Musician David Archuleta. Photo: by Zach Schmitt

David Archuleta is easily the sweetest of crooners. His warm, romantic, sweet voice has charmed a breadth of audiences for more than a decade, first as a top contender on season seven of “American Idol,” and most recently with his boyish face completely hidden on “The Masked Singer.” In both competitions, he beat out dozens of massively talented singers to land in the No. 2 slot.

When he came in second on “Idol,” he got lost within the sea of confetti heralding David Cook as the winner. On “The Masked Singer,” when he lost to Bishop Briggs, he was all anyone was talking about, including by the winner herself.

When he was revealed as The Macaw, usually comedic judge Ken Jeong was brought to tears. Archuleta’s voice was personal to Ken. His “American Idol” rendition of “Imagine” had gotten the Jeong family through tough times. Reminding the world that David’s was the voice of an “angel” Ken told him, “You are a ray of light to me, my wife and to my kids — thank God for you!”  In response, David shared his walk back from suicidal thoughts to coming out as queer. Then the rest of the audience, and winner Bishop Briggs, were also brought to tears. The Macaw may not have won the night, but David did.

David has always had his eye on love and compassion for all, even when he could not extend that courtesy to himself. His consideration came into play in his choices on how to present “Imagine” those many years ago. He had to decide which of the three verses of the song to perform.

He told me why he chose the third verse. “If I was only going to have one verse, and it was my last time being in front of an audience of that magnitude, I thought the song’s message was a lot bigger in that verse, avoiding lyrics where people usually get stuck on the words. I didn’t want them focusing on what the words were saying, I wanted them to see that the song talks about looking past differences, and just being one. Imagine a world of peace where there wasn’t fighting, there weren’t differences, there wasn’t division. That’s what I wanted to emphasize, and I felt the third verse did the best with that message and was not going to turn people away, turn people’s hearts off, hearing trigger words like ‘Imagine there’s no Heaven’ it’s easy if you try.”

David is not about “no Heaven.” He is about bringing it to everyone.

David may have come in second in the highest-profile singing contests on the planet, but he refuses to come in second in his own life now. There, he is the hands-down winner. He makes that clear in his newest song release, “Up.” Rising back into popular view from his period of darkness, the song declares that he is headed “Up, up, up up.”

David discussed with me the religious and mental health crisis from which he has emerged. He said, “Religion gives you a very structured view of life and of purpose…why you are here, and where you are going to go, who God is, and what God expects of you. Being raised and being told ‘what God thinks of homosexuality and gay people’ and that if you succumb to it, you are distancing yourself from Him. I tried so hard to do what I was told I needed to do and growing up a Mormon, I was told to call it ‘same-sex attraction’ acknowledging that I had a ‘weakness’ or ‘challenge’ that I needed to overcome, and if I did not give into it, I would be OK.

“When I realized that I was never going to ‘overcome this challenge of same-sex attraction’ I looked at myself as not just inauthentic, but as a failure. Clearly, I thought if I was truly a righteous person, I would be able to change myself from this ‘wicked’ state. When I realized I couldn’t, I thought ‘I’m wicked,’ and there was nothing I could do about that. It made me afraid of myself, and I did not want to be a ‘wicked’ person walking the earth. No matter how many times I tried, no matter how many times I tried dating a woman, I went to church and fasted, never looked at pornography, and despite that, I realized it was just my nature. It was not even that I was trying to have sex with anyone, I just felt a bond and attraction to other guys—falling love or having a crush on someone. It led me to wanting to terminate my life. That ideology came from the way I was raised, from my religion, my spirituality as I saw it at that time.”

“I tried so hard to do what I was told I needed to do and growing up a Mormon, I was told to call it ‘same-sex attraction’ acknowledging that I had a ‘weakness’ or ‘challenge’ that I needed to overcome, and if I did not give into it, I would be OK.”

David Archuleta

During his time of struggle, he even hid himself musically — he put out several outstanding Christmas albums. He released an album called “Therapy Sessions,” which highlighted, albeit veiled, his thoughts and struggles to suppress his sexuality.

He finally ended up throwing himself to God in a final prayer of desperation.

He recounted the experience, “When I tuned into that higher connection, I heard God say,

‘David, you need to stop asking me this, because you’ve been asking me this for over half your life and you can see, it’s not changing. You need to understand, I do not intend it to change. This is what I meant for you. You are supposed to be this way. You are meant to be happy the way you are. You are meant to connect with the people I designed you to connect with. It is not an error despite what well-meaning religious people say, and understand.’”

David realized once and for all that he was not evil, that gay people were not evil. “There was an absolute clarity and assurance, absolute confidence, so loving support from a higher power greater than me, that showed me how to love greater. It taught me to love myself and allow myself to be loved. It was pure, it was healing.”

The revelation gave him the confidence to confront church leaders, to see through their “suggestions” and stand alone as his authentic queer self.

While cloaked in the Macaw, he walked the stage clearer and truer than ever, and at the unmasking, the world was seeing not just David Archuleta, but a David Archuleta it had not known before.

Now he is singing a new song, literally. The song is an anthem that can speak to every trans, LGBTQ+ kid or adult in the community.

More, it is a declaration of who David Archuleta is, and what we can expect from him.

“The only place I’m goin’ is up

Only make room for love

‘Cause my story’s far from over

It’s only begun

I’ma throw it all away

Every last piece of your hate

And though my story’s far from over

I’ve already won

I’m goin’ up, up, up, up, up, up, up”

Yes, Archuleta is back, winning, and this time, he is taking us with him.

Rob Watson is a contributing writer to the Washington Blade.

This story is made possible with support from Comcast Corporation.