Artwork provided by the Fox Television Network.
Six months ago, nobody had heard of David Archuleta or Brooke White. But now, thanks to their soaring on “American Idol,” the television show that seeks to find the country’s new vocal superstars, they have become household names with their own fans, websites, blogs and pictures splashed across the Internet.
Both have survived stiff competition – beginning with thousands who auditioned across the U.S. – and the caustic comments of judge Simon Cowell to land among the twelve finalists. These finalists are chosen by popularity with everyone invited to cast their vote via text messaging. (In last week’s competition, 36 million votes were tallied.)
What is refreshing, in fact downright heartening, about both of them is that in contrast to an edgy youth culture that pushes every limit, both David and Brooke stand out for their grounding in goodness. Sometimes when Latter-day Saints get a moment in the sun, you wish they had the strength to hold stronger against a popular culture that wears down their standards, but David and Brooke are consistent. Notably even the panel of judges – Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell – notice something particularly likeable about each.
Stand Up and Be Counted
When Brooke, a 24-year-old nanny from Mesa, Arizona, first auditioned, the judges asked her to tell them something unique about herself. She said, “I’ve never seen a rated-R movie.” They were somewhat incredulous and asked how that came about and she answered, “My parents had some rules or guidelines, and it stuck with me. It was always my choice. It makes sense to me. It makes sense to my life.”
Then she went on to surprise them even more when she acknowledged that her husband had never seen an R-rated movie either.
The judges teased her, suggesting that is just what he told her and that when she went to bed at night he would say, “I’ll be upstairs in just a minute.”
During her audition, the program also showed film clips of her playing with the twins for whom she nannies and who she says she adores. She was singing to them, “I want to eat, eat, eat, apples and bananas.” Almost despite themselves, the judges were taken and as they gave her the nod to move on to the next level of competition, Simon Cowell said, “We can bring you over to the dark side a bit,” to which Brooke retorted, “I dare you.”
This was a comment clearly not to be taken as a challenge, but a stand – she wasn’t about to be brought. After as the judges summed up her performance they said she was just so – with hesitation as if they were trying to find the word – pure.
Brooke’s engaging smile and clear sense of who she is led one reporter to say that she “has charm enough to fill a stadium.” Undoubtedly, part of that charm is a certain radiance of her spirit to which even the hardened cannot help but respond.
At 17 years-old and the youngest in the competition, David Archuleta from Murray, Utah, has been called the one to beat. The Los Angeles Times has dubbed him the Chosen One. Ann Power, writing for the Times, said, “Who is David Archuleta, really? Aside from the next American Idol, that is. In this second round of boys’ night, the dewy teen pulled out so far ahead of the competition that we might as well all go to the gym Tuesday evenings for the next few weeks and skip the show.”
The press has called him “a child singer seemingly genetically engineered to fulfill the ‘Idol’ prophecies of greatness.” After his Feb. 26 performance, where he sang John Lennon’s Imagine, judge Simon Cowell said, “Right now, you’re the one to beat, and there are 19 very miserable contestants sitting here tonight, trust me, after that,” clearly implying that in his mind, at least, Archuleta stands out as the competition’s best singer.
The Salt Lake Tribune said, “Imagine little David Archuleta belting out a John Lennon song. Imagine no mistakes, no “pitchy” problems. Imagine all the people rising to their feet and going crazy. That was the scene Tuesday night when the 17-year-old Murray teen wowed everyone with his arrangement of Lennon’s classic song “Imagine.”
This seems enough to go a young man’s head, but David, too, has an outlook that puts it all in perspective. His performance of “Imagine” was so moving with a voice that seems to outstrip his youth, that the judges claimed it was the best of the night and absolutely captivating, one of the best ever on “American Idol.” Paula Abdul was in tears and then raved, “I want to squish you, squeeze your head off and dangle you from my rearview mirror.”
This was not the first time that Paula said she wanted to hug David.
The judges, however, noted one other thing the night that David sang “Imagine.” He only sang the third verse – not the first. The reason, undoubtedly, is that in the first verses of the song the words say, “Imagine no religion.” As an active Latter-day Saint, that is not a world that David would want to imagine.
Brenda Fisher, the secretary of the Murray High School seminary who calls herself David’s number one fan, said David really cares about the message and the words of the songs he sings. In a recent show, David chose to sing the Phil Collins song, “Another Day in Paradise,” which highlights the forgotten and hungry people of the world. Simon Cowell thought the tune was a bit gloomy for a 17-year-old, but David said he liked the message. “It’s about homeless people, and we need to remember them.”
Since David first appeared on the “American Idol” auditions and captured the heart of so many across America, the question has floated across the Internet, “Is David Archuleta a Mormon?” with assorted speculations. Not only is he a Latter-day Saint, but his seminary principal and former teacher, Justin Harper, said, “Kids come and go, but he is one who stands out as being grounded. You wish you had a thousand like him.
“David has been gone for weeks from school because of the show, but he was back in town and at seminary the day after President Hinckley died. His seminary held an assembly that day and he was asked to tell a little about being in Hollywood, but he didn’t want to draw any attention to himself. Then, however, when it time to bear testimonies, he was one of the first to get up and bear his testimony about how much he loved President Hinckley and how much the prophet had influenced his life.”
Harper said, “He’s more shy then you would ever imagine. He isn’t trying to stand out at all. He won’t try to do anything to draw undue attention to himself. Yet, every time we have a devotional where he gets to sing, all the students clear out their classrooms to come and listen.”
Brenda Fisher said the first time she heard him sing, he was doing “Be Still My Soul.” “I was overwhelmed at his voice and the passion with which he sang. It put me in tears.”
Many of the kids at seminary were wondering how to convey their good wishes to David, so Harper put a big sheet covering the wall for them to scrawl their messages in colored markers. That filled up so fast, he put up another, and then another. Then he filmed a picture of the greetings and put them on YouTube so David would know his friends were supporting him.
His teachers say that David never stops smiling and laughing and that his contagious good will attracts many friends.
Yet, Brenda said that they had a marriage week at seminary in which the kids were supposed to be married. David was so shy he came and hid under her desk. His smiling is a way to hide his shyness.
“He is very humble,” she said, “When people come up and thank him for singing, he says, ‘Well, thank you.’ He said on a Fox interview regarding all this attention, ‘It just seems surreal.'”
“I don’t think he knows that his face is on the front page of USA Today. I don’t think he knows how big he really is. All he knows is that he’s getting to sing. He knows he’s been given this talent. He knows it’s a gift and he just wants to share it and feels that he has to share it,” said Brenda.
More than Vocals
An American Idol is not chosen based on vocal ability alone, but on a combination of personality, showmanship and charisma as well. Both Brooke and David have that special something about them that have made them winners to this point and are vote magnets as America notes their favorites by text messaging at the end of the show.
What has struck me, however, is that fused into both of their personalities is a wholesomeness that is rare on television and so uplifting, it is like a breath of fresh air in a world of entertainment that is increasingly crude and vacuous.
Both are just plain likable, and surprisingly nobody resents them for their likability. We haven’t seen charges of their being boring or too perfect, though, Simon Cowell did tell Brooke once that her singing was like “washing liquid,” meaning that it was very clean and happy. Still he came back again the next show telling her how terrific her singing is.
More and more entertainment journalists are saying that among the ladies, she is the one to watch. They are impressed with her “folksy mellow voice” and her daring to be just herself. Two weeks ago, she sang, “You’re So Vain” and enjoyed a good laugh with Randy and Paula, who were certain she had chosen this song to describe the arrogant Simon.
Some entertainment blogs are listing David and Brooke as the top two contenders. As one said, “This might be wishful thinking, but White is a breath of fresh, folksy air. We’ve seen enough loud, diva-like singers over the year on Idol to get behind a pretty face who just sits on a stool, strums a guitar and makes beautiful music.”
Congratulations to David Archuleta and Brooke White for making some great music, but most of all for giving us someone to cheer for because of being unwavering in what they stand for.