If David Archuleta's face hurt on Friday night, maybe it had something to do with the huge smile he'd been wearing pretty much all day long.

"It's been a long but awesome, stupendous day," Archuleta told thousands of fans who gathered to greet him at a huge pep rally at Murray High School Friday afternoon.

"It means the world to me that you guys came here. I can't believe it. It's crazy," said Archuleta, one of the three remaining "American Idol" finalists.

Among Archuleta's new best friends — officials estimated the crowd at 5,000 to 6,000 — were Murray Mayor Dan Snarr, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who issued a proclamation declaring Friday "David Archuleta Day."

Huntsman, by the way, required less security than Archuleta. But then there aren't thousands of teenage girls screaming Huntsman's name, either.

Hundreds of Archuleta's friends and classmates were in attendance. While all were excited, some said the fact Archuleta has gone so far on "Idol" is a little bittersweet.

"I'd rather have him here with us," said Caitlee Meyers, a junior. "To us, the people who know him, he's just David Archuleta from Murray."

Jessica Judd, also a junior at Murray High, spent the whole day with Archuleta Friday. She said it was a surreal experience, but she's excited for him.

"It's crazy that so many people are here for someone I have known for so long," she said.

Hundreds of friends/fans were wearing orange or white shirts declaring voting allegiance to Murray's favorite son. There were signs declaring "David, your music makes my heart beat," "David, you are our hero," "David is a hottie" and lots of signs with some variation of "David, will you marry me?"

(The whole marriage-proposal thing was a recurring theme throughout the day.)

There were speeches and proclamations and photo-ops, but the fans also got what they really came there to hear. Archuleta sang three songs: "Stand by Me," "Imagine" and "Angels."

It was the second big event of the day for Archuleta and his fans. He brought thousands of screaming fans to the Gateway on Friday morning.

And the thousands of fans brought David Archuleta to tears. Literally.

The 17-year-old "American Idol" finalist was clearly overwhelmed by the enormous turnout at the AT&T store at the Gateway. Well, he was at the AT&T store; the crowd stretched the length of the shopping center.

"I can't believe this many people turned out," Archuleta said. "I thought I was just going to be at a little table down there and just say hi to a few people. ... I don't think you realize how much this means to me. Thank you so much for your guys' support."

At which point he turned his back, trying to hide the tears that welled up in his eyes as his mother, Lupe, put her arms around him.

"I can't believe this," Lupe Archuleta said. "I'm so proud of him. I never thought anything like this would happen."

What with the crush and the crowd and the tight schedule, Archuleta was only able to sign autographs for a tiny fraction of those in attendance. When he headed back toward his limo, the crowd surged around him like, well, a rock star.

Or maybe an "American Idol."

Big Event No. 3 of the day took Archuleta to the EnergySolutions Arena to sing the national anthem. He said earlier in the day that he'd once auditioned for that gig — and the Jazz had rejected him.

Surrounded by security, Jazz personnel and a horde of cameramen, Archuleta gave fans on the front row high-fives before heading over to the scorers' table where he graciously smiled — imagine that — for the flurry of flashes. The smallest guy to perform on the court on this night then drew one of the biggest roars of the night when he was introduced to his hometown crowd.

Archuleta's take on the national anthem, complete with impressive runs that displayed his range, was received about as well as a game-winning shot by Deron Williams. Fans cheered at every pause and went bonkers when he wrapped it up with a big finish and an even bigger smile. Many stayed on their feet, cheering as he was escorted to his lower-bowl seat.

Archuleta kicked the day off with an early visit to Fox 13's morning studio, telling the hosts he's thrilled to be doing something he loves on such a grand scale. The 17-year-old also said he's ready for his life to change if he wins the popular music competition.

"I'm so ready for that," he said, flashing his trademark shy smile. "I've wanted to do that for so long already and now that it's finally happened, I'm so happy now. You can't be happier."

Archuleta answered questions from "American Idol" viewers as far away as Puerto Rico, but also fielded questions from students at Murray High School, where he was in his junior year before "Idol," which will announce a winner on May 21, started.

One student asked Archuleta, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether he planned to serve a two-year mission for the faith. Archuleta responded that it was something he planned to do if he wasn't still doing music.

"I feel like I'm serving a mission right now in a way," he said.

After leaving Fox 13, Archuleta — who, along with fellow finalists Syesha Mercado, from Sarasota, Fla., and David Cook, from Kansas City, Mo., will perform on "Idol" Tuesday — got back in the limo and headed to a couple of radio stations.

Frankie and Danger Boy at 97.1 KZHT said this was "bigger than the time we met Michael Jackson," noting the phone calls, constant updates on Archuleta's whereabouts and overall excitement.

"That's crazy!" Archuleta said when the DJs played a clip of Ashton Kutcher talking about him on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

He also stopped at 101.5 The Eagle, where humble and down-to-earth Archuleta was surprised that anyone knew his schedule. "I don't know how they know where I am," he said.

After the reception he received Friday, it seems as if EVERYBODY in Utah knows who he is.

About the only thing that didn't turn out as planned was that windy weather precluded the planned hot-air balloon ride at the conclusion of the Murray rally. On the other hand, an otherwise gray and somewhat forbidding day suddenly turned bright with sunshine just as Archuleta arrived.

It's was, after, all, David's day.


Contributing: Jody Genessy, Erica Hansen


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com; nwarburton@desnews.com