I recently read an article at the Chicago Tribune about the long-term success (or lack thereof) of singers from American Idol. It’s a bizarre system to begin with, to be sure - American Idol is in its 9th season, and, as the article points out, it has now churned out 80 would-be stars since it began. Add my skepticism about the whole venture to the pile, considering that the whole Idol concept is based around contestants singing truncated versions of songs they didn’t write, and being judged by critic-celebrities and text messages from viewers at home. Not winning first place seems almost preferable, as the fine print of the recording contract one “wins” at the end of the season is actually pretty weak, and gives the artists stiflingly little creative leeway. Then, these artists are all pushed out into a market that is decreasingly able to support big stars.
Gee, when I put it like that, one might wonder how anyone who graduates from that system could get anywhere at all. However, there have been a couple notable exceptions, one being baby-faced David Archuleta, a Latter-day Saint from Sandy, and later Murray, Utah. David has actually sustained a relatively substantial fan base over the last few years, though I think his greatest achievement is undoubtedly his David Archuleta Vietnam fan blog, run by the downright enthusiastic Vietnamese girls Huong, Dung, and (other) Huong. David actually sold a few albums after he escaped from Idol. In fact, his album David Archuleta has sold over 900,000 copies worldwide, and earned a couple-and-a-half-star review on Allmusic.com (to be fair, that’s the same rating that Chroma Key’s Dead Air For Radios got, which is a kind of injustice I don’t have the words to describe). The kid can sing, no doubt about that, but very rarely does a pop album really make my ear twitch at all, mostly because I’m one of those hopeless arrogant rock snobs who owns all of Nick Drake’s albums, though I have not yet learned to appreciate Captain Beefheart, so maybe there’s hope for me yet.
David Archuleta was released in 2008, and then David released a Christmas album in 2009 and supported it with a tour. He stays pretty busy, but I think that many people have wondered what David is doing nowadays. That is, unless you’ve subscribed to his Twitter account. He updates the dang thing about three times a day, and he mentions recording and writing songs now and then (I think his third album is in the works, without a release date so far). He’s hoping his personality shines a bit more on this next album, and he’s even alluded to writing originals: “I’m learning how to become a songwriter”. Hey, it’s not impossible. Daniel Johns actually learned how to write songs between Freak Show and Neon Ballroom, so who am I to judge?
Today, however, I saw a headline that made me do a double-take at the More Good Foundation. David’s been doing more than just learning how to write songs. He’s been writing a memoir.
I’ll let that sink in for a little bit. Now, maybe I’m just woefully ignorant about the autobiography business, but I always thought memoirs are something really old, wise, and/or super-pretentious people write. Maybe David Archuleta is… wise.
Nevertheless, the book, simply and not pretentiously entitled Chords of Strength: A Memoir of Soul, Song and the Power of Perseverance will be available on June 1st. The title is an allusion to some kind of vocal paralysis that he had to overcome at some point in his pre-Idol life. The description at Amazon.com says it all:
In Chords of Strength David shares his unexpected and inspiring journey, including how he overcame vocal cord paralysis to achieve his dream of being a singer. He reveals insecurities he felt about his voice-before he realized that he loved the way singing made him feel more than he disliked the way he sounded. In this personal memoir, David opens up about the strength he draws from his unshakable faith and unyielding family. He pays tribute to those who continue to inspire him and through their example help him believe in himself, his talent, and his abilities.
Intimate and uplifting, Chords of Strength allows a unique glimpse of the man behind the music and offers hope to anyone with a passion and a dream.
Seems unpretentious enough. Let’s be honest with ourselves. David has found himself in a position not entirely unlike LDS elder statesman of pop Donny Osmond was in circa 1971: with a young, captivated audience who may even be a little open about his faith. We have yet to see whether Archuleta’s influence will reach Osmond’s, but David has a few years ahead of him yet. Maybe his songs will be good. It will be important for him to find his own voice in order to really carve out a niche that can’t be immediately filled by the next young, smiling pop star down the queue, and I’m not entirely sure that Christmas albums are a way to do that.
I’m mildly curious about his book. Tell you what. If anyone gives me a free copy, without charge or strings attached, for free (also the shipping is free), I’ll maybe read it and tell you what I think about it, when I have the time. But I have to say, if the book, like the More Good Foundation article, includes the phrase “modest is hottest,” I’m probably going to demand my money back.