Chapter 7: Stepping It Up
“From the moment Idol ended it felt like someone had hit the fast forward button on my life, and it became clear that it wasn’t going to slow down anytime soon” (p. 153). If Chapter 6 was about facing his insecurities in front of the American public, Chapter 7 finds David immediately launching into the life of a professional singer—there was no time to reflect or plan. His life as he knew it was over. The only thing he could do was “brace myself and count my blessings” (p. 153).
David does a fine job in this chapter of expressing the sense of dislocation and frenzy he must have felt as he started preparing for the American Idol Tour as well as his debut album. David seems to have enjoyed the touring experience immensely, even saying the tour was a relief for all the contestants, since they got to fine-tune their performance skills without the pressure of competition and judging. “I had the chance to learn some critical concepts, such as the importance of pacing myself, of interacting with fans, and I even had to learn the art of signing autographs” (p. 162). David’s confidence issues were still a source of frustration for him, but the opportunity to perform in front of so many people during the tour along with his Idol buddies was great training—his confidence was building and he was discovering who he was as a performer. “I was freer, more joyful, less nervous and generally more at ease . . . . I was finally starting to let go and enjoy the act of performance just as much as I enjoyed singing” (p. 162).
As if touring the country didn’t keep David busy enough, he also had to begin writing and recording his first studio album while on tour. Even though he felt overwhelmed by all the opportunities and expectations suddenly thrust upon him, he pushed forward. One definitely gets the sense that David’s unforgiving schedule was a curse and a blessing. It didn’t really allow time for his inexperience or confidence issues to cause much hesitation and he learned a great deal very quickly. Along with that, though, was the reality that he (and Jive) would not have time to craft an album that closely reflected who David was as a singer and person. He sums up the challenge succinctly on page 163, “Deliberation was out and fast decisions were in.”
David seems to have found the challenge of songwriting most intimidating, but here, as is so often the case with David, he learns to use what some may consider a weakness, his inexperience and charmingly non-linear form of expression, as his own personal style, his voice, if you will. I find the following to be a definitive statement from David on his artistic sensibility: “I told myself that since feeling itself has always been my guiding force, I could start with that as a basis for writing, too. Instead of trying to come up with clever words to tell a story, maybe I could focus more on an emotion, and somehow find the words that match the feeling . . . . There are so many ways to go about it and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there isn’t just one right way to do it” (p. 166). This touches upon what many of us have felt about David’s performances from the beginning; his ability to inhabit the feelings, emotions, and perspectives in songs is astonishing. I’d argue it’s David’s actor-like gift for empathy, perhaps second only to the gorgeous sound of his voice, which makes David such a captivating vocalist.
David documents other events from the months following the show, most notably the quick and surprising (at least to him) success of “Crush.” For me, the most compelling revelation—threaded throughout Chapter 7—is how David began to adjust to fame and personally define his relationship with his extraordinarily devoted fans. He encountered countless fans during the Idol tour and his subsequent solo tour. Understandably, he was surprised and even puzzled at the lengths fans would go to see and support him. “One thing I find to be kind of tricky is understanding the world of fans. It’s hard to understand how people who have never even met me can realistically like me so much . . . . just like everything else, had its pros and cons, and I ultimately made up my mind to stay optimistic about the mania, accepting the positive things about it and simply observing and acknowledging any negativity or weirdness” (pp. 170-2). In typical fashion, when grappling with things he doesn’t understand or that give him pause, David responds with wisdom that betrays his young and, at times, awkward exterior. Unlike many suddenly famous, young people, David’s process of coping with his new reality appears to have been a very deliberate one of contemplation, and it led him to see his relationship with his fans as reciprocal. Again, David’s own words about his fans are too lovely to paraphrase and too keenly spot-on to ignore, “I have always felt without the fans, I had no way of completing the experience of singing, that without them, I would still be the shy kid in the backyard who felt safe singing to his cats. My fans allowed my music to become part of an exchange, which made me feel that someone would always be listening . . . . It seemed that many of the fans wanted to go out of their way to make sure I knew just how strongly they felt about me. It was almost as if they picked up on my insecurities and worked extra-hard to make sure that I’d feel good about myself” (pp. 175-6).
What emerges from Chapter 7 is the portrait of a young man who responds to a most unreal and surreal existence with the kind of thoughtful and compassionate understanding the reader can only admire.
[Included in Chapter 7 are David’s “Top 3 Interviews” (who can forget Showbiz Shelly?!), “Top 3 Touring Moments” (not really original, I admit, but mine is David’s “When You Say You Love Me” from SLC), and “Top 3 Fan Encounters,” along with more great black and white photographs of David and fans.]
Ok, I’ll admit. I am NOT David Archuleta and I do not possess his powers for zen-like composure and acceptance. I don’t smile 1/10th as often as he does, which explains A LOT. And as optimistic as I try to be, people would probably describe me as, well, “fretfully optimistic.” So the last thing in the world I set out to do when I discovered David was to spend untold hours ringing my hands over the fate of some 19 year old pop star’s career, but here I am. I’m a chart watcher. I’m a spin counter. As much as I love getting new music from Mr. D (and I DO! *sings, “When the world falls down like rain . . . .”*), I don’t relish this particular time, as in right now, July, 2010, of the single/album roll out. (I know we’re discussing Chapter 7 here about the immediate months documenting David’s transition from American Idol personality to genuine American pop star, but stay with me.) Soooo, as we wait to hear the inevitable news that David’s new single, “Something ‘Bout Love,” (which you have certainly purchased by now!! RIGHT?!) has lifted off into all-time, record-breaking heights of adds, spins, sales, chart positions, etc., . . . or not (I don’t even pretend to understand all this muck, even if I obsess about it, and, God knows, sometimes I wish I had never heard of any of it), I have to ask myself, “Why in the world do I care so much about this kid’s career?”
And then I read the final lines of Chapter 7, “More than fans, they felt like a team of morale-boosters who would always be around to remind me of my own worth. The fans stepped up as the much-needed providers of faith and motivation that I would come to rely on as I continued down this new path” (p. 176). There was much about this chapter that was interesting, but I was most taken with how David got his fans. Frankly, I felt a little . . . read. Through all the craziness and, I’m sure, sometimes weird “mania” that is a part of being David Archuleta, he somehow got that we’re not just fans because we love his voice (sweet fancy Moses, that boy can sing!!) or his music (“let ‘em shine tonight!”) or his charm (“Hush cats!”) or his endless compassion (insert charitable event here and he’ll show up) or his looks (I hear the ladies think he’s “Yummy!”). He came to realize that we understood him well enough to know he needed a cheering section that would stick with him no matter what. That he is so far and above being deserving of that support has made it that much more of a joy for us, his fans, to “step up” to buy all those go phones, attend all those concerts, buy all the Arch-merch, request “Crush” and “ALTNOY” and the Christmas tracks, etc. It was and is a joy to be David’s cheering section. He gives us all something only we can individually know and articulate for ourselves, but it seems we give him something, too. It’s cool to know he got us, isn’t it? That maybe we saw something he wasn’t quite able to see just yet.
Maybe it’s David’s instinct for empathy that fuels his very generous relationship with his fans, the same instinct I believe that makes him an Artist and not just a gifted vocalist. Whatever the case may be, during the next few months of sweating those blasted spins, I’ll try to relax more and be happy with whatever happens. There will always be a part of me that wants David to be more successful than he can even fathom (including living in a castle with his own country . . . so he could get away from all of us when he wanted . . . did I mention that?). After all, he does deserve it. But those last lines in Chapter 7 (and Chapters 8-11 especially) suggest to me that David’s idea of success may not be the kind fans typically wish for their heroes. The inspiration that David has given his fans cannot be quantified on any chart. It would appear that goes both ways. And, you know what? That’s enough for me.
What were your thoughts on Chapter 7?
Do you have any favorite moments from seeing David on the American Idol Tour? Any favorite performances? Interviews? What do you think makes David a good performer? A good singer? A good writer? As a fan, how did you feel reading the passages about David grappling with fans? With fame? Did any of it make you feel uncomfortable? What about it moved you and, if so, why? What are your hopes for David’s new album?