California Literary Review

Book Review: Chords of Strength by David Archuleta

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July 7th, 2010 at 9:41 am

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Chords of Strength by David Archuleta
Chords of Strength: A Memoir of Soul, Song and the Power of Perseverance
by David Archuleta
Celebra, 256 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★½☆


The Unshakable Faith of Archuleta

“I guess life gradually teaches us the lessons that we’re meant to learn, and in time, we figure out what we need in order to live happier.”
–David Archuleta

While this book is about the life and music of David Archuleta, you’d better have at least a passing interest in “American Idol” because as David himself puts it, “I wouldn’t be in the position to write this book had it not been for ‘American Idol.'” And that theme of thanks to one of America’s top TV shows of the past decade carries throughout much of this book. If you’re not somewhat familiar with the many names he constantly refers to (Tamyra Gray, AJ Gil, Kelly Clarkson, David Cook, Justin Guarini, Nikki, RJ Helton, Ejay Day, and Ryan Starr to name just a few), this will be a tough read. That’s perhaps a problem with a nineteen-year-old boy writing a memoir–there’s not a whole lot of material to work with, and “American Idol” and its lasting effect dominated the last few years of his life.

It’s no surprise that David has musical talent in his DNA. His father is a jazz trumpet player, his mother is a gifted singer, his grandmother sang in TV commercials and acted in a few movies (and was known in Utah as “the little lady with the big voice”) and his grandfather sang in a barbershop quartet. Talk about stacking the genetic deck!

One thing the book inadvertently does is provide is a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the workings of “American Idol” (he had to sing for three different sets of producers before auditioning “officially” for Randy, Paula, and Simon). For real Idol fans, this might be worth the purchase price of the book alone.

Along the way, readers will learn a lot about David’s musical background. His first ever concert was the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics closing ceremony where he was greatly moved by seeing Sting, Harry Connick Jr., Christina Aguilera, and *NSYNC perform. He also details the many smaller venues he performed in before landing national TV opportunities that eventually led to his being on “American Idol.” David also shares his favorite post-Idol memories, such as how for his 2009 Christmas album, he was able to sing in four languages. “I know English and a fair amount of Spanish, but playing with words in French and Latin was a totally different challenge. It felt so good to be able to reach out to people all over the world, and to dive into those cultures momentarily through their languages.”

And for die-hard David fans, he has a number of sidebar-style lists, such as the Top 3 Touring Moments, the Top 3 Interviews, and the Top 5 Songs I’ve Covered. He also includes a Top 3 Fan Encounters, with the most memorable being on the “American Idol” tour in Pennsylvania, where a girl came up after the show and “gave me a diverse array of obscure kitchen utensils: an avocado slicer, a cherry pitter, and some other thing for corn, too.”

Let’s be clear–David Archuleta seems like a genuinely nice kid, which in large part is probably due to his humble Christian background. His parents are from Honduras, and they came to the U.S. to be a larger part of the Church of Latter Day Saints. That kind of religious commitment to God, community, and goodness seems to have taken deep hold in this young man. Even with all the “American Idol” hubbub going on, David worked with a local pastor to finish his Eagle Scout project before he turned eighteen and would be rendered ineligible. When he was diagnosed with vocal paralysis, he didn’t whine or wail, which many of us might do after having the early successes he did, such as singing on “The Jenny Jones Show” and winning “Star Search.” About this difficult time in his life, David writes:

“Looking back on my vocal paralysis challenge, some people may think it made me unhappy because I couldn’t sing. The good thing is that despite my frustration, I was still happy because I had plenty of other things in my life that made me happy. So instead of being totally unhappy about the challenge I faced, I looked at it as an opportunity to learn more. I think that the fact of having some time off from singing actually prepared me for when ‘Idol’ came around–it motivated me to work twice as hard.”

In every single chapter, David reaffirms his commitment to the divine directly or indirectly. Here’s just one example:

“Despite all of my doubts and fear, I could now embrace that it was all well worth it, that God did have a plan for me, and that I did the right thing by trusting in Him. I would try to make sense of everything by always reminding myself that all of this was happening because I was following those impressions that I received from the Spirit along the way.”

The above passage also shows the chatty feel of the book. This book has a “with Monica Haim” subtitle, and the whole thing has a long-winded, repetitive feel to it, as if she had hours and hours of taped interviews to deal with. Chords of Strength is quite readable, but it meanders a bit, and it’s less tight than most well-written memoirs. Considering the many demands of being on “American Idol” (he had to write and record much of his first album while touring with the Idols in the summer of 2008), this book was part of an amazingly multitasked schedule. Considering that, it’s not too bad.

Ultimately, Chords of Strength is better than many celebrity books because David is just so darn likeable–he’s got a world-class smile, too. But if you’re not an “American Idol” or music buff, this book probably isn’t for you.

  • griffin

    Great review!! I am a fan and I loved the book. I completely agree with your sentiments regarding anyone who is not an American Idol fan, and would probably find the book of no interest. Nonetheless, his book is very heartfelt and inspirational. Something that is nice to read once in a while for anyone. One major mistake though; only his mother is from Honduras, not his father.

  • Amethyst

    thanks for this very even handed and objective review for ”chords of strength”. i found it to be a good read, with something to impart for readers of all ages. he’s an amazing singer, and just being 19, he does have an amazing story to tell.

  • gracie

    From a 19 year old’s view point, his life seems to be full of appreciation for what one has. I agree that David is just so darn likeable–he’s got a world-class smile. I also want to add that he’s got world-class humble personalities. Anything coming out of him (from his mouth or behaviors) is respectful and sincere. American idol discovered such a talented young man who gives nothing but a positive influence on people. Anyone who reads this book will know his faith has a lot to do with who he is.

  • Larissa Cheong

    Just a little correction:

    His father is not from Honduras, only his mother is.

  • waffles

    Thank you for this review. One big part of the book that you left out is how David struggled his whole life to overcome his shyness and own self-doubts. The way he reacted to “the spotlight” (ex. panic attacks as a young kid) is really inspiring (I’m really shy, too) and a great reason alone to buy the book! I loved the way this book is written cause it felt like david was talking to just me.
    It’s pretty awesome!!

  • Pattirae

    I really enjoyed reading “Chords of Strength” in fact, I couldn’t put it down! I am past middle age and have always watched and enjoyed American Idol, so yes, I loved learning how all that worked. But, once David came on the scene from day one with “Shop Around” I haven’t been as interested in Idol and spend a considerable amount of time following David’s career, going to his concerts—and listening to his music. I think your review was quite fair. Of course I felt that it was more than “quite” readable but I loved that you could sense his worth—and yes, he is “so darn likable.”

  • Shanny in Australia

    I enjoyed reading your review. Thanks.

    I agree that you would have to have more than a passing interest in American Idol or at least David Archuleta to enjoy this book. However, I disagree that the reader would have to know the names you listed. Being from Australia and never having watched much of American Idol, I don’t know all of the people myself. Even if you don’t know those people it doesn’t detract from your understanding or enjoyment of the story. I think it is always inevitable with any memoir/biography that you are going to come across names of which you have no clue, who they are.

    I agree that the book ‘meanders’ a bit but that is a part of it’s charm. David states on the back of the book that he wants it to feel like a one-on-one chat and the book definitely delivers that.

    The irony I find with Chords of Strength is that pretty much whatever could be a criticism could also be a strength in the book. It all depends on each reader’s tastes I guess.

    Thanks again for an interesting and comprehensive review.

  • rose

    Loved David’s book and while I’m sure you’re right about it being of particular interest to American Idol fans, I feel that it has much more to offer than just that part of it. The book would be interesting for any young person to read. It talks about insecurity and shyness and overcoming it. It would be a great read for religious young people and their parents because, while it doesn’t preach or mention Latter Day Saints in particular, David’s faith is always evident. It is totally inspiring and should be in every school library. And he’s so darn cute!!!!

  • Paula

    Thanks for your review! I read Chords of Strength and could really relate to having to overcoming insecurities to pursue his desire to sing. My goal is not to be a singer, but I, too have to face my insecurities to forge ahead. I was also impressed with his attitude about the things in life that were difficult for him, including the vocal paralysis. The book was easy and comfortable for me to read because I felt as though he was just sitting and talking with me. I sincerely wish the best for this darn likeable young man with the world-class smile!

  • CarolO

    I LOVED THIS BOOK! I’m a devoted David Archuleta fan and thought his book was very inspirational, even for a woman in her 60’s like me.

  • Violet

    I really enjoyed the book. And thanks for your honest review. It meanders a bit because it is David. The publisher said he wrote it and every word is his, and that Monica helped him with the organization of the book. David said she also interviewed him rather intensely to make him remember more details and more of what his feelings were at the time. I don’t think you need much knowledge about Idol to read the book. Most of the people mentioned were on Season 1 of Idol when David was 10 or 11 years old. One, Kelly Clarkson went on to be the most successful singer to ever be on the show and a top-notch star. But it does help to know who David is and a bit about what he is like today. He is still humble, honest, charitable, optimistic, hard-working and nice to everyone, every people who are not kind to him. He’s an role model for anyone and he has fans of every age, nationality, lifestyle and religion. He is always so humble about himself that I think his book only hints at what an amazingly fine person he is. Three and 1/2 stars is fair for the book. The guy who wrote the book is a five star human being.

  • Ardy

    Nice review overall. As a much older David fan, a former singer myself, a member of a family of five children as David is, and also, as a kid having had a few insecurities, I could really appreciate where David was coming from, and so I found the book very inspirational and uplifting.

    I enjoyed knowing the workings of Idol in more detail, but I disagree that being an Idol fan would be necessary in enjoying and benefiting from reading this book. Yes, David meanders a bit in explaining his life and his message, but I doubt few 19-year-olds would have done any better — and knowing that the publisher initiated this offer shows they felt many interested people were wanting to know more about David to date. He took on this challenge with some trepidation, but I feel he and his support writer did a very good job showing what makes David the person he is and the person he wants to become.

    I would have given the book 4+ stars — a very enjoyable, positive, and optimistic read from a seemingly very genuine, appreciative, and terrific young man.

  • http://FOD Sharon

    Thank you Mr. Van Cleave for your nice review. David really does an outstanding job revealing his character, his passions, his insecurities, and his love for family, friends and God! It was a most inspiring book to read…even for someone in the 60 something group! I think there was something so refreshing about reading David’s story! It felt as if David was sitting having a chat with me on the front porch! I felt there was so much more to this book than the American Idol experience, although that certainly was a very interesting part of it indeed!

    This was a book where David was able to share his heart with the reader in a very honest and genuine way. Although he is young, he knows who he is, and what he wants to do with his life. He definitely has his priorities straight. He has had to overcome challenges in his life to be where he is today, but works hard at doing those things that do not come easy for him. David is such a fantastic musical talent, but he is so much more than his voice. His strong character and faith is such a refreshing thing to see in someone so young. David encourages, without preaching. He speaks from experience. After reading this book, one cannot help but feel inspired and energized by the positive messages that David has expressed to us. His actions speak even louder than his words…in everything he does, and with everyone he meets. He leads by example. I agree wholeheartedly, he definitely is a five star human being!

  • Riza from Cebu Philippines

    Thank you for your positive review – I have read his book twice – it is a great read and very inspiring.
    David is so wise beyond his years – and I not only admire him for his character but for his unshakable faith.
    I pray that fame and fortune won’t ever change him.
    More power!

  • ella

    loved this book, it made me want to have more gratitude and appreciation for life and all its opportunity.

  • Marcela07

    I guess you right if you’re not fan of AI you gonna have a litlle problem trying to know who is who on this story lol, but the true is that most of buyers know David because AI.
    Now i bought the book and read it, i can’t say is the most inspirational book i ever read , but is a very sincere story from a sweet and good kid who want to share his experience with others kids from his same age (David words) and try to make a positive impact on them, showing them how the hard work an the spiritual conviction in God can beat his confidence problems .
    His simple writing skills make so easy to read the book, you can said you can almost hear David’s voice saying every word, he achieve to let people see his personality on his writing style and of course i love it.
    About the conten himself i can said i knew most of what he said on his first chapters , maybe with a different perspective that in some parts changed after reading the book , but in others still tha same that i had before. I found very interesting the inside information about the all crazy backstage process on American idol along with the all thing with his vocal paralisys, you really can feel his stress, frustration and confusion about this two episodes and his way and self conscious to stay positive all the way.
    The four last chapters i think are the best of all the book, this personals points of views and thoughts are very valuables if you work with teens, in some way because is all about ethics, feelings and philosophy, the life perspective from a 19 years old teen idol singer and celebrity who still viewing the world from his humble and sweet personality.

  • Vivian

    I have read Chords of Strength twice and found it to be captivating, motivating, touching and funny. I thought it was very brave of David to be so open and honest about his insecurities, fears, and humble beginnings. I also appreciate how he relays his devotion to his family, friends, and faith without being preachy or coming across as “holier than thou”. Kudos to David–two thumps way up. Thanks for the review.

  • older fan

    I have not read the book, but have read a lot about it and people’s reaction to it. I think it is likely a great book for teens and young adults who often turn to pop culture for direction and validation of their own self worth. I suspect the book lacks the depth for older readers who are not fans. As a 40 something who really admires this kid, I’d probably enjoy it for the same reasons you mentioned….he’s so darn likeable. But what I am really hoping is that the book is something that younger adults would read and find some connection or inspiration that would help them to follow their own dreams. I think he is a solid role model for that age group.

  • In my 30s

    Just want to respond to the Older Fan. You might want to read the book first. The inspiration that I got from David’s book is undeniable. Its not about the age, we have a tendency to brush off some things without looking at them. David makes you to look at life issues in depth. This book is not about pop culture, but about life experiences, and his experiences shed a lot of light on my questions that I had about my own life issues. He also reflects on his life with such purity that make you feel better about the whole world. This book is a breath of fresh air for everybody. I also think that younger audience may not even understand some of the lessons that David describes, only people with enough life experience may understand them and learn from them.

  • Sam Lim

    It’s really a beautiful book and you will learn a lot of things from this youngman. Good Job, David and thanks for sharing your life experience and you are an Inspiration.

  • http://www.daffedot.blogspot.com Dorothy

    David is the first to admit that he found it a bit interesting that he would be asked to write a memoir. I think that word could have been changed to say the “my life so far.”
    David is also the first to admit that he is not the best oral or written communicator.
    I have to agree 100% with this article. While it is not the best read in the world, there are some very good and profound statements by David of life from his perspective. I recall hearing him speak at a womens conference in Utah last year and YES David rambled. He admitted it right then while he was speaking. But David does have a clear perspective on life in general. He lives it in a way that shows that he loves God and his Savior Jesus Christ. David is not doing it in a way to bring attention to him self, much like the Pharisees in the Bible.(see Luke chapter 18 in the New Testament) David is not at all like this:
    11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
    12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

    I think David is more inclined to see him self to be like the publican and express him self this way: 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

    So what is it that pulls us to David and look past his foibles and actually love him more because of them.
    It is because David is not afraid of them. I think that David uses them to his strength, and more than that he is truly trying to reach out a hand and say to his fans that if he can be a source of inspiration to bring others closer to their maker he is delighted to do so.
    With David is is all about God!

  • dma

    David is a rambler but if you wait he will get to the point. I think he did quite well in the book with being quite organized. Because I have been such a fan much of the information was not new for me but I remember something David said-everyone was making scrapbooks for him about his journey and he realized he wanted the story from his own perspective and something someday for his children to read. The American Idol experience is rather overwhelming and David’s journey is still remembered by us. The real truth is whatever his story (and I loved reading it)we will keep listening to his glorius voice in whatever form he gives us.

  • mitchie

    im a fan since ai. i havent read the book but i really wanted to.. im just waiting for a sponsor on davidbeyondborders. well anyway i read alot of reviews about it which makes me more proud as a fan :)

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