In Hell With David Archuleta

In Hell With David Archuleta

By Ivan GuzmanMar 28, 2024

David Archuleta can’t stop coming out. Since revealing his sexuality in an emotional Instagram post in 2021, the 33-year-old singer has been on a public journey of self-discovery, consistently revealing more layers of himself that had been suppressed through nearly three decades as a devout Mormon.

“It’s kind of hard to completely get rid of,” Archuleta tells PAPER. After finishing as runner-up in the seventh season of American Idol, traveling the world and affecting millions of fans with his angelic voice, he says that he still sang for God and God only. “Now, I’ve had to figure out what to sing for because I don’t have that in my life anymore. It’s like, you can just sing for yourself.”

Archuleta's new single, “Hell Together,” out today, is another sonic stepping stone to finding inner peace post-religion. Dedicated to his mom Lupe — an even more devoted member of the church who abandoned religion altogether when David came out to her —it’s a gospel-inspired number about the power of family and unconditional love. “I asked what made her feel she needed to leave, because she didn’t need to follow my example. She said, ‘If you go to Hell, we’re all going to Hell with you.’ I was really moved by that.”

These days, Archuleta finds church elsewhere. He goes to DJ sets and EDM festivals. He spends the time he would’ve spent in Bible study at the gym, building his physique. “It's so reminiscent of religion to me because you're going into a common place, all connecting to one thing and sharing that moment with everyone,” he says. He even lost his virginity.

When I was 11 years old, I was one of Archuleta’s most rabid fans. Having met him four times, it’s safe to say I latched onto him as a shy, closeted Hispanic gay boy. Watching him on my TV screen was like watching myself, and he didn’t know it then — he may not even know it now — but he was building a church all his own through his music and presence, one that is arguably more real and powerful than that of the Latter-day Saints.

In speaking to my former idol, it was hard for my inner child not to feel a little healed. Though members of the church may think that David is still going to Hell, he’s realizing for himself now that Hell maybe isn’t so bad. Below, we reconnect and discuss seeing things through a brand new lens, daddy issues and the Obama-era implications of his 2008 pop cultural phenomenon.

How are you? You’re in LA?

Yeah, I'm in LA. I’ve been going back and forth from here and Nashville, but I’m out here more often just because there's been a lot to get done. There were the Queerties Awards and the GLAAD Media Awards last week. And I’m recording, going into the studio today and then shooting a music video on Wednesday. Getting a lot of stuff done, which is all good.

You seem so busy.

It’s been busy, but a good busy.

How was reuniting with Paula Abdul?

[Singing] Reunited, and it feels so —Um, it was amazing. It was so cool. I did a tribute to her. She got the Straight Up Ally Award at the Queerties. They asked about singing a song of hers, and I was like, I want to sing a bunch of her songs. I love Paula. So I did a medley of four of her songs: “Straight Up,” “Forever Your Girl,” “Rush Rush” and “Vibeology.” I learned some of her original choreography and had some dancers. It was a lot of fun to get to do. And then, I didn't plan this, but I went to Vegas with a friend to go see John Summit do his DJ residency. And then I found out that I was going to the Queerties and the GLAAD Awards. Otherwise, I wouldn't have planned to go on a Vegas trip with my friend the following day. But while we were out in Vegas, I saw Carrie Underwood's show, and it was great to see her. She's amazing. I don't know how she still sings and looks the way that she does because it's pretty amazing.

You’ve been dancing. That’s kind of new, right?

[Laughs] I have been. I've been trying to, at least. It’s been fun. I love dancing. I love going out dancing. I've gone out so many times to go dancing. I feel like I'm doing it all the time. But I'm like my mom. My mom used to go out dancing all the time. So I'm just her son. My mother’s son.

Tell me about this new era in your life since coming out. Living in LA, going out, going to events. You’d never really done that, right?

Growing up religious, I felt like I always had to shield myself from anything that could put me at risk. And so now that I don't worry about that anymore, I'm just like, okay, what's out there? Let's go to this, let's go to that. And it's been so much fun. I attended some of the Grammy events. I didn't go to the Grammys, but I went to a lot of the pre-Grammy events and it was so much fun. I went to MusiCares where they were honoring Jon Bon Jovi. I went to the Best New Artist nominee thing, so it was fun to see. So many people perform at all these events. At the Billboard one, I saw Conan Gray, Noah Kahan, Kelsea Ballerini, Victoria Monet, Jelly Roll. Shania Twain was performing at MusiCares. And Bruce Springsteen, like so many legendary people all just back to back. And then the Queerties and the GLAAD Awards that were just last week, seeing so many people in the LGBTQ+ community doing their thing and running into them, making new friends, was really fun as well. I'm like, wow, I'm not used to being this social. I also started when I was younger and was more shy. I always hid behind my dad before. So now that I've grown up a little bit and more comfortable in my own skin, I put myself out there more and it's fun.

How is your relationship with your dad? I know he was such a vital part of your early career. I mean you were on Star Search when you were, what, 10?

I was 12. You know, my dad and I, it's been up and down, for sure. Especially going through American Idol. That was really tough. Having all the media attention really hindered our relationship and also just my dad in general. I’m writing another book, and I actually go quite into detail about it. I just dive into the dynamic between my dad and me and why it was the way it was. But I feel like we're in a much better place. My dad's in a much better place now. Things are good. I kind of keep to myself a bit when it comes to family relationships, just because I don't want any more of that drama. And I don't want to reawaken anything, but it's been good.

Watching you on American Idol was like watching myself, in a way. I was also a shy, closeted Latino kid and I guess I’d never seen myself presented on the screen like that before. It was special.


I also grew up around a lot of Mormons, but they were all white. I guess I’d never seen a Hispanic Mormon family before. Is that pretty common?

It is. There’s a good amount of Latin Mormons, especially in Central America and South America. There’s a good amount of them in Mexico. If you go to Utah, it's mostly the Caucasians who came from England a couple 100 years ago. And they're still doing their thing over there. Mostly the Brits are the Mormon blood in Utah. That's my dad's side, too. Even though he is Spanish and Mexican, he has a lot of English and Danish in him.

Because Archuleta comes from where?

It's Basque. It's from the Basque region in Spain. But there are a lot of Archuletas in New Mexico. So my dad's grandpa spoke Spanish, but because of the racism, he didn't teach my dad’s dad any Spanish. Because he's like, "I want you to be an American. I don't want you to get harassed. I don't want you to deal with racism." So my grandpa is half because his dad was full Mexican. My great grandpa used to tell him, ‘I don't want you to speak Spanish, but when people ask, you’re Mexican.’ Because he’s really proud to be Mexican. But my dad, you wouldn’t know. He looks very white, but he speaks Spanish. He learned Spanish on his mission.

What’s your current status with the church? I know you left the church and religion altogether. I know it’s a journey. Your mom did, too. Do you still hold certain values that you grew up with all your life?

After you've spent over 30 years in a world, it's hard to suddenly completely get rid of all of it. I've just naturally allowed myself to flow. As I deconstruct and de-process things that I once thought, "This is the absolute truth," I think I had to challenge everything about it. I had to completely deconstruct it all because it just made me wonder, "Well, I was told that this is the truth. And this is God. And God rules my life, and I have to obey God." I was told that I couldn't explore being queer because that's what God told me. And I was like, that’s not what I'm understanding. So I started realizing, okay, you're telling me something that actually isn't true. But you're telling me it's true. But it's not. [Laughs] So it just made me [wonder], what else have you been telling me that isn't true? Because I wasn't supposed to date guys because that's what God said. But it's like, really? Is that what he said? They're like, yeah, it's absolutely what he said. And so when I challenged that I'm like, well, what else have you told me that God said? How do I know now? I feel like I've had to just live my life and try new things to process it all.

But that's why I left religion in the end. It's one thing to be like, "These can be good things in your life.’ But they're like, ‘No, this is the truth. This is how things are, and it can't be any other way." And it's like, what are your reasons? Is it for health? Is it to be a good person? But they're just like, "This is what God says, and that's how it is, and you can't marry the same sex and still be in this church because God would not approve of it." And it's like, well, what are the reasons? I felt like the reasons that they were giving weren't accurate. I deconstructed enough of what the beliefs were to be like, ‘I don't think this is the right thing for me, and I don't think it's true.’ It can still work for a lot of people. A lot of my friends are still in it, and it works for them and that's great. It fits the construct of what their lifestyles fit. Especially if they're straight, it works great for them. But as a queer person, I don't think it's a healthy place. At least not yet. I feel like they're making steps. They're making changes little by little, but they're not there yet. And for me, there wasn't any reason to stay because it was becoming a very unhealthy place for me.

Do you find spirituality, or a “church,” in other ways now? I know you’ve been going to the gym a lot. Do you find yourself doing things to connect to a higher power at all?

Yeah, interestingly enough, I go to a lot of DJ sets. I go to a lot of EDM festivals. Because you want to find somewhere where you feel community and where you're connecting with something that's bigger than you. And it's so funny, we were talking before about going out dancing. Going to these festivals and things that I was told were so vile and dark before, it's actually this really beautiful experience. It's so reminiscent of religion to me, because you're going into a common place, all connecting to one thing and sharing that moment with everyone. You feel this oneness together. And so it's interesting that when you're in a church, you're told that it can only happen there. If you go anywhere else, it's scary. It's dangerous. But you go there, and it's like, oh, actually, I can have this as an experience very similar to the church experience where they told me that I couldn't. I felt like that was interesting.

The gym as well. I like going to places where I'm there for myself and my own improvement and my own health, taking care of myself, but being around other people who are like-minded. The gym has become my new place that I used to devote to church time and to religion and religious study classes, Bible study classes. Now, I work out. It's been really great. I feel great. It's a great confidence boost for me, for sure. Going out dancing has become a new thing for me. I've really loved that, too. I mean, my mom used to go out dancing a lot when she was younger, and even when she was already a mom, she would still go out every weekend because that was her release, her stress relief. Being Hispanic especially, I feel like dancing is just in your blood. To move to the music and connect it feels so great. I just love it.

Do you drink when you go out? Or like, is it a myth that Mormons can’t drink sodas or caffeine?

Yeah, it depends. It’s a weird thing where some people do drink soda and others don't. Some people feel like you're not supposed to and others feel like it's fine. But the things that you can't do as a Mormon, you can't have tea. You can't have coffee. So no tea, no coffee, no alcohol, no smoking. But for me, I delve into a little bit of all of that now and it's fine. You know, the scare is that you'll become an addict, and you're gonna really harm your body. And you have to be cautious because some people can get addicted. But I feel like with anything, if you set limits, know yourself, know your limits and your boundaries, then you can still be fine. There are people who live their whole lives, they're responsible, they're successful, they're healthy. They just know how to have a balance in their lives. I feel like you need to learn a balance. I think you need to allow yourself to experience life. Trying coffee, I knew that I don't need it to have energy. I have a lot of energy already naturally. I can go about my day and be like, Woo! I enjoy a matcha. I think matcha is more my thing than coffee. Coffee makes me a little too jittery. And I don't need the extra energy.

So my Instagram handle is literally @americanidolseason7.

Oh my gosh!

Not to freak you out or anything, but I’m just telling you.

That’s amazing.

I was so into American Idol growing up and then when that season happened, it was like a shift for me. Seeing you, even Danny Noriega.


It was like this queer representation. Even though you didn’t say you were queer. But I knew that I was gay and very closeted and I knew that you knew deep, deep down that you were, too.


Tell me about those times. Did you see someone like Danny being more flamboyant and out, and did you have any thoughts about that? Or were you so suppressed and religious that you didn’t even have those thoughts?

You know, I talk about the process in the book, gosh, it was maybe a week and a half ago. I was writing about that whole time. The whole American Idol experience and Danny.

Even David Hernandez.

David Hernandez! I saw him a month ago after years of not seeing him.

The season was so gay, but no one talked about it.

I didn't know he was so gay. I think I was really sheltered. I was very naive. I knew Danny was LGBT. Yeah. And now Danny is transitioning.


I talk to her all the time now. Danny has always been a safe place. I didn't understand myself then. But Danny would call me like, "Oh, hi, little brother!" So she's been a great mentor. I had no idea that Danny was on Drag Race and was Adore Delano. So it's pretty fun to see her and her success and reconnect with her now that we're both out and proud people. We've had some really great conversations and times going out dancing. It's been fun.

Who was your best friend on the show, or someone you confided in?

Probably Brooke White, because she also grew up Mormon and that was my priority at the time. There was nothing more important to me than my religion and my faith. Even singing. Singing wasn't number one for me. It was, well, if I can sing for God, then great. That's how I looked at it then. But now I've had to figure out what to sing for. Because I don't have that in my life anymore. I still appreciate it and value having it, but it feels like a different life now. It was a completely different life. I have to figure out who I am now. I'm still me, but what do I live for? And what am I singing for? It's like, you can just sing for yourself. You don't have to get approved by someone else. I was like, well, is my church gonna like this? Or will they not? Is this modest enough? Or is it not? Can this hold to my values, or does it break any of them? I have to stay in line with what I was told that I need to stay in line with and now I don't have that. Even though it's still kind of ingrained in my head, I have to deconstruct it a little bit and be like, okay, it's okay for me to venture out a little more. Because I still have these parameters in my mind I'm so used to being in that it's hard for me to step out of it. But I'm starting to little by little. Did you grow up with a religious background?

No, I mean my mom was Catholic, but we never went to church or anything.


I’m pretty thankful I don’t have that aspect in my life. I like Catholic imagery.

That’s interesting. So how did you come to terms with your sexuality, then? You mentioned you were also in that sort of suppressed state. How was it for you not in a religious home? Was it still difficult?

My dad was the hard one, because he’s very Republican and raised me on Fox News and all that. So he was pretty homophobic. My mom was different. I came out to her when I was in college, and then came out to my dad three years later. So me and my mom had this secret for three years.


But my dad is accepting now!

Well, I’m glad he’s accepting now.

I think you helped me, in a way. I was 11 years old, hitting puberty, entering middle school and discovering myself and I feel like I latched onto you. Your fans were mostly girls, and they wouldn’t really acknowledge that you could even possibly be gay.

Right. It was still so taboo to talk about. Prop 8 was happening that year, so it was a really charged political thing. It was a very interesting time.

Even Ryan Seacrest would make little comments about you being a heartthrob and a lady killer. Kind of sexualizing you, in a way. Did that make you uncomfortable at all?

For me, it was so weird because I still felt like a kid. I was 16 going on 17, but it's almost like I had the mindset of an 11-year-old. I think that was intentional. Growing up in a bubble in Utah, and also just the relationship I had with my dad, I feel like he intentionally kept me really young. I wasn't exposed to a lot of things. I was homeschooled most of my life. I wasn't mature, as far as being exposed to life. Girls, for me, still had cooties. It was weird for me. My Mormon brain was like, I'm not supposed to like girls. In the church, you weren't allowed to even date until you're 16. And you weren't allowed to be alone with a girl until you were 18. And you're not supposed to have sex until marriage, you're not allowed to see anyone underneath their clothes, even, until marriage. So for me, I just kept the blinders on. It was weird for me that they wanted me to be flirting and have all these girls. I was like, I'm not supposed to. And also, I think I struggled with understanding my sexuality. I didn't understand why I was attracted to guys. I didn’t even know that’s what it was at the time. I was just kind of like, ‘Why do I feel funny? What are these feelings?’ I didn't understand what they were. People don't explain to you that there's a possibility that you can be attracted to the same sex. For me, it's like, okay, can you like guys and girls at the same time? Like, what is going on? I was really confused.

It’s hard for me to even understand that mindset, because I had the internet and MTV. I feel like that’s what helped me. But you were traveling the world and being exposed to everything in this very adult way! Were there ever moments where you felt things toward guys but suppressed it?

Yeah, definitely. That's what's funny. I was traveling the world, but I had my dad with me. [Laughs] I was always being babysat. I experienced a lot, but under supervision at all times. Because even when I turned 18, 19, my dad was still there. Then I became a missionary! I went from being supervised to being supervised in a different way. It wasn't until I was 22, 23 that I came back and didn't have someone watching me, but I was super devout in my religion at that point. After my mission, I was in the thick of it. I would have feelings for guys, but it's not like I did anything about it because I really didn't know what it was. Deep down, I knew, but I was like, if I make any consciousness of it, that's bad. I can't consider the fact that I might have feelings for a guy. I would hang out with guys. I would go up and talk to a guy and allow myself to feel something, but it never really left that because I was an obedient kid. I liked being obedient and wanted to do the right thing. I wanted to be a good boy. And I wanted to be a good Mormon.

I mean, Jason Castro [from your season] was pretty hot.

Jason! Yeah, he is a good-looking guy. He was like my bestie on tour. We'd go out running together, and we’d go explore, go kayaking while on the Idol tour. We were the closest in age as far as the guys. Everyone else, it felt like they were so much older. They just wanted to stay in their hotel room and talk to their spouses and their girlfriends. Jason had his girlfriend, who he's now married to, but we were both like, "Let's see the world!" We were traveling the country right now, going to all these cities we'd never been to, and it was fun. People recognized us everywhere we went, there was no hiding with his dreads.

Do you remember all the crazy fan blogs and stuff?

I was usually so caught up and busy with whatever I was doing. But my dad was so invested in all of it. My dad would always show me things. I couldn't believe there was a whole community that talked about what I was doing. It was so alien to me. I couldn’t believe all these people were following what I was doing and keeping up and following where I go on tour. It was just crazy. And some of those people I still see to this day. They're still commenting and DM me and they're subscribed. So I always see them. It's just wild. It's fun that they're still around. It means a lot to me.

I think we’re about to run out of time. Thank you so much.

Ivan, it’s great to talk to you. Maybe I’ll see you around.