If you’re following American Idol, you know Archuleta is a local boy, currently a student on leave from Murray High School. With his teenybopper good looks and a powerful, clear voice that seems impossible to be produced within his small frame, he appears to be a lock for the finals if not the clear favorite to win the whole thing outright. Last week he killed with a version of the John Lennon song “Imagine” that I’d never heard before and didn’t believe possible. I mean, the kid is 17!
Idol judges and voters—not to mention the crazed live audience—were duly swayed but, soon after the show aired, a minor scandal erupted when it was noticed the Archuleta arrangement was eerily similar to one sung by the late Eva Cassidy (view both versions on the Salt Blog and judge for yourself). That doesn’t matter to me, since Archuleta never said his was a new or original version. He just sang. Besides, it’s American Idol, not American Karaoke.
I was happy he chose that song. “Imagine” was the theme of my senior ball on Dec. 18, 1971. I was 18 years and 7 days old. Jeff Tibolla and Jill Reid were voted king and queen, and I think if we voted today, they’d win again. The 1972 Bingham High School yearbook has a picture of my high school sweetheart and me sitting at that dance. She’s wearing her forever smile and a floral formal while I’m draped in a double-breasted sports coat, a solid wide tie, a striped shirt, and striped gray pants. I still don’t own a suit and my hair’s still a mess. I don’t know how it possibly took her another few years to be rid of me.
Yours truly nominated the song “Imagine” for the senior ball theme. I remember some people thought the song too controversial—no wonder, since it questions core Utah values like religion (unless it’s a religion we don’t like), the military (for everyone else’s kids) and possessions (gimme, gimme, gimme). When it passed, the more-or-less progressives and subversives at Bingham felt a mild vindication. It’s a good thing we were also realists, because what else were we going to select? “Brown Sugar?” “What’s Going On?” “Maggie May?” “American Pie?” “Won’t Get Fooled Again?” “The Theme from Shaft”?
I wonder if “Imagine” would pass muster as a local high school dance theme song today. Maybe, but I doubt it. Even Archuleta—saying it was due to time constraints—only sang the tamer, last verse of “Imagine,” thus avoiding potential offending words or verses. If he wins Idol, he won’t be doing that for long—at least not if his ambition is beyond selling bubble-gum music for the brief period before all the kiddies switch to another brand of bubble gum. For now, though, he’s just a kid who can belt a tune like all get out.
I saw him perform when he was at Hillcrest Junior High. My daughter and he are classmates and both were in the school choir. Archuleta performed solos during the annual concert recitals. Although his voice was less strong and more pretty sounding back then, it was plain he was born for a larger stage. My daughter would be the first to tell you that it’s easier for her to walk through a brick wall than to carry a tune, but she was always talking up this Archuleta kid. I didn’t believe her until I saw him myself. I’ve been watching from the edges ever since and didn’t even get one bit of jealous when he won a hundred grand on Star Search. Money well earned in my book—even if he’s not old enough to enjoy it in all the abusive ways I’ve known a dollar to be useful for.
There are already some small rumblings about the local media referring to Archuleta as a Mormon. Does religion really matter? Is it a voting cue? Another finalist, Brooke White from Mesa, Ariz., gets the same unnecessary addition to all of her local introductions. I don’t care if they’re Mormon. However, this is the same media feeding it to the same people who kept complaining about how Mitt Romney was always cast as a Mormon. If being a Mormon shouldn’t matter to persons voting for the American presidency, then it shouldn’t matter to persons voting for the next American Idol.
It’s base. Archuleta also has a Hispanic surname. The local ratings pawns don’t acknowledge that, however—as in, David Archuleta is among at least five contestants with Hispanic surnames in this year’s American Idol finals. I doubt other Idol finalists have been similarly attached to a religion in their own local press. Archuleta is a talented high school kid who’s going places. Just let him sing.