SALT LAKE CITY — Teen idol David Archuleta grew up listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
"They're still one of my most favorites on iTunes," he said. "So to be here, performing with them, is like, 'Wow! Is this really happening?' "
For long-time actor and narrator Michael York, it has "already been an extraordinary experience. I've been to Salt Lake before, but as an outsider, outside the buildings, outside the experience. To now be an insider, to belong as part of the experience — it's more than entertainment. There's a feeling of fellowship, of worship. It has all magically come together. I'm much looking forward to the next three days."
Archuleta and York were speaking at a press conference Friday morning in connection with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's annual Christmas concert.
Thursday night's dress rehearsal "was magnificent," said choir president Mac Christensen, "probably the greatest opening night we've ever had." And it's just going to get better, he said. "David was out of this world. And Michael — what a pro."
The choir is "delighted to have one of our own featured," choir director Mack Wilberg said of Archuleta. "And distinguished actor Michael York brings a wealth of experience to the stage and a stature to storytelling."
Archuleta talked about the humbling feeling he has in being a part of the concert. "When you grow up having so much respect and admiration for something, it doesn't seem like you would ever be there. It was the same with 'America Idol.' I didn't think that would ever happen."
Sometimes he wonders, he said, about why so much is happening to him at such a young age. "I feel the Lord has allowed me to be here at this time for a reason. The teen years are so hard. It's cool to be able to reach out to teens."
He feels a humble responsibility to be a good example, to let them see a positive, uplifting side to life. "I owe so much to my family and friends, to the role models I've had. I've learned to hang on to the simple, important things and remember the blessings the Lord has given me."
It's an amazing experience, he said, "to be given an opportunity to share with a lot of people something that is important to you."
For both performers, being here at Christmas adds to the enjoyment. "As an actor, I've spent Christmases all over the world," said York. "In Morocco, all you can do is go to the bazaar and buy an orange, and let that be a symbol. I've been in Russia, France." This year it will be a joy to be home, he said.
He was also moved to learn that this program doesn't just stay in the Conference Center, that it is also broadcast in the Tabernacle and other centers, and that it goes out to PBS stations.
"You walk in this building and have 21,000 people," added Christensen, but 95 percent to 99 percent of all the PBS stations around the country air the Christmas program.
Of course, they are a year behind. This year stations are airing last year's Natalie Cole/David McCullough program. "We just had a call from David McCullough, who had just watched it and was pleased," said Christensen.
He expects this year's program will be equally successful next year. "David brings in so many young people. There are so many possibilities. It just doesn't stop."
The concert, added Wilberg, "is not just our gift to this community. It is our gift to the nation."
Concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights. On Sunday, a mini-concert will be presented after "Music and the Spoken Word," which will also feature the guest performers. Tickets for all concerts have all been distributed, but a standby line will form at the north gate of Temple Square. Patrons are asked to come early, particularly with traffic and parking congestion, and to be in their seats at least a half-hour before the performance begins.