David Archuleta Is Starting Over“It's almost like I have a second chance at life that I didn't know I was able to have.”
If you were around for the early days of American Idol, chances are you were rooting for David Archuleta, the Season 7 runner up who has continued to churn out new music and maintain a loyal following over the years. Following his emotional 2020 Therapy Sessions album (which was like the ultimate venting session), Archuleta is back with a few new songs and an album coming soon. And this era wouldn’t be complete without a whole new vibe that reflects just how liberated and energetic he feels since tapping into his mental health and sharing that he’s part of the LGBTQ+ community, he tells Wondermind.
Here, Archuleta opens up about being true to himself, stepping away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after coming out in 2021, and finding a new community.
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WM: How are you doing lately, and how are you feeling about your new music?
David Archuleta: I just released a song, “I'm Yours,” and it's different from other things I've released because it's more dancey and vibrant, and it was just about being in a good place in life. I wanted to show people where I am now. I've had several transitions in life, and I think a lot of people are like, Whoa, what is he gonna be now? Is he gonna be OK? Is he gonna be sad? I just wanted to show people this is what it feels like, and it’s so gratifying.
Every song [on my upcoming album] shows the progression of this journey of what it feels like when you hit a low point and you feel like, I don't know how I'm gonna get out of this, and I don't know where to go from here. It’s about how it feels to pick yourself back up, start over, and learn how to find meaning in life again. I feel like I'm putting the pieces back together, and I feel alive again.
WM: What stands out to you in your mental health journey?
DA: Therapy helped me so much to get to a place where I understood myself. Before that, I looked at myself through the lens of what my parents raised me on or as someone who was on American Idol when I was 16 years old. I looked at myself through the lens of the public, and I used that to define me. And I grew up as a Latter-day Saint, aka the Mormons, and I used that lens to see myself and identify myself. While all those parts are a big part of what makes me who I am now and gives me my unique perspective on life, it was limiting.
It worked at the time. But as far as understanding my sexuality, for example, I could only understand myself so much in the lens of what other people think of me. … So therapy really helped me to learn how to see for myself, with my own eyes, with my own mind, with my own heart and my own intuition versus this is what my parents think of me, this is what my bishop thinks of me at church, or this is what my fans think of me.
That was a scary process because I had to let go of a security blanket. … To let go of what you've always known and what you've used as the lens to see your life and have to change that is so scary. … But it's an improvement, and that's what life feels like for me now with those changes.
WM: What helped you find the courage to be true to yourself?
DA: To be true to who I was, I had to help myself understand what that would mean. I was raised to believe that if your sexuality was anything different from being straight, it was going to be a disservice not just to yourself, but to everyone around you. You were gonna mess up what makes life work for everybody. I didn't want to mess up life for anyone, including myself. So that was really difficult for me.
But when I got down to it, I realized that not everything you're told is how things are. … For me, that [happened with my] sexuality. … Sometimes you have to realize they didn't have the full picture. I can feel attracted to someone who's an adult who's consenting and just wants to have a better life and help someone else have a better life just like I do. It just happens that we feel that natural chemistry and a better interaction with someone of the same sex rather than someone of the opposite sex. It doesn't mean that it's harmful.
If anything, it's less harmful, because when I tried to get into relationships with other women, they would always tell me, “You're so cold. You're so distant, and something feels wrong.” It was because they didn't feel the chemistry. I was like, I'm doing everything I know to make this work. I'm giving you flowers. I'm spending time with you, your family and friends, and my family and friends. But in our culture, people generally like to feel romance and feel loved, supported, wanted, and desired [laughs].
I had people in my church saying, “Well, you just need to find the right girl, because that's what worked for me.” And I'm like, “What if that worked for you, but it doesn't work for me? And what if another guy works for me better than another woman?” That was hard for them to grasp. So I needed to find my own way.
I had to realize just because their life is different, that doesn't mean you have to convince them. I still fight with that, like fighting to try and convince other people, and you can't do that to everybody. I've had to learn how to be like, It's OK if other people would be disappointed in me or will misunderstand me or even fear me. I know who I am, I know where my heart is, and I'm just trying to live a good life and be kind and learn how to be better and move past whatever trauma and bad habits I have. I feel like that is the healthiest environment for me.
WM: What would you say to other people who might be struggling with something similar, like with their identity and religion?
DA: It's so difficult because when you find a community, it's your world. They're your friends. They affect your whole purpose for living day to day. Religion can really help you feel a sense of belonging, feel a sense of purpose of why you're here, put more effort into your life, to work harder, to hold meaningful values and meaningful relationships. But sometimes there are certain things about a culture and beliefs that can minimize other people. For example, a lot of queer people, people from the LGBTQ+ community, are not the majority. So people think there's something wrong with them or they're bad or they're intentionally trying to be rebellious toward the normal system that everyone else experiences in life. They get vilified.
I tried [to fit into my religion] for a few more years [after realizing it wasn’t working for me]. I got to a point where I'm like, Oh my gosh, I really cannot fake this. As a musician and a person who was always taught truth is the most powerful, beautiful thing … I felt like I was dying inside to have to pretend.
When it became clear that I didn't have that option [to live differently], I was devastated. I was breaking down 'cause I was like, This is the only way. I don't know how else to live life. I was born into my faith; it was all I knew and all people talked about. It was my whole world. It was like my bubble.
Sometimes change is scary. It's terrifying. You think you're gonna lose everything you know and everything that gave you meaning and purpose. But—like they would say in church—I can give my testimony that it will be OK. Let your intuition guide you, whether you still believe in a god or if you don't. Trust in that feeling because usually it's guiding you to be a better person, live a healthier and happier life—even if you can't see what's on the other side. … Because if I'd stayed there, I don't know how much longer I could have managed to do that. I don't know how much longer I would've been alive 'cause I know a lot of other people who are in my situation who tried to stay in the faith, and they didn't make it.
Even though it's scary and people will warn you and tell you you'll lose your life, I can tell you coming on this side, even though I'm freshly on this side of things, it's almost like I have a second chance at life that I didn't know I was able to have. If you're like me where you want to still have some kind of spiritual connection, there's no one way of doing things. You can find what works for you. You can include spirituality in whatever way you're able to process it.
WM: Where do you find your sense of belonging now?
DA: I've been able to keep some friends from my old life, and I've had to make adjustments and find my new place. I know a lot of people don't have the option to move, but I've uprooted from where I was before in Nashville, and now I'm more in LA. I feel like I needed a change of environment. You just feel like, No one's gonna understand me. I'm so weird. I'm so different because I'm not like anyone from my previous community. I would encourage you to put yourself out there, even through online communities if you're not able to leave your bubble. … It’s hard because when you're in your bubble, everyone thinks, Oh no. We've lost you. We need to help save you and bring you back onto the path.
I realize even more that I have to separate myself to find community. I feel like community is still so important. That's what's beautiful about religion, the sense of community and sharing a common goal. I still love that aspect of it. I just have to create that in my own way now. … The more I share my story, the more I find people who support, love, and accept me where I'm at and cheer me on as I move forward. I wish that upon anyone, that you can find a sense of belonging wherever you are and that people can celebrate what may be different about you, but also be able to still find the common ground of: you're just human beings trying to live a good life and be happy and creative and feel inspired and find healing and trying to leave your surroundings a little better than when you first got there.
WM: What else do you want to share about mental health?
DA: Allow yourself to be heard. Let your emotions come through and find a channel for them. … Allow yourself to grieve when you need to. Allow yourself to laugh when you need to. Allow yourself to talk when you need to. Allow yourself to transition and change when you need to.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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