SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been a year since David Archuleta was the featured artist of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert.
Sporting a sweater and scarf, the 20-year-old "American Idol" star was in town last week to promote his Christmas concert CD and DVD, sign autographs, sit for some media interviews and enjoy Thanksgiving with his family before beginning a Christmas tour.
Polishing off a turkey sandwich during an interview, Archuleta described how honored he was to be invited to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir he grew up admiring.
“It was an out-of-this-world experience,” Archuleta said. “Taking it in, singing, being there … It was cool.”
December 2010 is also special to Archuleta for another reason. It was last year, in between concert rehearsals with the choir, that the young Mormon celebrity received his Eagle Scout Award.
“I am so happy I did it,” Archuleta said. “I was far from the best Scout when I started. I wasn’t motivated at all, but … then I came back and got it. I was really happy I did.”
Archuleta credits his Murray neighbor and former Scout leader, Cal Madsen, for encouraging and helping him to attain the highest rank for a young man in the Boy Scouts of America program.
“I paid him to say that,” Madsen said with a laugh. “It’s a real credit to him. His dad also encouraged him. Archuleta took it upon himself to finish it. It was something he always wanted to do, but with his music and competitions, he didn’t think he would get there. But he followed up and worked hard enough to finish it.”
Incredibly, Archuleta earned his Life rank in Scouting during the year he was competing at "American Idol." A year went by with little progress and then Archuleta wrapped up his requirements — three merit badges and his service project — in the last three days before his 18th birthday in 2008.
He had previously fulfilled the requirements for Personal Management, a merit badge that helps a Scout learn to manage finances, and only needed a signature from the counselor. Sherry Madsen, Cal’s wife, signed off on his American Cultures badge. The last badge was Fire Safety, which required a meeting with members of a local fire department. Three days before Archuleta’s birthday, Cal Madsen called the Murray Fire Department and was told it might take a week to schedule an appointment.
“I said this is for a young man named David Archuleta,” Madsen recalled. “About 10 minutes later they called and said they could take us in 15 minutes at the station. David was ready and we boogied over and met seven firemen plus the chief. They all wanted in on this. They had wanted to invite their families, but decided maybe not. Two hours later, we finished up.”
As for the service project, Archuleta admitted he hadn’t really thought about it. Madsen phoned Murray Parks and Recreation and was told it might take a week or two to come up with a suitable project.
“I said I’m kind of in a hurry. I got a young man that is turning 18 who happens to be David Archuleta. I had no sooner mentioned his name when she said, 'Let me call you back,'” Madsen said. “People were wonderful. All I had to do was mention his name and they were ready to bend over backward. Ten minutes later, they called to say they had 180 trees, bushes and shrubs to plant along the Jordan River Parkway.”
Archuleta took over and made arrangements for the trees to be planted the day before his birthday. More than 20 people showed up to help, and the job was completed in less than three hours.
“We had purchased the trees and had an area that needed to be planted, but didn’t have the time or employees to do the job,” said Kim Sorensen, Murray’s Parks and Recreation director. “David did a good job of organizing it, and it was done quickly. We were also able to keep it low key. It was neat to see.”
Although he earned his Eagle, he didn’t receive the award for another two years because of his tours and travels. Madsen didn’t want to just hand Archuleta the award. He only needed 15 minutes and a gathering of family and friends. One day last December, Madsen saw Archuleta throwing snowballs with his family outside their house. The veteran Scout leader asked if Archuleta had 15 minutes to receive his Eagle. Archuleta said he was about to attend rehearsal for the Christmas concert, but could do it later that day, and so he did, with about 20 family members present.
“It was totally the influence of a good leader,” Archuleta said. “Cal has probably helped many scouts get their Eagle, guys who wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise. They just needed someone to believe in them, just a little push. He is a great neighbor.”
The dark-haired singer talked about a myriad of other topics during his 25-minute interview with the Deseret News.
Archuleta, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently went through the Jordan River Utah Temple. He has a goal to attend the temple often.
“It was very special,” he said. “It gave me a new perspective on life.”
When asked if he would ever audition for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Archuleta said he questioned his sight-reading skills.
“Oh, man. My problem is I’m not good at reading music. That is really important when you are in the choir,” he said. “But it was amazing to sing with them.”
Archuleta said he fell in love with music at age 6 when he first heard “At the End of the Day,” a song in the “Les Miserables” score.
“Hearing the melody, the way they sang and performed it, it was amazing and I couldn’t get enough of it, couldn’t stop watching it,” Archuleta said. “It was very influential to me and introduced me to a love of music.”
When he is driving alone in the Ford Hybrid he won on "American Idol," he likes to sing along with golden oldies, Christmas music and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The last time he sang in an LDS Church building was last month when he spoke at a fireside for some military families and members of the church in Okinawa, Japan.
Archuleta loves Thai food, especially the fresh curry and coconut ice cream at Simply Thai in Sandy.
If asked to participate on “Dancing with the Stars,” he would “probably perform really bad. Maybe if I had a good trainer,” he said, “It would be interesting.”
Though audiences may never know it, but Archuleta still gets terrified on stage, he explained. He recalled saying a little prayer for courage at age 10 to force himself out on a stage.
“You have to realize that feeling is going to exist and you have to work through it anyway," he said. "It’s not a matter of that feeling going away, it’s a matter of getting past that feeling. You have to learn and discipline yourself.”
When people learn he’s from Utah, the next question is usually about the LDS Church. “It’s the first thing they ask,” Archuleta said. “It’s cool when people notice that you make an effort to live certain values.”
When given the opportunity, Archuleta encourages people to develop their musical talents. He also likes to challenge LDS youth to discover the power of good music.
“What I’ve learned is that music affects the way you feel,” he said. “A song can change someone’s life.”