David Archuleta on Coming Out, Leaving the Mormon Church, and Going Through “Hell” and Back to Make New Music and Write a Book

By June of 2021, David Archuleta had broken off three engagements with women and had even contemplated suicide before coming out as gay and leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With a hell of a journey behind him, of struggling with his faith and being honest about his sexuality, Archuleta, now 33, entered a new era of his life, more than 15 years since becoming a runner-up on the seventh season of American Idol, releasing his 2010 memoir, Chords of Strength: A Memoir of Soul, Song, and the Power of Perseverance, and eight albums.

Archuleta’s new beginning has also informed the stories he wants to tell, following the release of his 2020 album Therapy Sessions with “Faith in Me” in 2022, 2023 singles “I’m Yours,” “Up,” and “Afraid to Love,” along with his latest, “Hell Together.”

Bow your head, don’t be bold / You’ll survive by doing what you’re told / Said love is earned and we can’t choose / But the more you grow, you know the truth sings Archuleta on his revelatory 2024 single “Hell Together.” Co-written with Jordan Sherman, Ryan Nealon, and Sam DeRosa, “Hell Together” is dedicated to Archuleta’s mother, Lupe Bartholomew, who also left the church along with her son after he revealed he was queer, and was inspired by a text she sent to Archuleta after he came out and left the church: “If you go to hell, we’re all going to hell with you,” she wrote. “We’re a family and we’ll always be there for each other in good or in bad.”

“Hell Together” is written as a letter to Lupe and of finding peace with and acceptance of himself after coming out: You and me, that’s all we need / Blood is thicker than the pages that they read / I’m afraid of letting go / Of the version of me that I used to know.

“‘Hell Together” has a gospel vibe to it as it references the roots of the church that are still very much a part of what has defined me despite the journey I’ve had of leaving my faith,” said Archuleta in a previous statement. “It has uplifting energy. Most people within the church would think you feel dark and lost leaving your faith, but that was not the case for me. I felt like I found myself.”

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He added, “It’s meant to show the joy and how by leaving my religion is how I found a greater light. And, more importantly, how much it meant to still have a support system of family still there for me so I wasn’t alone when at first I believed I was going to be alone.”

Archuleta spoke to American Songwriter about songwriting, his upcoming memoir, being true to himself now, after 30 years, and where it’s taking him next.

[RELATED: David Archuleta Returns to ‘American Idol’ With Powerful New Song Inspired by a Conversation With His Mom]

American Songwriter: With “Afraid to Love” and “Hell Together” and newer singles since 2021, what has been your frame of mind, musically, since Therapy Sessions?

David Archuleta: When I was writing Therapy Sessions, it was a lot of turmoil, and I didn’t really understand where the turmoil was coming from, because I wasn’t conscious. I’m naturally an anxious person. I’m an overthinker. But I was really in the midst of trying to push down something that I felt I wasn’t allowed to confront, which was my sexuality, and that I had an attraction to guys. I felt like I needed to go through therapy if I was going to be able to overcome that. So a lot of that frustration and the “Why am I not understanding myself?” and “Why do I not have self-control over myself the way I would like?” was going on in therapy sessions, amongst other things—like overthinking and trying to not get in my way.

Now, I’m accepting myself. I am learning how to be in this vulnerability of exposing something that I was so afraid to expose all my life and just sitting in it, and not running away from that anymore, not hiding it—whatever people may think. There’s no running from it, and you just have to take whatever people may throw.

“Hell Together” for me, it’s a triumphant song. Some people have said “It’s so sad,” and I’m like, “Really?” But I guess it is a heartbreaking, triumphant song.

AS: That has to be part of it, too—the heartbreak. There are heartbreaking moments when you’re finding yourself or just being true to yourself. It all comes out in some way and I’m sure it has in songs you’re writing that we haven’t heard yet. It’s relating to you, your experience, and to other people.

DA: That’s crazy. That’s the beauty of music. You can write something that’s about your experience. For other people, it opens up emotions and feelings for their own journey. It’s really beautiful how music can connect so many people from different backgrounds, and different stories, and can make everyone feel one for a moment. I’ve been going to a lot of music festivals lately and the feeling of everyone being one and connected by a song or by rhythm … to be able to do that through rhythms and melodies and lyrics and a story is cool. People have come and said, “You’re telling our story.” With “Hell Together” they’ve said “This is what we wanted to hear. This is what I wish my parents would have said to me,” because a lot of parents have rejected their queer children or have rejected their family members who have left religion.

A lot of people think when you leave religion, you’re a trader. My heart just goes out to those people. Luckily, my family isn’t like that. I have family who has left with me, like my mom. But I also have family who are still religious, but they love and support me, and I love and support them. I think it’s beautiful when you can respect each other in different places.

AS: Despite it being 2024, there’s still so much animosity, nonacceptance, and ignorance for the LGBTQIA+ community. How do you think music can cut through that? Do you feel your music can?

DA: Yea, I feel like just making the queer experience more real and human for people who come from a conservative background. I want to live my life. I grew up religious. I went through that. I understand why it’s important and its perspective but I also know the other side. I see a lot of the holes that are in religious communities—in the mindset of it. I can see why they feel like this is a protected, safe way of living life, but after being out of it, I can see there are a lot of things that are taught that are just incorrect. They’re missing the bigger picture, and they’re missing an understanding and compassion towards things that they’re told are dangerous that aren’t dangerous. They’re made to look that way. It’s a scare tactic to keep people following certain ideologies.

It’s not out of love. It’s not out of truth. If there is a God, it’s not out of godliness. It’s out of scare tactics. It’s for a lot of people who are empowered to stay in power. Hopefully, people can still be able to feel that love and community and be able to believe in something bigger and greater without the scare tactics of being convinced to fear each other when there’s no need for that. There’s no danger, and it’s not going to affect your life. It’s not going to affect your family’s life to be a little more understanding, compassionate, and accepting of people who aren’t the same and don’t see life the same as you do. Sorry, I’m going off.

AS: No, you’re not. All of this ties into where you are now, of coming out, and writing a song like “Hell Together.” It’s all connected.

DA: It’s also the fact that “Wow, I was there just a few years ago.” What can I say to people? Maybe it’s a little shocking to people because it was like “Well, “David, you were so religious and so devout.” I’ve always been taught as a religious person to seek truth and to seek light but truth and light are the same thing. You can’t be in the light without truth. For me, I want to share more truth about what I’ve already learned to help other people understand what it’s like because the queer community is so misunderstood. I misunderstood myself. I was afraid of myself before I came out. I tried everything I could to not be queer, and not be gay. I was taught to be so afraid of myself, and it worked. It worked really well.

Now, I’m like “What helped me to not be afraid of myself anymore? And how can I find ways of inserting that into my music?” You can’t convince people, so I’m just gonna live my life and hopefully, change people’s minds along the way. But regardless of whether I change people’s minds or not, that’s not going to keep me from living my life, because I already kept myself from living my life for 30 years.

David Archuleta (Photo: Shaun Vandella)

AS: Surely all of this will make it into your upcoming memoir, which will be much different from your 2010 book Chords of Strength. How is the book coming along?

DA: With Chords of Strength, I was so young. I didn’t know why I was writing a book. I didn’t have a reason to other than I just came off a really big show and had a big fan base. I had a ghostwriter that would interview me about my life. Then, I had other people involved in writing it as well, like my dad, someone he was friends with as a fan of mine, and this [wasn’t] even my book anymore. Now, I have a reason to tell my story.

I was encouraged by one of my friends, Jennette McCurdy (iCarly), to write it. She wrote a book called I’m Glad My Mom Died and we were both talking about our lives. I was telling her what had happened to me and she said: “David, have you thought about writing a book?” I was so tempted to be like “I’m just gonna have someone else [write] it. I can have the editor interview me and then write it down,” but I want to write as much of this book as possible. I wrote a sample chapter, and it gave me a lot of confidence because I feel like what I’m saying is real. It’s coming from my heart, and I have a message to tell people.

AS: Your songs are also part of this story, too, and you’ve been a constant co-writer since your debut David Archuleta (2008). How has songwriting shfited for you since then?

DA: I’ve followed a similar pattern in writing. I don’t like to write by myself, because I get in my head. I get very insecure about whether that is good or not. I need approval from other people. I need the validation, otherwise, I won’t finish it. It’s also hard for me to focus. I’ll be like writing and be like “I’m like, “What are we doing?” The other writers are like “We were talking about this,” so it’s really helpful. It makes it more fun for me when you do it with someone else.

I’ve written a couple songs on my own, but I just don’t like it. Life is to be shared. Sometimes my mom [has said] “David, you don’t need to share so much.” I just feel so unfulfilled when I don’t share things, but I guess sometimes it is a little overwhelming how much I share. But when you share the process of creating a song, coming up with melodies and a story, then sharing the song, once it’s finished, with an audience, or going to a concert and sharing that moment with everyone else who’s present, that for me is the best part of life. For me, that’s what makes life beautiful, that connection to others.

Photos: Shaun Vandella / Courtesy of Ken Phillips PR


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