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David Archuleta talks post-'Idol' anxiety and learning to live with himself

The pandemic shifted his tour plans, but he hopes a timely new album about mental health will get fans through it.
Published May 19

As he spent the last few years working on an album about mental health, David Archuleta had no idea it would arrive at exactly the right time.

“I was just writing about my own therapy sessions,” the 29-year-old singer said by phone recently from his home in Nashville. “A lot of that had to do with uncertainty, fear, having courage, feeling down, feeling lost, like, What do I do now? And now everyone is going through that.”

Archuleta conceived the aptly titled Therapy Sessions, which comes out May 20, as a way to work through his own anxieties — both those that emerged after he finished second on American Idol in 2008, and those that were there the whole time.

The coronavirus pandemic completely rewrote Archuleta’s spring plans. He postponed both the album and a full tour, including a show at Clearwater’s Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre that moved from May to Aug. 22.

But he does hope it will help people relate to Therapy Sessions in a new way.

“With the timing, I just feel like there’s a bigger plan,” he said. “I’m not saying this is going to be the biggest album in the world. But whoever is going to listen to it — and we’ll try to get as many people as we can to listen — we hope that it helps them say, Okay, here we go, we can get through this.”

Archuleta was just 17 when he finished second to David Cook in an Idol finale that drew a then-record 97 million votes. He was a soft-spoken but talented Mormon teen from Murray, Utah, who wowed judges with renditions of John Lennon’s Imagine and Elton John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.

And like a lot of teen stars, he wasn’t prepared for the wave of attention that followed. His debut single, Crush, and self-titled album were both big successes; a few holiday albums also sold well. But he didn’t know how to follow them.

“I get nervous from expectations and people watching," he said. "Am I doing a good enough job? Do they like me? The entertainment industry is based so much on your persona and how well you connect with other people, and so it leaves you really vulnerable for people to say whatever they want about you, treat you how they want. You’re looked at as an object.”

At times, Archuleta wanted to leave the industry — and, in fact, he did walk away in 2012 as part of a two-year Mormon mission. When he came back, he was full of self-doubt: What am I supposed to write about now? Who am I supposed to talk to now? I have no idea what I’m doing!

Therapy Sessions is his first album of original material in three years. It stemmed from his desire to convey to fans the self-care techniques he’s learned in therapy. Take the song Just Breathe: “The song’s almost meditative. It was written with the intent to calm people down.”

When the coronavirus thrust everyone into quarantine, he decided to create a video for Just Breathe that paid tribute to health care workers on the front line, with proceeds going toward the medical nonprofit Direct Relief.

“I didn’t know a pandemic was going to happen when I wrote that,” he said. “So that song definitely took a whole new meaning. And I feel like the whole album is going to be the same.”

Stuck at home, Archuleta has engaged in writing sessions on Zoom and streamed performances for fans. In some ways, the experience has eased the spotlight pressure he’s felt since American Idol.

“As performers or entertainers, we get in a habit of always showing our best," he said. “Social media is its own kind of pandemic, in a way — people saying, Look how great my life is! But we’re all only showing our best photos, our best poses, our best trips, our best meals. ... When you get that facade going, it gets tiring, and you start feeling oddly anxious and depressed, because you feel like you can’t even keep up with yourself.”

ntil he heads back on the road, he doesn’t have to fix his hair or put on stage clothes. Finally, he can just be himself.

“I’m a happy person, even with all the frustrations, even with all the anxiety that has never gone away,” he said. “Here I am 12 years later, and I’m still here, and I’m alright.”

David Archuleta

8 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater. Tickets, $24.50 and up, are currently only available online at rutheckerdhall.com.