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David Archuleta (or, Ratatouille Meets American Idol)

Tuesday night my wife and I watched American Idol on our DVR. We fast-forwarded full speed through the commercials and Ryan Seacrest’s Mary Poppins perfect delivery, and wondered aloud how all that fast motion might be re-wiring our brains.

The performances ranged from forgettable to uber-cheesy to impressive, which seems about right with 20 people still left in the competition. Then, for the finale, seventeen year old David Archuleta of Utah walked out to sing the last verse and chorus of John Lennon’s Imagine. I did not expect to be moved.

I watch American Idol, but I mock American Idol. We love Kelly Clarkson in our house, but we don’t take her seriously. And then, this unassuming and very normal, smiley young man asks me to imagine no possessions, doubting that I can. He’s 17, singing about the brotherhood of man, and I am weeping, gaping at the television.

In the beautiful, Oscar winning animated film, Ratatouille, the climax of the film occurs as the uppity and aptly named food critic, Anton Ego, tastes Remy’s entree. Ego’s reaction to his first bite is the stuff of movie legend. The beauty of the moment was not that a rat could actually cook. The beauty of the moment was that food could do that to somebody.

In Tuesday’s American Idol, the earlier contestants came out bouncing and shaking and strumming and belting. The band rocked, even if some of the songs and performances were lame. Then little Mr. Archuleta walked out to one band dude strumming one acoustic guitar. Maybe there were some keyboard pads that filled in as the song went along, but it was far and away the smallest song of the night. And it was by far the biggest. His voice captured my attention immediately. After the first phrase, Amy and I shared a glance that said, “??!?!?!” and after he finished singing with control and phrasing and maturity way beyond his years, and the judges agreed with our assessment, we rewound and watched that clip over and over. We were giddy, and tearful… stunned to feel so moved.

You will hear the name David Archuleta again. I’m sure he will do some cheesy songs over the next few weeks, but I’m also certain that he will win. More importantly, I am pleased to be healed of a bit of ‘Ranton Ego’. For even in the glare of commercial juggernaut, American Idol, I am reminded that “a great artist can come from anywhere.”

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