- Chords of Strength: A Memoir of Soul, Song and the Power of Perseverance
- Celebra, 256 pp.
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.”
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.
Ryan G. Van Cleave was the 2007-2008 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington at George Washington University. He has taught creative writing and literature at Clemson University, Eckerd College, Florida State University, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as at prisons, community centers, and urban at-risk youth facilities.
He lives in Sarasota, FL where he works as a freelance writer, editor, consultant, ghostwriter, and script doctor. He serves as Director of CandR Press, a non-profit literary organization based in Chattanooga, TN.