song now? I’m glad its a cool old song for them. It makes me happy that it didn’t just die with that generation and it’s continued. 

Q: I remember your last Christmas record. I really enjoyed that one, and you’ve released a new one, “Winter in the Air.” What inspired you to put out a follow-up Christmas record?

A: Christmas is my favorite holiday. Even when I was making the first Christmas album, there were so many Christmas songs that I love and I didn’t know how I could do them all. So [I knew I’d] do another Christmas album eventually. I guess I just always knew I was going to make another one. So that first one, I definitely dedicated it to being more sacred, to the true meaning of what Christmas was for me. And the second one, I still dedicated half of the album to that, but with the other half [I said] “I want to have fun with it.” 

… That was my goal. I wanted to write a song that would make people think that it’s Christmas. And so I wrote “Christmas Every Day” and a couple other ones. And then there’s the sacred side of it, too. There are songs that kind of talk for themselves that are old traditional Christmas songs but I wanted to do some in my own words and tell people what Christmas was for me.  

Q: I normally leave myself out of interviews, but you were the first musician I really gravitated toward as a kid. I used to write you letters, which in turn inspired my career path of writing about music.  I want to thank you for making a fifth grader’s childhood, but at the same time, I want to ask you if you knew the joy you were bringing to people through music?

A: I think that’s awesome. That’s so cool. Now we’re doing an interview. Thanks for sharing that and I’m so glad. I think I had to learn it. I still constantly fight myself, like what’s special about me? What do I really have to offer people? And it’s like a constant voice in my head that I just learn how to fight. I’ve gotten stronger to fight back at it to keep moving forward. At first I thought maybe people were just into it because they watch me every week on this show that’s popular. But now that it’s been 10 years, people are still talking about a song or a memory they had or a show they went to or something I said that impacted them. These are real connections that we’re making and a real difference that I could be making with what I do. It’s something I’ve learned.

 Brenton Blanchet is the managing editor and can be reached at brenton.blanchet@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @BrentBlanchSpec