Just seventeen, David Archuleta is the youngest contestant still in the running to win season seven of “American Idol.” In this exclusive Billboard interview, the Utah native opens up about the vocal paralysis that almost kept him from singing, singing for season one “Idol” contestants, mulling careers in medicine and how he’d still like to go to college.
Neil Diamond called you a prodigy and a lot of people think you have an incredible gift for music. How does that feel?
I still feel weird when people say, “you’re a good singer,” because I’ve never looked at myself like that. I’ve always looked at myself as someone who loves music and loves to try and interpret it as I see it.
It seems like you’re always emotionally connected to the lyrics you’re singing.
When I was younger, I didn’t know what made me sing the song differently or how I sang it. I still don’t really understand fully, but the lyrics do mean a lot to me now, a lot more than before. I didn’t even pay attention to the lyrics when I was 12, 13. Probably around the second year I did “Star Search” is when I paid more attention to the lyrics. I thought the music itself had such a power to it and now that I’ve understood how powerful lyrics are as well, I think that has allowed me to progress.
Online, there’s a popular video of you meeting the first season contestants at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood. How did that come about.
I got into [the first season of] “American Idol” and then Tamyra Gray sang “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and opened up soulful music and expressive music to me. I couldn’t stop watching “Idol” over and over again with TiVo. I’d sing along with Kelly [Clarkson] and Tamyra. Those were the two people I’d really listen to, because I’d never heard people sing like that before. It allowed me to see what performing and really getting into a song was like.
And then I sang “And I Am Telling You” on a “Jenny Jones” show for future Latino stars [that also featured first season finalist] A.J. [Gil]. I was 11 and my aunt and I ran into A.J. outside of the hotel and he said, “Come in. I want you to meet Tamyra,” because she had totally changed my life. So I sang the song for her and that was just really scary but cool at the same time. Then they had me sing for some other contestants and then Kelly [Clarkson] and Justin [Guarini] came down and they all wanted me to sing for them. That was really cool. Kelly hadn’t even won yet at that point.
Earlier this season, you talked about suffering vocal paralysis a few years ago. Were you worried you wouldn’t be able to sing again?
The year after “Star Search” is when I found out I had vocal paralysis. That’s when I was really struggling, barely getting through a minute-and-a-half song. I took a break after that, because I thought, “I can’t do this.” I was having a hard time singing and I didn’t have a range back then and I didn’t know if it was permanent or not. I had no idea what it was. I’d never even heard of it. I didn’t know your vocal chords could get paralyzed. After a while, I thought, “I need to start singing again. I just love it too much.” You know, there’s just something about it that makes you feel something that you can’t feel anywhere else. So I kept doing that, just singing here and there, [like] Stadium of Fire, this thing they do in Utah for the Fourth of July at BYU Stadium.
After a while, my voice started coming back. My range started getting bigger. So I started trying to figure out what I could do again. I thought everyone could sing. A lot of people have that ability and it seemed the older I got, the more people could sing.
I started to write some songs. I thought that was really fun to do. I still can’t really do that. I’d like to get into that more. I think this experience on “American Idol,” trying to figure out what songs work best with your voice and trying to arrange them has really helped and I’d like to see if I can write some more stuff, because I’ve only written like three songs all the way.
Did you have help as a songwriter?
I wrote the melody and lyrics all by myself, then we had some guy help out trying to figure out the music. We had some tracks made. He probably hates me because it took forever for me to try to explain it. It’s like, “No, not that. That’s not it. Take this out.” He was really good. He was patient with someone who was so new to writing music.
What are your earliest musical memories?
My earliest memories are my dad playing trumpet all the time and my mom singing with her sisters. I remember when I was a little kid, my mom and her sisters would perform at all these places.
I didn’t like trumpet. I hated it because it was so loud and it just rang throughout the house. I’m a fan of jazz now, but back then I thought jazz was my dad playing trumpet as loud as he can. I covered my ears. Music became important to me probably when I watched the 10th anniversary tape of “Les Miserables” that my dad had. I was so fascinated by it. I was like six or seven.
Have you ever thought about another career besides music?
I was looking into dental stuff, but I don’t think that’s for me. Then I started thinking being an ear, nose and throat doctor would be really cool. If I can’t do something with music, I’d at least like to help people with music because the ear, nose and throat doctors I went to about my vocal paralysis helped me. I thought it’d be cool to figure out how to solve all the problems I’ve had, because I’ve had issues with my nose and I’m sure I have something wrong with my hearing and the voice.
Do you want to go to college
I do. I’d love to still see what catches my eye. You know, music is something that I don’t think I’ll ever want to give up. But I’d like to see if there are any other occupations I’d find interesting. I still don’t really know. I haven’t paid attention much since music has been all around me, surrounding me everywhere. Especially now with this competition, it’s all I think about. I don’t have time to really concentrate on anything else.
When I met your father a couple of months ago, he said you were very interested in my Billboard chart books.
I found a lot of songs [for “American Idol”] that way, a lot of songs I hadn’t heard before. I didn’t even know “One Sweet Day” until I saw it in that book. It was No. 1 for 16 weeks. Those are very influential books to me. My friends would come over and we’d look through the books. People thought I was weird to know so much.
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