David Archuleta – Chords of Strength review

I don’t get opera.

That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate certain elements of opera, or understand its importance, or get why I think other people like it. I just don’t really get it myself. It’s the wide vibrato and wandering recitatives maybe, or perhaps it has something to do with suspension of disbelief. All I know is, when I took a humanities class at BYU-Idaho, I was determined to “get” opera. We watched clips from The Magic Flute, Aida, and Wozzeck, which I believe gave me a pretty good cross-section of what opera is capable of, and so I checked out a stage production video of The Magic Flute, determined to watch, appreciate, and ultimately enjoy it. Halfway through the opera I couldn’t stand it anymore and I discovered that I could get the gist of things by fast-forwarding through and just reading the subtitles at the bottom of the screen. I tried. Maybe I’m just too dumb or unrefined, but it was all just lost on me. Maybe I’ll try again someday.

When I wrote a little snarky piece a couple weeks ago about David Archuleta’s memoir Chords of Strength: A Memoir of Soul, Song, and the Power of Perseverance, I was not anticipating the response I would get.  You know when you have dinner over at a friend’s house, and when your host or hostess begins clearing the table, you mutter a half-hearted, “No, don’t do that, I can do the dishes,” except you really really hope that they respond with, “Don’t be silly, what kind of a host/hostess would I be if I made my guest do the dishes?” because in all honesty you were just being nice? Well at the end of my little piece I mentioned that if somebody bought me a copy of Chords of Strength at no charge to myself, I would read it and review it.

And somebody actually bought me a copy and sent it to me.

I will admit to you right now that, like opera, I never really “got” American Idol. Sure, when people try to explain it to me, they say, “But Arthur, it’s music, and I thought you love music.” Well, I do! I swear! But just because Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant both love “sports,” that doesn’t necessarily mean if you put them both at a dinner table they’d have anything in common to talk about. Well, ahem, maybe those are poor examples.

But the whole concept just seemed rather beyond me. Let me share an excerpt from the book to illustrate my point.

So when he came over, the first thing he said after he gave me a hug was, “Come on, I want you to meet Tamyra.” He dragged me by the arm into the lobby and started introducing me to everyone: Ryan Starr, Jim Verraros, Nikki, Christina Christian, RJ Helton, Ejay Day, and yes, Tamyra Gray! There they were live in person! AJ then asked me to go ahead and sing for them. I couldn’t believe what was happening!

Every time I read something like this in Chords of Strength, I would sit there and scratch my head and wonder whether I was supposed to know who any of those people are. Whether they were fashion designers, pop stars, or American Idol contestants, I had no clue. Turns out they’re the latter.

So from the get-go, part of me was determined to read this book and “get” what made American Idol great. Or if not American Idol, then maybe I could at least “get” what made David Archuleta great. Or if not what made David Archuleta great, at least what possible influence he could have on people in the future. I think I got part of the second one and definitely the third one in the book, but it wasn’t easy for me.

The book starts out with David telling us his background. He grew up in a relatively normal suburb to relatively normal parents. His father was a jazz musician who also ran a computer business, and his mother was a Honduran singer and dancer. They moved to Sandy when David was 6, and he spent a great deal of his childhood goofing around, playing outside, and roller blading. Seems simple enough.  After some success singing for local contests, David made it to Star Search 2 and actually won at the young age of 12.

David overcame a lot of insecurities to be able to sing in front of others. He spends most of the book seemingly bewildered at the success he has had, and I think this sense of bewilderment and shock worsened the difficulty that came after his Star Search success: partial paralysis of his vocal chords. It came upon him gradually, but eventually, it was a full-blown condition that forced him to quit singing competitively for a time. He was forced to choose between risky surgery and possibly ineffective therapy, but wisely chose the latter.

Finally, after having overcome his paralysis, the next bit of the book deals with Archuleta’s tryouts and rise in American Idol. He actually doesn’t spend too much time talking about Idol, and the narrative breaks down a bit here. I suppose he assumes we were all watching and he didn’t need to explain it any further. I will tell you that I learned a whole lot more about American Idol from the book than I ever did know before. It seems like a grueling trial for anyone involved. Contestants must basically put their lives on hold through the months they are in competition, without any guarantee of success at all. Even those who make it to the very end can have a hard time establishing themselves as career musicians. The frustration, sleep deprivation, isolation, and constant stress of being judged certainly came through in the text.

Then David spoke a little of recording his first album. He is quite open about the fact that he didn’t have too much creative input in the endeavor, but he doesn’t seem to worried about that. He says he has a lifetime to learn songwriting and create albums. Perhaps that’s true. Finally, David tells us how God, scriptures, and prayer got him through the last five years of his life. He devotes a whole chapter to spirituality, the Holy Spirit, and scriptures.

The revolving door of the pop music industry is a notoriously savage place for the innocent – one listen to Kevin Gilbert’s The Shaming of the True will convince you, too – so throughout the book I was admittedly quite amazed that David found the success that he did. He is an amazing, soulful singer, but lots of people are good singers. David really rose to stardom through his sweetness, innocence, and charm, which I really got a taste of as I read the book.  So many stories like his end in heartbreak, when the poor naive little sheep are crushed cruelly by the gears of the corporate machine, and I almost cringed as I read the book, wondering when David would finally succumb to the sleazy ways of television and corporate reality. That event never came. David holds his ground and keeps his spirits up all the way through his memoir, and even cites God as his main influence for getting started to begin with. It’s really quite admirable.

So no, David isn’t an artist in the same way John Lennon was an artist. He probably isn’t the next Leonard Cohen or Elliott Smith or Peter Gabriel. Those are the kinds of musicians I know. But on the other hand, pop music is called “pop” for a reason. There is a real place in this world for attractive people who sing happy songs. And after reading about how grueling stardom and American Idol can be, with constant scrutiny, the fear that you’re losing touch with reality and wondering if you’re a phony, and the strange social isolation in the midst of throngs of screaming people, I think it’s obvious that David’s happy-faced naivety and honesty is what’s keeping him sane. Somebody’s got to do it; who would be better than a strong member of the Church, who relies on his testimony of the Lord to guide him? He’s not tortured like Kurt Cobain or Kevin Moore, whose music much more often graces my CD player, but fame drove Kevin Moore into quitting his band and moving to Costa Rica, and… well, we all know what happened to Kurt.

David finishes the book out on his now characteristically upbeat, optimistic note, and he seems excited about the future. I can tell that David wants to help and uplift people. It truly seems like he is what everyone has told me he is: a happy, optimistic kid who really wants to do what God wants him to do. I admit, there’s still a lot that I don’t “get” about pop stardom, but there are a whole lot of people who do. It’s those people that I think will benefit the most from David’s hard work. He has really put his whole heart and soul into this, and there are thousands of fans out there who are reading what he’s saying about God and the Holy Spirit. He’s not exactly an evangelist, but perhaps he’s an Elias for those who are.

I’m not going to tell you that Chords of Strength was a particularly fun read for me. It’s plainly written, without a great deal of substance, about a show I never really liked, and I would feel dishonest if I said that I got a lot out of it except that I like David Archuleta as a person a little more after reading it. I don’t think he intended this book to change any lives necessarily. It seems that his management “nudged” him into writing it, and he has co-opted the opportunity to record some information that his children and grandchildren will really cherish. I think he has a good head on his shoulders and a pretty good perspective on his weaknesses and limitations as an artist. However, he also does seem to have goals to improve himself as his career unfolds. We shall see how his latest foray into actual songwriting goes when he releases his next album. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually rooting for him this time. Who knows? He might surprise even a jaded rock snob like me.

David Archuleta – Chords of Strength review

18 thoughts on “David Archuleta – Chords of Strength review

  1. VJ says:

    Awww,thank you for keeping your promise to read David’s book once it was gifted to you. I’m one of the folks who left a comment on your piece a few weeks ago. Thanks for taking the time to read it and give your thoughts, and for your honest opinion. As a huge fan, I understand that his music won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but you can see why we care about him so much and hope for even greater things to come. Not only is he extremely talented, but he’s one-of-a-kind as a person. Thanks again.

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  2. gemzone says:

    Arthur thank you for the review and for your honesty. As you know I totally love and adore David. I love this line in your review “He’s not exactly an evangelist, but perhaps he’s an Elias for those who are.” He has influenced many of his fans to investigate the Church. With many joining. I see him as a light in a world of darkness. I so appreciate this review. Thanks again!

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  3. frio says:

    Dude…I like this review. No exaggeration (you’re not actually giving people reasons to either bash or praise David). Just a straight-up opinion. I’m glad you appreciate David a little more.

    Now all I need to do is get that long-awaited book on my doorstep and read it.

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  4. Thanks for reading everyone. I tried to write a very balanced, fair review, despite the fact that I don’t write book reviews at all. I write more music reviews than anything.

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  5. rose says:

    So glad to hear that you were impressed with David. I love his singing, especially the ballads he performed on American Idol. I’m not so much into “Pop”. But once you “get” David, you’ll never be able to let go. He is that special. (I do hope that you listen to some of his Idol performances. I like to start with his audition and go through the whole thing.) I love many of the songs on his first album and all of his Christmas album. The main thing that always comes thru about David is his sweetness, kindness, and how lovable he is. Believe me, every mother of a daughter would want him for a son-in-law.

    I just Google “David Archuleta singing………. It will get you to all those wonderful songs he’s done

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  6. http://www.daffedot.blogspot.com
    I appreciate your honest interview. I get a little weary of all of the – Lets not say anything bad about David mentality.

    I just read Gemzones comment and I am also one who totally loves and adores David. BUT he is human. I think he wants us all to know just how human he is. Although I have to admit he is so gorgeous that he does not look human. But I digress.
    So thank you for admitting that you like David and are rooting for him. But also maintaining a less than uber gaga fan approach.

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  7. Paula says:

    Thanks for keeping your promise to read the book! I found your blog because I happened to google David and “Chords of Strength” and found your first blog about it. I have been watching for your book review. I am an “older” fan, *ahem*, and I am as shocked as anyone that I (an extremely sensable and practical woman) would follow a young man out to start a music career. I was curious to see if David would remain true to himself and his beliefs and if he did, how would the world perceive him? I like American Idol, but no one in the history of the show ever made me want to follow them after the season…except David. I have seen him be kind to media personnel that were not kind to him. I’ve watched him refuse to belittle others to make himself look cool. I have seen him refuse to be anyone other than himself because it could make him more popular as an artist. I love his voice and his music. I love “Chords of Strength”. I have met some wonderful folks that call themselves “Archies”. I have never regreted my decision to be a David fan.

    The beauty of music and art is that they are as diverse as the people that create it. Tis is a GOOD thing…and it is so wrong to make someone feel inferior or “bullied” because you do not agree with their choice of genre. Thanks for being open and honest, and thanks for your review. Best wishes!

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  8. Pattie says:

    Thank you for giving your opinion of “Chords Of Strength”, Syphax, and I hope you’ll watch this video (http://television.aol.com/american-idol/2010/06/02/somethingpitchy-broadcast-david-archuleta-interview-video/ )of David talking a little more about how he hopes his music will progress. As an older fan, I got more insight into just how intelligent and far-thinking he is about where he wants his music to go and just how to get there and how long that should take. He’s quite aware of his limitations at the moment (as you said) and he seems quite willing to learn from others and to put in the hard work it will take to grow as an artist. He also seems very aware that he has an extremely diverse fan base (music-wise and age-wise) and some of them want him in one place musically and others want him to sing a totally different genre. He’s capable of singing just about anything (even apparently tried a little “Opera” 🙂 when he was younger) and he knows he has to mature at a sensible pace, as he states, to get from A to C … knowing he can’t skip B. Please do try to listen to the interview and I hope it enlightens you even more as to why we “Archies” respect and adore him. Thanks again for actually reading the book and giving your opinion.

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  9. Rachelle says:

    I really respect somebody that can put aside preconceived notions and try to see something as objectively as they can. I am impressed with how seriously you took trying to “get it” even though you really didn’t want to. Not a lot of people take the time to do things like that.

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  10. goboywonder says:

    “and I would feel dishonest if I said that I got a lot out of it except that I like David Archuleta as a person a little more after reading it.”

    I think this is why he agreed to write Chords of Strength, so that people can learn about him as a person–not just some Idol contestant or pop singer. But David, who, what, and why. From the above statement, I think he did just that. I appreciate your review and the comment you left on FOD.

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  11. violet4ever says:

    Thanks Syphax for writing your impressions and trying to understand why we feel the way we do about David. I appreciate your article because you had no agenda and had an open mind 🙂 David’s an unusual guy. He doesn’t care much for fame or fortune other than how he can do good with it. He struggles for artistic integrity in a pop environment that embraces glitzy acts that can only sing with autotune. And he has a dual stigma in the serious music world of a. being an Idol and b. being short and cute and thought to be Disney. But I have great hope for David. I think he’ll continue working towards what he wants and he’ll get there.

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  12. Jeanne d'Arc says:

    I’ll give you more “traffic” lol. David has a tendency to put himself down and he certainly does this when talking of himself as a songwriter. It’s a little frustrating for me as a fan because it gives others the impression that he has limitations as an artist. He is an artist and I see no limitations. Just because he is humble and keeps saying that, don’t believe it lol. There is a song he wrote, melody and lyrics, when he was (I believe) 13. It is called “Falling” and it was inspired by a tragic event, a teen (?) suicide in his family or of a family friend. Sorry for the slightly sketchy details, but he was tremendously affected by it and Falling was apparently the first song he had actually finished writing. He’d said that he would get into writing songs but would struggle to finish them. This song is one of the bonus tracks from his first album. I see a theme in his song writing, which is his yearning and desire to help someone, anyone, who is drowning, suffering, and in need of help and a caring heart. His first album, as he’s said before, had to be pop. Him being someone who always seeks to look at the positive in any situation, he’s offered up the explanation that he likes pop and listens to pop, therefore it would make sense his music will be pop. But if you read between the lines, or know David (and/or watch the AOL Something pitchy interview!), he’s had to definitely compromise, and from the sound of it, even with the upcoming album, there is still compromise (but less of it it seems and we hope), but he is just starting out and that is just the way it is and he understands it. So, some of the tracks he co-wrote that didn’t make it into his album but did into the “deluxe” edition, are IMHO, better songs than the ones written for him by the pros of the industry. “Somebody Out There” is achingly stunning, “Works For Me” is, on the other hand, lighthearted and charmingly David as it is about him. Another co-write called “Don’t Let Go” which actually did make it into the standard album is also about reaching out to and extending help to someone. I hope you bother to YouTube and take a listen to “his” music; check out the live versions! Thanks for the review. Your honesty is much appreciated! But allow me to say I respectfully disagree with the substance comment. The book packs a lot of substance, both spiritually and musically.

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  13. violet4ever says:

    Syphax – And here’s a a short note, a new fan video of David’s smiles. It might give you a taste of how David affects the mood of his fans. He makes me smile one way or another every day.

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  14. mormonarchuletafan says:

    Wait. You don’t like opera?

    After 2 1/2 years, I still scratch my head at my involvement in the David Archuleta fan world. But one thing I have learned: If I am going to support any Mormon artist, I want to support this one. He is worth every bit of the time and energy I devote to gushing about him. And I’m not really a gusher.

    btw, forget Magic Flute and Aida. Rent the ’82 film of Verid’s “La Traviata” with Placido Domingo and directed by Franco Zefferelli. It was the hard core rock of it’s day.

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  15. Heather says:

    Awesome review! Thank you for reading this. I am a huge fan and know that his music is not for everyone, but there’s something about David that goes so much deeper. He’s such a good kid, and there are just not that many left in Celebrity Land. It makes me happy to know that David did get accomplished what he wanted to, even though you’re not a fan persay, you got something positive out of the book. I really enjoyed reading your article. Thanks again!

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  16. Gi says:

    Hmmm…thanks for your honest review. It’s the first ever English memoir that I got to read[I’m Thai] after knowing him for a while. I just got hooked and already finished twice unconsciously. Got so many dimensions of life and how to live on. Such a great book. Now been reading for the third time.

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