MURRAY, Utah — It was no secret that David Archuleta could sing — students and teachers had heard him belt out holiday carols during Spanish class and an opera aria at a school arts festival.
None of that was reason enough to think the junior at Murray High School would transform from a shy and impish 17-year-old to a fast-rising star on American Idol.
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”He giggles every time you confront him,“ David's 11th-grade English teacher, Chantel Thackarey, said. ”I can't believe how well he's doing because he's just so painfully shy.“
Week after week, David often outsings the competition on the top-rated Fox television show, winning the hearts — and votes — of viewers. Idol judge Paula Abdul has said David is ”destined for superstardom.“
”He commands the stage,“ said Dean Kaelin, a vocal coach who has worked with David during the past six years.
At Murray High, the A student with a quiet demeanor wasn't among the most popular kids or the star of school plays.
”I didn't see it coming,“ said student body president Adam Ward, who witnessed David's Spanish class serenade in 2006. ”He's this little guy, and he just belted that music out. It was amazing. He's a notch above.“
Kaelin recalls a similar reaction when an 11-year-old David first came to him for vocal training before appearing on the CBS talent show Star Search. (He won the junior singer division in 2004.) Even then, the boy with dark hair and piercing eyes sang with a maturity beyond his years, Kaelin said.
”The thing that's unique about David is his sense of musical styling and phrasing. The one thing that is hard to teach is the sense of the music, the feeling of the music and the rhythm,“ Kaelin said. ”It's intuitive.“
Maybe talent is just in David's genes: His father, Jeff Archuleta, plays jazz trumpet; and Lupe, David's Honduran-born mother, is a singer. Both have performed professionally, and they've exposed their five kids to a wide range of music, Kaelin said.
David started singing at about age 7, stopping only to recover from a paralyzed vocal cord discovered about the same time puberty began to deepen his voice.
Kaelin describes David as a focused, hard-working musician who sets specific goals for technical growth and understands that songs are stories, too.
”It's about connecting with people and connecting with the song,“ Kaelin said. ”It really wouldn't make a difference if he was on TV with 40 million people watching or if he was singing in a church or in a rest home.“
Out of the spotlight, Kaelin calls David a genuinely nice kid whose family and faith keep him grounded. ”My personal belief is that he has no idea what a big deal he is,“ Kaelin said.
Big deal indeed.
Beyond viewers' votes, David's soaring success has spawned dozens of fan sites on MySpace and Facebook — most seemingly from teenage girls — that wax about his heartthrob good looks and prognosticate about his being crowned the next Idol. Other fans say they've been brought to tears by David's ”gift,“ and a handful of young women have proposed marriage.
Back home in Murray, a growing fan club of students and teachers said they tune in weekly to watch.
”I've heard many stories of students texting more than 100 times for David,“ school principal Scott Bushnell said.
Thackarey said David deserves every accolade. Embarrassed by compliments and always more interested in others, David isn't driven by some hope of fame, Thackarey said.
”I can't picture David saying, "I want to be a rock star, I want to be famous,'“ Thackarey said. ”He's more like, "I want to do music because I love it.' He's a follow-your-bliss kind of guy.“