LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Just 17, David Archuleta is the youngest contestant still in the running to win Season 7 of the Fox contest series "American Idol." In this exclusive Billboard interview, the Utah native opens up about the vocal paralysis that almost kept him from singing and discusses his desire to attend college.
Q: Neil Diamond called you a prodigy, and a lot of people think you have an incredible gift for music. How does that feel?
David Archuleta: I still feel weird when people say, "You're a good singer," because I've never looked at myself like that. I've always looked at myself as someone who loves music and loves to try and interpret it as I see it.
Q: It seems like you're always emotionally connected to the lyrics you're singing.
Archuleta: When I was younger, I didn't know what made me sing the song differently or how I sang it. I still don't really understand fully, but the lyrics do mean a lot to me now, a lot more than before. I didn't even pay attention to the lyrics when I was 12, 13. Probably around the second year I did "Star Search" is when I paid more attention to the lyrics. I thought the music itself had such a power to it, and now that I've understood how powerful lyrics are as well, I think that has allowed me to progress.
Q: Earlier this season, you talked about suffering vocal paralysis a few years ago. Were you worried you wouldn't be able to sing again?
Archuleta: The year after "Star Search" is when I found out I had vocal paralysis. That's when I was really struggling, barely getting through a minute-and-a-half song. I took a break after that, because I thought, "I can't do this." I was having a hard time singing and I didn't have a range back then, and I didn't know if it was permanent or not. I had no idea what it was. I'd never even heard of it. I didn't know your vocal chords could get paralyzed. After a while, I thought, "I need to start singing again. I just love it too much." You know, there's just something about it that makes you feel something that you can't feel anywhere else. So I kept doing that, just singing here and there, (like) Stadium of Fire, this thing they do in Utah for the Fourth of July at BYU (Brigham Young University) Stadium.
After a while, my voice started coming back. My range started getting bigger. So I started trying to figure out what I could do again. ... I started to write some songs. I thought that was really fun to do. I still can't really do that. I'd like to get into that more. I think this experience on "American Idol," trying to figure out what songs work best with your voice and trying to arrange them has really helped, and I'd like to see if I can write some more stuff, because I've only written like three songs all the way.
Q: What are your earliest musical memories?
Archuleta: My earliest memories are my dad playing trumpet all the time and my mom singing with her sisters. I remember when I was a little kid, my mom and her sisters would perform at all these places.
I didn't like trumpet. I hated it because it was so loud and it just rang throughout the house. I'm a fan of jazz now, but back then I thought jazz was my dad playing trumpet as loud as he can. I covered my ears. Music became important to me probably when I watched the 10th-anniversary tape of "Les Miserables" that my dad had. I was so fascinated by it. I was like six or seven.
Q: Have you ever thought about another career besides music?
Archuleta: I was looking into dental stuff, but I don't think that's for me. Then I started thinking being an ear, nose and throat doctor would be really cool. If I can't do something with music, I'd at least like to help people with music because the ear, nose and throat doctors I went to about my vocal paralysis helped me. I thought it'd be cool to figure out how to solve all the problems I've had, because I've had issues with my nose and I'm sure I have something wrong with my hearing and the voice.
Q: Do you want to go to college?
Archuleta: I do. I'd love to still see what catches my eye. You know, music is something that I don't think I'll ever want to give up. But I'd like to see if there are any other occupations I'd find interesting. I still don't really know. I haven't paid attention much since music has been all around me, surrounding me everywhere. Especially now with this competition, it's all I think about. I don't have time to really concentrate on anything else.