David Archuleta reflects on coming out at age 30: 'I wish when I was a little kid that there was someone talking about this'

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In June of this year, David Archuleta, one of the most popular American Idol contestants of all time, came out as being on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum — in an emotional Instagram essay detailing his “exhausting,” nearly 20-year struggle with his sexuality and faith. While Archuleta, who is Mormon, was reluctant to put a label on his sexuality and said he didn’t “have all the answers,” he encouraged his followers, particularly religious ones, to “please consider making room to be more understanding and compassionate to those who are LGBTQIA+, and those who are a part of that community and trying to find that balance with their faith which also is a huge part of their identity like myself.”

The thousands of fan comments on Archuleta’s Instagram post were overwhelmingly positive at the time. Now the singer — who was just 16 years old when he competed on Idol, is now 30, and has recently released the confessional album Therapy Sessions and penned the children’s book My Little Prayer – has had time to reflect on his journey, his new responsibility as a queer role model, and how he and others like him can reconcile their sexuality with their devoutly held religious beliefs. In this candid, in-depth, exclusive sit-down interview with Yahoo Entertainment, he freely admits that he still doesn’t have all the answers — but he has a lot to say.

Yahoo Entertainment: Thank you, David, for speaking with me. We spoke a few years ago, and obviously that was a pretty intense interview. A lot has happened since, so I'm happy to catch up with you. We talked a lot about mental health last time, and your most recent album is actually called Therapy Sessions. So, I guess the obvious first question to start is, what's the significance of that title?

David Archuleta: Well, I call it Therapy Sessions just because they were the songs that were coming out while I was going through therapy myself. There was a lot of this frustration that was coming out that I guess I had never allowed to come forward. And I was now finally being able to take a look at was coming through and being put into the songs — kind of completing my therapy in a way, just by verbalizing the frustration.

When you say “not allowed,” do you mean you were not allowing yourself, or was it an outside force that was not allowing those feelings?

I was not allowing myself, because I think I felt like I needed to be happy. I needed to put on a good face for everyone and a good front. And so I was like, “Oh, if I'm angry or upset or stressed, then I'm being ungrateful and I'm not appreciating where I am and everything that's happened to me in my life. I need to be grateful for it.” But a lot of it was relationship-oriented as well that I was frustrated about. I was still not sure why I couldn't make relationships work and what was holding me back. … I just was so good at getting in my own way, like self-sabotaging. And I just didn't understand why. But I kept doing it anyway.

You recently you came out as LGBTQIA+. And we'll talk a little bit about how while most of the reaction was really positive, buy if there were trolls, they had more issue with all the “letters” than anything else! But before we get into that sort of thing, the obvious question is what was it that made you finally want to come out that day, in the way you did it on social media? Was this a long time coming, or was it an impulsive thing?

That day that I decided to do it, it was a bit more impulsive. But I think it was definitely a process in the making, because I was in a relationship with someone and I just realized it wasn't going the way I was hoping it would again — like, the same thing, it always repeats itself. I just didn't feel comfortable. I wanted to hide. I wanted to run away, and I wasn't sure why. I'd always been honest with whoever I was dating. It was something I kept to myself as far as not saying it to the public, but I always let the people close to me and who I dated know that I might be gay. And then recently I would just let them know I'm bisexual, which is what I most recently come to. And so I was honest with this girl and she was cool with it and super-patient, super-loving — great girl. But I still couldn't feel good about as it got more and more serious. I was just like, “I can't do this.” I was getting such bad anxiety. I felt like I needed to make room to really be honest with myself about my feelings. I had to be willing to let them remain upfront and realize that this is something that I go through and I'm not going be able to just push down, because it made me go insane. It was making me very angry, very resentful. And I was feeling a lot of hate, I'm sure towards myself, but it was overflowing onto the person I was trying to get into a relationship with.

And when I realized that is not a healthy way to get a healthy foundation to set a relationship on, I went through this crisis where I'm like, “I don't know what I do. What do I do? What do I do?” And I just realized I have to just be honest with myself, like, “David, you might be more attracted to guys than girls, and you just need to accept that.” And so we took a break from dating and she came over one day and I was just like, “I think I just have to be honest and say I don't think this is going to work. I have to be honest and let these feelings come out up front so I can hold them in my hands without judging them, so that I can stop judging myself so harshly.” And she was so cool about it. I mean, she's just awesome. … So, then I kind of had a faith crisis, because I'm like, “What does this mean with my beliefs?” Like, my beliefs have always been so central, and now I don't know what to do with it. I kind of felt like I had to choose one or the other — like, if I want accept more of this, then that means I have to let go of my beliefs, otherwise I'm going to hate myself even more. But then I tried one more time to pray it out. I'm just praying and asking, “God, if you are there and if you really have a plan for me, really, I don't want this. I don't want to go through something that you don't want for me. So, please take this far from me. Please just take it from me, so that I am not living in a way that you wouldn't want me to.”

And it was like the first time in a long time that I heard Him. And He just said, “David, you need to stop asking me this.” It was so straight-up and so clear. I was like, “What?” And He said, “I don't look at it the same way that you are looking at it. You need to stop asking me to change something that I intended for you. I created you this way, and now it's for you to understand why.” And this is not what I thought. I didn't think this is how He looked at it. I thought this is something I need to overcome and persevere through and push aside. That's what I thought were His commandments and stuff. And He was just like, “David, I don't look at it the same way as most people in church look at it. I know there are people trying to follow me and stuff, but I think it's time for you to understand better how I see it. … Perhaps you need to make what you think are mistakes.” And I was like, “Huh? What I think are mistakes?” That was very specific. So then I was like, “Well, what kind of ‘mistakes’ should I make?” I didn't want to do anything wrong. And He's like, “I don't tell you what mistakes to make. That's for you to figure out. But I give you permission to make mistakes. You're going to out and do what you thought were mistakes and aren't. And also you'll make mistakes, but it's fine, because I trust you. I trust that you'll get back up and keep moving forward. And I know you trust me, David. So, you'll figure it out.”

And so I was like, “OK, well, fine. I'll do that. I guess that means just exploring my feelings that I have for whoever I'm attracted to. And if that ends up being a ‘mistake,’ at least I know I can make mistakes, and if it's not a mistake, then at least I got to learn that as well.” And this gave more compassion for myself to do that and not be so judgmental towards myself. And so, that's kind of what led to [coming out on social media]. I just was doing yard work outside a few days later and pulling the weeds, and all of a sudden God came back so clear again. And He just said, “David, you know I trust you. I want you to post. I want you to share what you've been going through right now.” And I knew exactly what I needed to say. … So, I posted that post, let people know my journey so far, and that there should be room to be able to still have a relationship with God, be a person of faith, but still also be honest with your sexuality and make room for that. I don't have all the answers, but maybe the more we talk about it, we can find better solutions, because I don't think we're there yet.

David Archuleta in his teens. (Photo: Reuters/Phil McCarten)
David Archuleta in his teens. (Photo: Reuters/Phil McCarten)

In the general world, your post was very well-received. But what was the response in the Mormon community?

Well, I feel like I was just sincere, and I think people could tell from my community that [my faith] is still important to me. That is what's shaped who I am and how I’ve experienced my world. And so I feel just about everyone was super-supportive, which I wasn't expecting. I thought I was going to be quoted more scripture of people trying to save me and all this stuff, but that was very far and few in between. Maybe people were like, “Why did he feel like he needed to talk about this? Why didn't he just keep it to himself? Why do people always feel like they need to say this and make a big deal about it?” … Or even like, “What if kids are looking at this?” And I didn’t respond [to those comments], but if I did I would say, “You know what? I wish when I was a little kid that there was someone talking about this.” Because I didn't understand what I was going through. I thought there was something wrong with me and I didn't know how to put it into words. I was 8, 9 years old, and confused, because I didn't know what it meant to have a sexuality that wasn't just heterosexual.

Was that the age you were when you first had certain sexual feelings, or some idea that you were different from other people?

I had my first feelings of attraction were towards girls, but then guys started after, and that's when I was really confused. I'm like, “Why do I feel this regardless of the gender?” I was really uncomfortable because I didn't know what that meant. I didn't know what that was. … I think a lot of people like me, maybe if you do want to be more reserved with your life and just keep it more conservative with how you go about discovering your attractions and your sexuality, there still should be room for people who are LGBTQIA+. I like to add the “Q” and “A” just to help people know there's not just one normal way. Everyone has a unique experience, even a different spectrum of how much more attracted to you might be to guys versus the girls, or where you may not have as many sexual impulses — like me. Like in my family, we're all raised the same way, but I can tell you my siblings, some of them, there are some who have a way higher sex drive than I do. And I thought again, there must be something wrong with me, but it's some people just don't have those desires. They like to bond more on an emotional level.

As I was saying, some trolls were sort of making fun of all the letters, like, “Why are there so many letters? They keep adding letters!” But I thought it was important to say “LGBTQIA+,” because I do think people tend to think gay or straight, or maybe bisexual, are your only options. I felt your post showed that, first of all, it's OK to not totally be sure of that or still be figuring that out, but also that sexuality is a spectrum and more complex.

I like not having to define it, because I feel there's so many assumptions that go into labeling yourself with one thing. And that's a problem with a lot of people from religious backgrounds. … I was one of those people. That's why I couldn't accept myself, because I'm like, “No, that doesn't make sense for me.” It wasn't until I read a book by this guy from my church named Charlie Bird, called Without the Mask: Coming Out and Coming Into God’s Light. He was the BYU Cougar mascot, like the ESPN Mascot of the Year. He'd gone viral with all these dances and flips and stuff. And he came out as the mascot, but also as gay, and he worded it in such a way that was so important, because he knew how to talk to the conservative audience. … So many times in church, people think “gay” means “sex.” It means when I come out, I'm going to have sex with everybody every day. Now he's like, “That's not what it is. I just want to connect and bond with guys, just the way you like to bond with the opposite sex.” And it doesn't mean you want to get in bed with them all the time, every second of the day. You just want to connect. You feel this attraction; you feel this bond. … It's more than just who you are physically attracted to. And I loved that. He was able to take ownership back of a title that usually people used in a derogatory term. … He said it doesn't always mean you're becoming this hypersexual person, that there's so much more beauty than just that. I guess people can choose to be sexual as well with that, but you don't have to. That's not what it entails. And that gave me space to be like, “Oh, I relate so much to this!” The way he worded it made me feel like I have room in this community. I can accept that I'm bisexual and that's OK — and it's actually a good thing. It's a beautiful thing. And so, that opened up my eyes and I was like, “Who else needs this message?” Charlie gave me that freedom to find a balance between two things. I just want to keep passing it on to anyone who else might need it.

Have ever spoken with this with Charlie, have you ever met him in person or had a chance to tell him how his book changed your life?

I DM’d him after I read it last year. Last summer, one of my friends gave it to me — and I was annoyed! I'm like, “Why are you giving me this book?” I was still having a hard time coming to terms with that for myself. But I'm so glad that my friend gave it to me. As soon as I finished it, I DM’d [Charlie] and said, “Hey, thank you so much. This was exactly what I needed.” And since I came out with my post I've messaged him again. I still need to talk to him in person and thank him personally, but I have let him know how grateful I am for him and just his honesty and his bravery, to be right smack-dab in the middle of two worlds. That's kind of an awkward place to be, LGBT and a Latter-Day Saint.

David Archuleta today. (Photo: Cyrus Panganiban)
David Archuleta today. (Photo: Cyrus Panganiban)

Now you can be that sort of messenger for other people. You can carry this message forward, as you say, which I think is amazing. I assume you've gotten a lot of DM’s or messages yourself, from people both outside and within the church. Can you share any stories you've had about that feedback?

There were like, hundreds and hundreds of DM’s from people who came from similar backgrounds as me, whether it's from my church or another church. And they're just like, “Wow, I thought I was alone. And I'm so glad to see I'm not the only one.” Or just saying, “Hey, I'm scared. I don't know who to talk to. I've never told anyone this, but I think I am gay or bisexual.” Or “I think I'm asexual.” It just gave people a space to talk. A lot of asexual people were like, “Wow, thank you for saying something, because I feel like we don't have a lot of representation.” I think it was also cool that parents DM’d me and said, “My kid just came out to me and we didn't know how to go about it, but just seeing your posts gives us a little more peace of mind. It's not as foreign and far away as we thought it was.” And that's what I was hoping for. … One person told me, “My daughter came out to me as a lesbian and I didn't handle it well. I wish I would have handled it better, but your posts make me realize that maybe I could go about this differently.” And that's my goal. I want more space for that, you know?

You mentioned being in the middle now, between two worlds. In general, do you think these two worlds can be reconciled? Do you think the church can evolve and there can be a real place in the Mormon community for kids that are gay? Because there obviously are different schools of thought about this. Some people see it as more black-and-white.

What I've seen is there's a lot of room for conversation right now. I don't have the answers. I'm not a leader of my church. I'm just participating. But I think it's definitely a good time now. Even just a few years ago, I don't think it was the right time. I feel like we're in a place where I think things like having [Imagine Dragons frontman and LGBTQIA+ ally/activist] Dan Reynolds do the Love Loud Festival that first year in Provo, Utah, was a big deal. It just helped people who were afraid of this. And maybe they're still uncomfortable even after the event and going, but it still helped them look at it differently. Things like that need to happen before we can get somewhere else. I don't know what that place is, but I've talked to even church leaders and they do say, “We need to involve God and see — how do we handle this, where he would want us to stand?” Even church leaders, when I would talk to them and say, “What if I start dating guys and they make a move on me and I don't refrain and I actually really enjoy it? What do I do?” – and they're just like, “David, you need to not be so hard on yourself.” I think even though they don't have all the answers, for one of them to say, “Keep me posted on what you learn and don't be hard on yourself. You can still go to church, you're still worthy to participate in everything that you're already doing. Don't judge yourself before God judges you,” it’s like… that's what my problem was before. So, we just need to keep having conversations.

Have you started dating guys, or at least considered dipping your toe in the dating pool and thinking, “OK, maybe I'm ready to give this a try”?

I feel like if I want it to be honest with myself and understand my feelings, I have to be open to that. I definitely have my boundaries still, and I like to be careful still, but I have to be willing to get to know guys. … It’s been great so far. I feel like God has given me people that I needed to walk this journey with. It's been really wonderful so far.

How did your family react to you publicly coming out?

They're super-loving. I came out first to my mom and my younger sisters [years ago, as gay] and they didn't try to tell me anything. They just said, “We love you” and they gave me a hug, and that was it. It was exactly what I needed, because I think sometimes you think, “Oh, how do I help them? What answer do I give them?” And it's like, you don't need to. This is for them to figure out. We already know how a lot of churches look at this and what the opinion is on homosexuality. Those are things we don't need to be told anymore. I know in spite of everything I've believed and been taught, I need to give myself room to understand this better, because if not, it's driving me crazy. I need to not hate myself anymore and judge myself. So [families should] say, “Let's let them take that journey, and just show love and walk with them as they find it.”

Before I let you go, are there any LGBTQ+ organizations that you want to advocate for or mention?

Other than Love Loud, I’d say the Trevor Project… especially with the suicide among teens who feel like that's the only solution to fix their “brokenness” because they're not “fixable.” A lot of teens don't want to feel what they're feeling, and they're afraid of what they're feeling. I feel like it's more important for them to live their life, even if you don't understand why they live that life, than to have them gone. And you might be surprised at how beautiful their life can end up being, just by allowing them to embrace that part of them.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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