David Archuleta knows what you're thinking. The smiling, sweet-natured singing sensation who swept through the seventh season of "American Idol" like a hurricane -- only if hurricanes were adorable, sincere and charmingly awkward -- asked himself the same questions after New York-based Penguin Group contacted him about the possibility of writing a memoir.
"At first I was like, 'What am I going to talk about?'" Archuleta said, speaking by phone from California, where he is writing and recording songs for his third studio album. "Don't you usually write those when you're older and you've lived more of a life? What am I going to talk about that's interesting?"
There's an echo of that hesitancy on the first page of "Chords of Strength: A Memoir of Soul, Song and the Power of Perseverance," which filled up sales racks on Tuesday and which Archuleta will personally be pitching to his home state fans with a pair of appearances this week at Deseret Book stores in Salt Lake City and Orem.
The first line of the book reads, "I have no idea why I'm doing this, but I know I need to be doing it for some reason." It's possible, of course, that's exactly how one of the best-known "American Idol" runners-up felt about sitting down to write his life's story. The line is actually from Archuleta's journal, however, jotted down during a break from "American Idol" auditions. It's the last entry he made before fame happened.
(Archuleta reached the final round of "Idol" before losing to David Cook. Ironically, Cook also will be in Utah this week, to perform at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Friday.)
The abandoned journal is one reason why Archuleta, who grew up in Murray and still lives there, ultimately agreed to write a book. He'd told the nutshell version of his life and times to dozens, maybe even hundreds, of interviewers -- why not write the story down himself, in his own words? And it's not as though "American Idol" was the first thing that ever happened to him.
"People wonder why I am the way I am; they always ask me that," Archuleta said. Maybe, he decided, he could find something to write about after all. "Just because I'm 19 doesn't mean I haven't had experiences."
Fair enough. "I felt like this would be a good opportunity to share with people," Archuleta said, "even though I was nervous about it."
Becoming an author
Archuleta didn't write "Chords of Strength" entirely on his own, though his name is the only one on the book jacket. The title page includes a "with" credit for a Monica Haim. Archuleta said that Haim helped guide him through the process, particularly at the stage of expanding his thinking beyond his surprise push to the final round of "American Idol."
By the time he began the book project, Archuleta said, he'd gotten used to talking about his stint on "Idol" and the singing career that followed. He knew what the questions would be, and he knew how to answer them. "I'd be like, step one, step two, step three," he said.
When he would meet with Haim, she would push him to dig deeper through his memories. "I'd tell her something and she would say, 'But why?'" he said. "I'd say, 'I don't know! I don't remember!' But I started to remember."
Many of the things he ended up writing about, Archuleta said, are things he'd never really thought through before "Chords of Strength." "Thinking about my life, and going through each phase and each chapter of my life," he said, "it made me remember all these things. The more I talked about it, the more I remembered."
Archuleta's editor at Penguin, Ray Garcia, said that "Chords of Strength" tells Archuleta's story in Archuleta's words. "David is the author of 'Chords of Strength,'" Garcia said. "While he worked with a writer to shape the book, every word and expression came from David."
As Garcia put it, "Chords of Strength" is not merely an authorized biography, something written by an outsider with Archuleta's cooperation. "This is the very personal story of a boy with insecurities, like anyone, who faced them all and made his wildest dreams come true," Garcia said. "This is a book that no one else could write."
That said, Archuleta didn't hesitate when asked whether he finds it more challenging to sing for thousands of fans, or write thousands of words. "Definitely the book," he said. "Music, at least, I have a strong passion for. Writing a book is something I never, ever thought of doing."
Finding his audience
The fans who have cheered Archuleta's singing career likely aren't worried about whether his memoir will have the same smooth, soulful delivery as one of his songs. A user with the screen name AALetta posted a comment at the Web site for bookseller Barnes & Noble that probably reflects the thinking of many Archuleta admirers: "This book hasn't even come out yet and I already know I'm going to love it!"
It would seem that Archuleta inspires such loyalty at least in part because he really is a sweetheart. Frederick Cristiano, who lives in Maryland and operates the fan site David Archuleta Web (www.david-archuleta.org), said he thinks that Utah's favorite Idol is a genuinely nice guy.
Cristiano said he recently read about Archuleta answering phones for a "Hope for Haiti" earthquake relief telethon: When the cameras stopped rolling, many of the celebrity phone minders immediately left, but Archuleta stayed behind to keep taking calls. And Cristiano, who at age 18 is six months younger than his hero, met Archuleta at a concert in early 2009.
"I waited near the bus and got to talk to him and get a poster signed," Cristiano said. "I didn't get to say anything about the site, but he was the nicest person I have ever met in my life."
Cristiano said he thinks "Chords of Strength" will have lots of information for fans. "I'm really excited to hear about his childhood and his family, his religion, and how he has stayed sane with all the craziness of the business."
While many of Archuleta's fans are teens and young adults, Garcia said that he doesn't think what Archuleta has written will only appeal to young readers. " 'Chords of Strength' is a book about facing your fears and emerging stronger than ever," Garcia said. He thinks it's a universal message that will attract interest from readers of all ages.
Archuleta himself envisions the casual shopper thinking, "He's that weird kid from Utah, I don't know if want to read his book." And he's OK with that. "I don't even know who's going to end up reading the book," Archuleta said. "I just think it's really cool that this opportunity's been given to me."