David Archuleta Interview: "American Idol" Alum Talks New Music, NSYNC and Overcoming Insecurities
Image attributed to Cyrus Panganiban
David Archuleta became a star when he was just 16 years old. In 2008, more than 30 million television viewers fell in love with his angelic voice, and their 44 million votes made him runner-up in season seven of American Idol. Soon after, the young Utahan had his first single, “Crush,” debut at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart the week of its release, and the video has amassed over 100 million views on YouTube. The track sold 166,000 downloads that first week in the US and subsequently more than 1.92 million digital copies. Three months later, Archuleta’s self-titled album (David Archuleta) went gold, selling more than 750,000 copies in the US and more than 900,000 copies worldwide.
Archuleta released his eighth studio album Winter in the Air in the fall of 2018, and the deluxe edition of Winter in the Air, which includes three brand new tracks, covers of NSYNC’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” Nat King Cole’s classic “The Christmas Song,” as well as an a cappella version of “Still Still Still,” is out now. He has hit the road on his 2019 Christmas tour that will weave through Atlanta, Nashville, Portland and various cities in his home state of Utah before winding down on December 23.
“It’s always been a constant battle because I’ve always had these negative thoughts that I’ve had to fight, the thoughts of not being good enough.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: David, you and I spoke a year ago when Winter in the Air came out. What’s the reason for releasing a deluxe edition of the album?
David Archuleta: That’s a good question. There are some songs that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. On this deluxe edition, there’s a few of the songs that were candidates for putting on the album, but I just didn’t have the time to get around to them. So we just thought, “While there’s not enough time to get around to them, why don’t we just release them next year on the deluxe edition?” That’s what we did.
I did an a cappella song called “Still Still Still,” which I’d wanted to do for a while and the NSYNC cover of “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” and then “The Christmas Song.” They are some nice little bonuses that we wanted to share with everybody.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Why did you want to record “Still Still Still” without music?
David Archuleta: It reminded me of going Christmas caroling. One of our family’s traditions when I was little was to go Christmas caroling, and sometimes we had music, but when you go caroling at people’s doors, you have no music. You just do it a cappella, and I thought that was a nice feeling of Christmas. I wanted to capture that. I’d never recorded anything a cappella before, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to do it. Some of my fans had even asked if I’d ever recorded something a cappella. So I guess those were the three main reasons I decided to do it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, it’s a beautiful version.
David Archuleta: Thank you.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Were you friends with Lance Bass and Chris Kirkpatrick of NSYNC?
David Archuleta: (laughs) One of the people I work with who’s part of my management is Kari Sellards, and before she worked with me, she actually used to work with NSYNC. So she’d become close to them and always thought it would be so fun for us to do something together. She said, “Oh, we can make a video, and I can get some of the guys to come and be in the video.” First, I was like, “Well, I don’t know if they would want to be in it, but we could go ahead and ask.”
So Lance and Chris made cameos in the video. I had not met them or spent time with them before. It was fun that they were willing to come, and they’re good sports about making fun a little bit. They’re really funny. Chris is like a fireball, just a ball of energy and always cracking jokes. I think he should be a comedian. But we had to edit out a lot of what they said while joking around just to keep it short and to also keep it a little bit more on the wholesome side (laughs). But they were funny.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do I understand from what you didn’t say that you’ve never met Justin Timberlake?
David Archuleta: You know, I haven’t met him. For a while, Kari was going off on the road with me, and then she’d go back on the road with Justin. I’d gone to one of his shows, but I invited a lot of my family, so it just wasn’t the time to go and bring a bunch of people back to say “Hi.” But maybe one of these days, I will. I haven’t met him or Joey.
JC is another member, and he and I actually wrote a song together for my first album, so he was the first one I met. There’s a song called “Don’t Let Go” that we wrote together. It was a fun experience for me. I was new to the music world, and here I was a 17-year-old now working with one of the NSYNC guys. My sister was really excited about it (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Why did you choose to cover Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song”?
David Archuleta: I’ve just always loved that song. I think it’s so classic, and it’s a timeless song. Nat King Cole’s voice on it is like buttah, you know? It’s just so soothing and makes you feel like you’re sitting next to the fireplace just relaxing and having an enjoying the lights on the Christmas tree kind of a moment. I’ve sung that song a lot live, so I thought I might as well record it after singing it all those times.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I understand that one of your musical influences was Natalie Cole.
David Archuleta: Yes, one of my first musical influences. I just loved her music. I was a 10-year-old that just loved Natalie Cole (laughs). We went to a theme park in Utah. The rides were fun, but we loved watching the live performers that were on the street. During Halloween, there would be a group of zombies that would perform (laughs). One of the songs they would sing every night was “Pink Cadillac” (the Natalie Cole version). I just thought, “Wow! What a cool sounding song.” “Pink Cadillac” was originally a Bruce Springsteen song, but Natalie Cole did a version of it.
Then for Christmas one time, I got a Natalie Cole album, and I just loved all the songs, “Inseparable,” “Live for Your Love,” “Miss You Like Crazy,” “This Will Be.” I don’t know what it is about her voice. I think I just thought she was really pretty, too (laughs). She was so soulful. She could get really nitty-gritty but also soft. I think that had a lot of influence on me, just practicing along with her. It was my first time to introduce a more soulful side of me in music.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Would you like to record or perform more songs that would show off your soulful side?
David Archuleta: You know, I do love a little bit of that soulful music. It would be fun to do more of it. It’s funny, but I don’t write a lot of that, so it just doesn’t come out of me. Maybe I can collaborate with someone that has more of a soulful side because I love singing that kind of music. I just love Stevie Wonder’s music. It has a little more of that nitty-gritty and groove while you’re singing.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You started performing at 10 years old in a talent competition. Were you scared or nervous?
David Archuleta: Oh, absolutely. My parents entered me into that competition, and I was so upset. I was so mad. It was like, “How could you do this to me?” (laughs) I just didn’t like singing in front of people. I didn’t like the attention. I was really nervous. I didn’t like competitions, so to be in a competition, I really was not happy. On performance day, they convinced me to go, and I had an anxiety attack before I went on. I was hyperventilating. Afterwards, they were like, “You don’t have to go on if you can’t handle it.” My dad said, “How about we say a prayer?” He said a prayer, and then I calmed down. I stopped hyperventilating and told him that I could do it.
I went up on the stage and sang Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” It was a black church putting on the competition, so much of the audience was black, and here’s this little shy white boy singing Whitney Houston with a little bit of soul. The audience responded so well and gave me a standing ovation.
I ended up winning the Kids Division of the competition. I won the prize money of $300, which is a lot for a 10-year-old. Dad asked me if I was still mad that they had me enter the competition, and I was kind of like, “Yeah, I am.” But I think I was afraid of being booed because I just didn’t think I was good at singing. It was a moment where I thought, “Maybe people do enjoy what I do because I enjoy it.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have those insecurities remained with you through the years?
David Archuleta: It’s always been a constant battle because I’ve always had these negative thoughts that I’ve had to fight, the thoughts of not being good enough. Just always. It was hard for me to sing even when I was little because I thought people wouldn’t like it. I thought I wasn’t good. I didn’t think I was good enough. That went on up until American Idol.
On American Idol, I was getting 100 letters a day. It was nuts as to how many people watched that show. Now people just send messages on Instagram or Twitter. But those weren’t around quite yet when I was on American Idol, so I was getting all these letters, and a lot of them were saying that when I sang this or that, they felt something. People would describe to me what they were feeling.
I think that’s when I realized, “Okay. There’s something here. There’s something going on, and people are being affected by what I’m doing.” I think that helped me because they were describing how they were personally relating to what I was singing and to what I was feeling. That helped me realize that I could really bring value to people.
But I’m still fighting with those thoughts. They’re always there to say, “David, you could’ve done better. You’re not really that good. There are other people who deserve this more than you do. Maybe you should just give up because you’re not really good. Where are you going to go? You’re not going to succeed in this. You’re going to be a failure. You’re going to be an embarrassment.” Out of nothing, that negativity will just start attacking me. So it’s a constant battle for me. For a while, when those thoughts would come up, that would make me really depressed.
Now I’ve realized that I am not those thoughts. That’s just a part of my brain that says this so I’m just going to say, “I appreciate the information. I’m going to put you aside and keep moving forward.” The thing is, the thoughts don’t go away, so they still really wear me out from time to time. But I’ve learned that it’s not true, and they don’t tell me the truth. I still feel it though, and it’s hard to ignore, but I think it gives me perspective. It gives me something to fight and to wrestle with and to rise above. Whenever you wrestle with something, I always believe you get stronger. I think that’s why we have those kinds of things, to make us strong and to not just be comfortable.
We’re always going to have weaknesses, but it gives us something to fight for. So I look at it as a blessing now, but it doesn’t always feel like a blessing now (laughs). I do feel like it helps me always rely on a higher source. It’s always gets me on my knees to pray and ask for strength and for help in keeping moving forward, and I feel like that has been a huge strength in overcoming weakness.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Has your faith helped you navigate through the world of temptations, or has it placed more pressure on you to meet certain expectations, especially in the music industry?
David Archuleta: I feel like it definitely has both sides because there’s so much temptation. Everything is placed right in front of your nose, right under it, saying, “Here.” Especially when you gain a lot of recognition or notoriety, a lot of people want to be around you. They want to impress you. They want you to be at parties. They want you to be associated with certain groups. It can be very tempting because it’s like this is going to make you happy. This is what everyone wants. Here it is.
I think it’s really important to distinguish that happiness isn’t always a rush of feelings and emotions. There are a lot of things out there that can give us a really big rush and make us feel emotions really strongly. That could be drugs. It could be sex. It could be even being popular and having fame. They all give us rushes and emotions, and it doesn’t always calculate to happiness. A lot of times, people get that mixed up.
But my faith has always given me the perspective I need to ask, “What is happiness?” What I love about my faith in God and Christ is that it’s taught me happiness is associated with peace. This feeling of peace and stillness is not how many other people describe happiness. They describe happiness more like a thrill, and it comes very quickly and also leaves very quickly. It’s like a jolt or like a sugar rush. I feel that many people mistake that for happiness even though it’s a thrill. Those feelings are good to a certain extent, but I’m looking for a more long-term happiness. If I turned to drugs to try and get me out of my battle with negativity, it would only have temporarily gotten me out of it until it quickly just dropped me back into that same place.
With my faith, I’ve learned to dance with it, to dance with it and make use of it. The entertainment industry is a very free place. It’s about freedom of expression, freedom of life, freedom of choice, really being able to do anything you want. So when you come in and say, “I have some standards and values, and I try to keep my faith in place and give myself certain limits and standards,” they think that usually people like that are judgmental of the industry or that they’re not willing to do what it takes or that they’re holding themselves back creatively. That can be hard because then you feel the pressure and say, “What would I be able to accomplish creatively if I gave myself back to the freedom?”
There are plenty of other people who choose to go down that route and have creativity. My number one goal isn’t to be artistically creative like those other people are. I’m here to be creative within the parameters I’ve given myself. That’s what helps me to get where I am. I’ve gotten this far with my faith. I haven’t put it aside. So I think that says something.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: As you’re getting older, do you have thoughts of settling down and starting a family?
David Archuleta: I was just talking to someone about how it’s important to have goals and to give yourself something to work toward. But it’s important to be flexible because even when you have goals and you work toward them, life throws a lot of curveballs that you don’t expect, and you can end up feeling really disappointed when things don’t go the way you had planned and that you were even moving toward. I was 16 years old when American Idol came and I thought, “I’ll go see what it’s like, then I’ll come back to school, finish, take some college, go and be a missionary for a couple of years, go back to college, get a degree and then figure out what I’m going to do. By then, I’ll have socialized enough in college that I’ll have friends and probably have found a cute gal that I’ll start a family with.”
But it didn’t go according to my plan that I had expected because I didn’t know American Idol was going to keep me going and that millions of people were going to vote for me to move forward in a competition and that I was going to get a record label and start traveling. That was nothing that I planned on. It happened before I was 18 years old.
I want to be a dad. I love kids. I think it would be amazing to have someone to share a life with and just to have someone else to live for, to work and live each day not just for yourself. Spending time with kids and teaching them would be a dream. I’ve gone out with girls and stuff, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I think that’s one of the things I’ll look forward to still. I’m still hopeful of it that I’ll get to meet someone, that it will work out, and they’ll understand my schedule (laughs). Sometimes a musician’s schedule can be difficult for finding people who are in love with you and not in love with what people think of you. That could be a challenge as well. And finding someone who has the same values as me on top of all that is probably a challenge, but I think it’s a good challenge to have. It’s a challenge I’m up for.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I think that will all fall into place for you, David, probably when you least expect it.
David Archuleta: Thank you.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You have a new project coming up in 2020?
David Archuleta: Yeah. This is just some more new pop music that I’ll be working on. I guess it’s about the journey of working through these thoughts that I was describing. That’s pretty much what it is. It’s about learning how to dance that dance with it. It’s what the music is about. We’re just kind of finishing it up. The goal is the end of January or the beginning of February. It just depends on when everything gets finalized. But the producers are working on it in the studio and finishing things up. I’ll probably find out more as it gets closer to Christmas when everything will be finished, but I’m hoping it will be soon.
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