David Archuleta Interview: Coming Out and Coming to Terms with God
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Musicians
Image attributed to Zack Knudsen
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 and fan favorite in season seven of American Idol. Soon after, Archuleta’s single “Crush” debuted at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Archuleta moved with his family to Sandy, Utah, when he was six years old. At 21 and a member of the LDS Church, he volunteered for two years as a fulltime missionary in Rancagua, Chile. He came out as gay to his family in 2014, then publicly announced in June 2021 that he is part of the LGBTQIA community.
"I was trying to create feelings that weren’t there. But that in itself was pretty devastating because I had always believed those feelings weren’t the right ones to have."
The performer has recorded eight studio albums, the latest one titled Therapy Sessions, an inside look into Archuleta’s internal struggle with himself, which was released in 2020. He has announced his rescheduled 2020 North American tour dates, which will begin on February 7, 2022, in Los Angeles, and end on March 24, 2022, in Nashville, his current residence.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: David, the last time we spoke was in November of 2019, and you were releasing the deluxe edition of Winter in the Air.
David Archuleta: That’s right, yes.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You don’t have a new Christmas album this year?
David Archuleta: I don’t. I’ve got two Christmas albums that I’ve released, and I’ve been singing a couple of other songs in addition to that on the Christmas tour. I’d written a Christmas song actually last year, so I guess that’s the new song, as far as Christmas goes, that I’ve been singing. It was specifically written for Christmas in 2020. It’s called “What a Wonderful Way to End a Crazy Year.” It’s the longest title I’ve ever done, too (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In 2019, you had not come out, and here we are two years later, plus a pandemic. How have you been coping with everything?
David Archuleta: I think that being in a pandemic with lockdown and quarantine, it was really needed time. It forced me to sit with myself a lot and just kind of get more introspection that I needed. Before, when I would sit with my thoughts and could meet with a therapist and all that, I was able to go on and get busy again, whereas in 2020, I went on a lot of walks, and it just gave me a lot of time to think. I wouldn’t say I figured out everything I needed to in 2020, but I think it was the time I needed.
In 2021, I reached some conclusions that were causing a lot of the grief. A lot of the things that would get me really down was just my inability to make relationships work. I just thought, “What am I doing wrong?” It wasn’t just ending because it didn’t work out. It was ending pretty horribly. So I was just reaching conclusions about realizing it was probably because I was trying to make it work. I was trying to create feelings that weren’t there. But that in itself was pretty devastating because I had always believed those feelings weren’t the right ones to have.
So it really put me in a pickle because I was like, “What do I do? If I accept those feelings, what does that mean for my belief in God? Does that mean God doesn’t want me to believe in him anymore? Does that mean he doesn’t want me there if I accept this is something I can change even though I’ve been trying all my life to change it?” I didn’t want to leave God, but at the same time, I thought, “What other choice do I have if I’m never going to be what I think he wants me to be?”
I just had an experience with prayer while I was at the low point. I’ve learned that a lot of people who come from religious backgrounds and are part of the LGBTQIA community try everything they can to pray and say, “God, please help me change. I believe you can change me.” Then they reach this depression and low point where they say, “I don’t think I can.” I didn’t realize how common it was, like everyone goes through this process where it’s like, “Oh, my, gosh, maybe it’s better I don’t live anymore. It’s probably better off if I don’t exist than to exist in a way that is so wicked in the eyes of God, or maybe I can just be single for the rest of my life and show my dedication to God that way.”
It all feels very contradictory and very confusing. When I was praying, I just realized God was like, “David, you need to stop asking me to change you because that’s not what I intend for you. That’s now how I see it.” It took me a while to accept that, too, but it’s been a journey so far, and I’m sure I’ve got a lot more to learn and figure out. But I’m just taking my time to process all of that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That certainly seems wise. You released the single and video, “Beast.” Was that written about a real relationship?
David Archuleta: Yeah, it was. It was actually written right before I really came to terms with what was going on because I wasn’t referring to my sexuality per se, or perhaps indirectly without really realizing it. But it was more the anger and these really intense emotions that I now realize was a result of trying to suppress those feelings, trying to change them and trying to work through them. I was so angry with myself because I’m like, “Why can’t I change this? Why can’t I do something about this? If this is what God wants for me, why am I failing so badly in trying to change myself?”
I believe that with God, you can do anything. If you have enough faith, and if you work hard enough, then it will be able to be changed. I was feeling like I’m a failure, that I’m bad. I was feeling like maybe I’m more evil than I thought I was, and I didn’t know what to do. I was so angry about it. I wasn’t angry at God. I don’t think I’ve ever been angry at God because I always looked at it as, “I’m the one who’s failing. I’m the one who’s not doing this properly. I’m the one that must’ve done something.”
It would affect my relationships. It affected every single one of them, and it would get to a point where I was so angry and so resentful, it really affected who I was in a relationship with. It would make them have to go through a lot of grief, pain, confusion and hurt as well.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was it therapeutic for you to write the songs for Therapy Sessions?
David Archuleta: Definitely. I feel like every single step in the way has helped me in processing my emotions and understanding myself. I don’t think I’d be able to be where I am otherwise. A part of me is like, “I wish I could’ve kept all this to myself and then shared it once I figured it all out.” (laughs) I feel like I’m sharing as I’m figuring it all out, and a lot of people say, “Oh, we’ve been there. We know what that is. We know what’s going on.” I’m like, “Well, I don’t. This is new to me.” Maybe I could’ve kept it to myself. But I feel like people want to know.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have you gotten support from family, friends and fans?
David Archuleta: I have. I guess I was surprised. I don’t get support from everybody, and that’s been difficult, too. I just wanted them to understand where I’m coming from. You have to also understand that not everyone is going to want to understand where you’re coming from because they’ve already decided and say, “Nope. You’ve already done that, and it means you’re this now. You’re doing this because of these reasons.” I just wish they’d be able to understand why you’ve gotten to the point where you are and have more compassion.
But for the most part, generally speaking, people have been so supportive. I think what I was most surprised with was the support and love I get from my own community from Utah from my own church. I’m just really grateful for how understanding they are. The reason why I’m sharing is because there are so many people going through the same thing.
I just hope by sharing it, if someone decides to come out or just share what they’re going through, their family would understand better what it probably took for them to accept themselves as they are. A lot of people never do. A lot of people take their own lives because they refuse to accept themselves as they are, but they also don’t accept that it’s something they won’t be able to change. So they feel like it’s better for them not to exist anymore.
Knowing what that feels like now, I want to do my best to prevent that by sharing because the reason people get to feeling like that is because they feel like the people in their community won’t accept them. So I’m just hoping to help a little bit with that even though I won’t change everyone’s minds (laughs). Maybe I can make them think a little bit more about it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you feel now that you are completely accepted by your church, or do you feel uncomfortable being there?
David Archuleta: I can’t help but feel uncomfortable because the reason why I have such a strong opinion against myself is what I grew up believing and what was assumed in the culture. I went up and spoke to the congregation and let them know where I was. That was really scary because I wasn’t saying that I’m into guys and was not going to do anything about it. I went up there and said, “Hey, I’m getting to know guys.” I said that in front of my church (laughs).
I had five people that I knew from my congregation reach out to me who no longer go there. They basically said they stopped coming to church because no matter what they tried, they couldn’t belong because they knew they couldn’t change and were gay even though they worked so hard not to be. They said, “Thanks for sharing because it helps us feel more seen.” That was five people from my own congregation. I thought, “Who else is there?”
Sometimes, my friends get on my case and say I take too much responsibility for other people to try and change their minds. They say I shouldn’t feel so obligated to have to share so much of what I’m going through in trying to convince people. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about what people think, but at the same time, at least I want to share parts of it to let someone else know they’re not alone.
I know that four or five years ago, I was that person quietly sitting in church feeling so guilty and so much shame because I felt like there was something I was hiding. Eventually, it was where I couldn’t deal with the shame anymore. I couldn’t be there. So it’s uncomfortable to say that in front of the church, but I hope by talking about it, people will realize it really is more common than they realize.
When I sat back down from speaking in front of the congregation, my bishop’s wife came and sat next to me. She just held my hand and gave me a hug. She said, “I’m so proud of you. Thank you for being willing to share what you’re going through. I hope you know we are here for you, and we’re just so proud of you.” That was such a relief to me because I just let them know I’m living my life and trying to discover and understand myself better, and I’m getting to know guys. It was a relief for myself.
In addition to the five people who came out to me, I got more messages from people in my congregation saying, “Thank you. I’m going though the same thing, but I’m too scared to tell anyone.” So they are around. They’re just afraid of being judged. A lot of these people don’t do anything about it. I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t even understand it myself. We just hide hoping that one day, God can change us. Then I think that maybe I’m not supposed to change.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your first children’s book, My Little Prayer, was published in October. How did you feel about that?
David Archuleta: I was thrilled. I was so happy. I love kids, and I love what a children’s book represents, like the purity behind the message and the simplicity behind it. When I got my first book, I couldn’t help but cry because it’s part of the work I want to do. I want to help people know that even though you pray and wonder if God’s there and wonder if he cares about you, he does hear you. He answers prayers, but it doesn’t always mean you sent out a request, and the request is granted like a genie. That’s not what the answer to a prayer always means.
Sometimes, God will say, “Actually, I have something else in mind for you.” This isn’t why I wrote the book. But just as an example of not getting what you asked for, I prayed pretty much from the moment I knew that I had feelings that weren’t heterosexual. When I was younger, I first started praying for God to help me overcome it and to take them away because I wanted to do things the right way, and my thoughts were that the “right way” was to be straight.
I prayed for so many years. I fasted for so many times. It wasn’t until this year when I got on my knees and was desperate. I said, “God, if you have a plan for me, please change me and remove these feelings.” My wish was that God would make me straight. His response was, “David, you need to stop asking this. You can see, by this point, that I’m not going to change this about you because I don’t intend to. I don’t see it the same way you do. I don’t see this as a flaw. You need to take time to understand why that is and how I see you.”
That wasn’t the answer I wanted, but it was the answer I needed. So God does hear prayers but doesn’t always answer them when we want him to. I don’t know why he didn’t give me that answer a decade ago. But I think that part of it was that I wasn’t able to listen. Maybe he did try to talk to me, and I was like, “No. That can’t be it. I need to be straight.” Maybe it took me 10 years to finally be broken enough to accept his plan for me even though it wasn’t the plan I had for me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you plan on writing another book?
David Archuleta: I don’t know. I wondered about it. But I’d say, “Never say never.” I didn’t know I was going to write this book until last year. I think that before another children’s book, I probably want to write just another book about finding how to explore your faith. I hate saying “sexuality” because, in a religious setting, people usually translate that as you want to be promiscuous, that you want to be in open relationships all the time. That’s not the case.
When I refer to sexuality, it’s just simply who you feel an attraction, a pull and a bond to. My bond, pull and attraction, I’m still trying to figure out, but I definitely know it’s for guys. I think I have to live a little more and figure things out more before I can write a book about it. But I sure would like to once I have a better understanding of this whole journey.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: David, I think that sounds like a wonderful idea. I believe you are playing the part of Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat next year. Is musical theater something that interests you?
David Archuleta: I’ve always been intrigued because it runs in my family. My dad was in musicals growing up. His mom was in musicals growing up. I mean, not just growing up but all of her life. I don’t know. I’m not really an actor. I’m not going to say I’m thrilled about learning lines and all that. But I like challenges, and I feel like this will be a good challenge for me to be on stage but in a different way. I’ve gotten comfortable just being myself on stage. But being on stage with memorized lines as another character will be very interesting. I think it will be a good growth experience.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How long have you been living in Nashville?
David Archuleta: I’ve been here almost seven years now. Nashville’s been great. It’s just laid back, quiet and peaceful. I can be at the studios in 15 or 20 minutes.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You have your own record label?
David Archuleta: Yeah. It’s just me. I just release my own music on it. Archie Music.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That must give you more freedom as an artist to explore projects that you choose.
David Archuleta: It does. Yes. Sometimes, I wish that I’d get another record label because it’s nice to have someone pushing you in some degree because I feel that’s how you grow. Sometimes, when I’m my own boss, I don’t challenge myself as much because I want to be comfortable.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: They challenge you but also may want to mold you into someone they want you to be?
David Archuleta: Yeah. That’s what I get to avoid. My own label prevents me from having to become something I’m not. But I think, at this point, my fans know who I am well enough so that if I got signed to a record label, I would be able to be myself. I could just push myself out of my comfort zone even if I don’t like it. Sometimes, it’s just nice to try something different and collaborate with new people. A lot of times, it’s hard for me to push myself to that place on my on.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You have a tour next year?
David Archuleta: Yes. I have a tour in February, which will be fun. The tour was supposed to be two years ago, but it got pushed back because of the pandemic. But it’ll be nice to finally get out and be in front of the fans.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s going on now?
David Archuleta: I’ll be doing Christmas shows mostly in Utah up to the 23rd, and then I’ll probably have a meal with my family. We’ll just keep it simple.
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