He has the looks of a Disney Channel pinup; an "aw shucks," down-home naturalism that borders on unreal humility; and the pipes of a seasoned pop superstar. For David Archuleta, it all adds up to making him perhaps the earliest front-runner to ever emerge from the "American Idol" gauntlet.
But long before he ever became America's favorite, Archuleta was the favorite son of Murray, Utah, a commuter town outside Salt Lake City he still calls home — a home that calls him their champion.
That, or "lettuce boy," joked Kellene Kim, a friend and classmate at Murray High, the picturesque school 17-year-old Archuleta still attends.
"David has a tendency to not really listen, 'cause he kinda likes to sing to himself," Kim explained when we visited Murray High to learn more about Archuleta from the people that know him best. "We were sitting around, just hanging out, talking about how someone had found a bug in their lettuce from a fast-food place, and [David] tunes in. He heard us, and he's like, 'What? But I love lettuce!' And so now we call him 'lettuce boy.' "
While varying in particulars, the lettuce story is one we heard again and again from his closest companions — the story of a boy born to do one thing and do it well, even if that means he occasionally gets lost in his own little world.
"Music is David's life and always has been," friend Mietra Aarabi told MTV News. "When he's talking in just normal conversation, if anything reminds him of a song, he just starts randomly singing."
"Even if we were driving, he would have random songs come into his mind," echoed classmate Shantel Hansen. "I would be like, 'Turn left,' and he would start singing, 'To the left, to the left' [from Beyoncé's 'Irreplaceable']."
Apart from his preternatural talent, it's this innate need to perform, friends say, that truly sets David apart and has helped to give him a winning lottery ticket at an age when he couldn't even legally buy one.
And the best part? He doesn't even know it, insists Dean Kaelin, who has been Archuleta's vocal coach for the better part of six years.
"I think he has absolutely no idea what a huge thing he is right now — it's not like he's trying to be impressive. He's just being himself and enjoying the songs," Kaelin asserted. "The old Jimmy Stewart, 'aw shucks'? Those are honest reactions. He just gets embarrassed from the attention. He thinks he's just this kid."
Archuleta might be the only one who's embarrassed, especially after a string of vocal performances at his high school left admirers slack-jawed in amazement, says Murray High Principal Scott Bushnell, who insisted that if you think David's version of "Imagine" was impressive, you ain't heard nothing yet. (Hear David sing "Imagine" at age 12 in the MTV Newsroom blog.)
"I had the opportunity to listen to David live here at the school. It's a true treat," Bushnell said of a Christmas performance of "Mary, Did You Know?" "I remember going home and telling my wife, 'You really missed a beautiful, beautiful song rendition when he did this.' It was just fabulous."
Now Murray is rallying behind David, helping to vault the singer from local hero to national sensation. Morning announcements at the school include a reminder to tune in to "American Idol," classmates are urged to vote (and vote often) for David, and a recent basketball game was even interrupted to remind everyone to watch the evening's broadcast.
"It was last Tuesday when he was performing and we got the information on what the text number was to vote — they started announcing it at the basketball game at timeouts!" Bushnell recalled. "By the end of the game, they had little posters and signs with the text number: 'Make sure you vote for David!' "
"I voted twice," said one friend.
"I voted 10 times," another shouted.
"I lost track around 50," a third announced.
"I texted 10 times [each minute] for like two hours," a fourth proudly exclaimed.
Spend any time at all in Murray, as we did, and it's obvious the excitement runs high these days.
For David Archuleta, it's just the beginning.
"I think there's a lot of excitement in the school, in the community, in the state of Utah and nationally, from what I could tell," Bushnell contended.
"Boy, he's impressed a lot of people," the principal added, a proud smile across his face. "Maybe even Simon!"
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