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tom Smart, Deseret News
"Idol" paraphernalia adorn Murray High School hallway.

A few months ago, David Archuleta could walk the halls of Murray High School with little notice.

He wasn't particularly popular or outgoing, friends say. Just a normal 17-year-old kid who liked "Guitar Hero" and worried about his grades.

But seemingly overnight, Archuleta has become a pop star with the ability to make love-struck girls and grandmothers cry. Mothers want him to marry their daughters, and the "American Idol" finalist can command a crowd larger than most politicians.

This transition to superstar — or "Idol," if you will — has been a little odd for friends and acquaintances.

He's David. From Murray.

But those who are close to Archuleta say they've always had a hunch the hazel-eyed heartthrob would find a way to touch people with his music. They have heard the power of his voice, whether singing hymns in a seminary class or joining others in a school choir.

"He's living his dream, which I think is way cool," said Jessica Judd, a junior at Murray and a close friend. "It's so cool that he's finally doing it, and he sings just so he can reach people. He doesn't just want to be a celebrity."

She says his humility and shyness aren't an act. That is who he is. While some boys at high school always have girls all over them, Archuleta didn't, according to Judd. He just had a lot of friends, and "no one disliked him."

Last week, when Archuleta returned to his high school for a hometown trip sponsored by "American Idol," thousands of friends, acquaintances and fans came to see him perform. The dark-haired teen, whose mother is from Honduras, told the crowd he was overwhelmed and grateful for the support.

Earlier in the day, he cried when he saw the crowd that had gathered to meet him at The Gateway Mall in downtown Salt Lake City.

"I don't think you realize how much this means to me," he said. "Thank you so much for you guys' support."

Archuleta's biography says he began singing as early as age 6, when his dad, Jeff, brought home a CD with songs from "Les Miserables." Archuleta memorized the music from the disc, and not only could he perform the songs with the correct accents, but in perfect pitch, his grandfather, Jim Archuleta, told the Deseret News earlier this year.

"That's when we realized this kid has a gift," the elder Archuleta said during that interview.

Jim Archuleta was asked this past week for a follow-up interview, but he said he and his family have been asked not to speak with the media. "American Idol" requires its contestants and immediate families to sign a contract agreeing not to speak with the press during the show's run.

Friends say the family will fly to California today in preparation for this week's finale of "American Idol." Archuleta and David Cook — "the two Davids" — will perform Tuesday, fans will vote, and the winner will be announced Wednesday night.

Judd said she was not surprised Archuleta is competing for the top prize on the show. He's that good.

Plus, this isn't his first time in the national media.

At age 10, Archuleta appeared on the "Jenny Jones Show" as a young, minority performer. At age 12, he won the $100,000 first prize on "Star Search."

"I knew he could do this ever since I heard him sing in the ninth grade," said Grant Simper, a junior at Murray. "I was blown away. It was in the front room of a friend's house, and I was blown away."

Archuleta is said to come by his talent naturally. His grandmother was a singer and actress, while his father played trumpet for a well-known jazz group at Brigham Young University called Synthesis. His mother, Lupe, was a salsa dancer and singer from Honduras.

On his official "American Idol" biography, Archuleta describes his family and his faith as a source of inspiration. He is the second-oldest of five children and was born on Dec. 28, 1990, in Miami, Fla. Archuleta's older sister, Claudia, is a senior at Murray High, where he was in his junior year before "Idol" started.

"Some of the greatest memories I have are just being with all my family and having a great time," Archuleta writes in his biography.

This past week, Judd said she went to her first choir concert without him. The two sang together while students at Hillcrest Junior High in Murray and made a point of going to the school's choir concerts together after they graduated.

She said it is a little bittersweet to watch him advance so far in the competition. She believes he will likely not return to school next year and wonders how his life and their friendship will change.

Already, the "Idol" is super-busy and super-popular. He just appeared on the cover of TV Guide, and countless fan sites have appeared, with supporters gushing over his good looks and voice. If Archuleta wins, he is guaranteed a record deal. Tickets are already being sold for a three-month summer tour, with the "Idol's" scheduled to stop (now for two shows) at the E-Center in West Valley City on July 14.

"He's always been a super support system for me, and he's always super-caring," Judd said. "If you're sad, he'll cheer you up. I miss him, so it is kind of bittersweet for me, but it's really cool."

She added: "He will definitely do some really cool things."

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