Win or lose, life is going to change for David Archuleta.
"After being on a reality show, especially if it's a popular show like 'American Idol,' life is never the same. Every aspect of my life is different," said Carmen Rasmusen, the Utahn who finished sixth on "Idol's" second season. "I will always be Carmen Rasmusen from 'American Idol.' That will always be what people know me as first."
At this point, Utah's "American Idol" finalist has had only a glimpse of how different life will be. Even though he's been performing in front of 20 million to 30 million people a week for months, Archuleta and the other finalists have been leading a life sheltered by the "Idol" machine that restricts and controls public appearances, interviews and just about every other aspect of their lives.
"We've been in a bubble," said Syesha Mercado, who made the top three but was eliminated last week. "I don't think we know what's in store for us."
And they haven't been out of that bubble much.
"We had a taste of it when we went to Las Vegas hundreds of people pulling on us saying, 'Oh my gosh! I love you!'" Mercado said.
Archuleta got another taste of it when he came home to Utah on May 9. The thousands of screaming fans who turned out at both the Gateway again, pulling at him and at Murray High might have been a sign of things to come for the 17-year-old.
It's impossible to remain unchanged when you're the focus of that kind of attention. But that doesn't mean that Archuleta is destined to go down the road that so many young stars infamously continue to travel.
Lynn Latham and Bernard Lechowick, longtime TV producers/writers, have worked with actors such as Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Lopez, Nicollette Sheridan, Halle Berry, George Eads and Kyle Chandler when those stars were young and unknown.
And they've observed that fame affects people, but it doesn't make them into different people.
"I think your inherent personality holds sway," Latham said.
"Young people who are well parented don't lose their minds and values when they become famous," Lechowick said. "Young people who are immature, not well-grounded, or into drugs can and do go a bit crazy when fame hits. You need an overview, or some objectivity to know fame is fleeting ... and that it can distort your perspective of others."
Which is why the criticism that Archuleta is getting from some quarters that he's too close to his father may turn out to be exactly what he needs to survive. Because, win or lose, big career or disappointment, the "Idol" fame isn't going to fade anytime soon.
"When I was first off the show, it was to the point where I couldn't even go anywhere without people mobbing me," Rasmusen said.
Five years later, "It's not as big a deal," but she's still approached on a regular basis.
"People act funny when they're around someone that has had some fame or has been on TV," she said, even complete strangers "inviting me to family barbecues, and I've never seen this person before in my life. It's just so weird."
Of course, win or lose, there are no guarantees that a big music career is in Archuleta's future. It has happened for some "Idol" winners, such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Others such as Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard were both dropped by their record labels after anemic sales.
It's all part of a business that "Idol" judge/record producer Simon Cowell called "unpredictable" at best. He was "not overly surprised" that Hicks hasn't done well. ("I thought he was the most popular person, but didn't think he was the best singer.")
But you don't have to win to have a big music career. Even Cowell admits to being somewhat surprised at how well some of the nonwinners have done.
"Chris Daughtry is a good example because he only came in fourth," he said. "We always said from Day One 'American Idol' is a reality show, and being a reality show we reflect the reality of the record business which is it's unpredictable."
Archuleta's immediate future is predictable, however. Win or lose, he'll run the media gauntlet over the next few weeks. He'll join the "American Idols" tour as either No. 1 or No. 2 on the bill and perform before still more screaming fans. He'll put out a CD.
At least in the short term, he'll have the kind of fame few 17-year-olds experience. He's going to find it hard to go out in public without some sort of disguise or, perhaps, security.
Even if he wants to go back to Murray High which doesn't seem likely at this point Archuleta may find out you can't go home again. Rasmusen made it back to Woods Cross High just in time to graduate and discovered that, "People actually treated me differently. They almost kept me at arm's length, like, 'Oh, she's a celebrity now so we can't talk to her.' It was really odd.
"And some of my best friends, even."
And it wasn't just friends, it was family. And not just the (alleged) "cousins that started coming out of the woodwork." Even some of her real relatives started treating her differently.
"I actually had cousins first cousins ask me for my autograph," Rasmusen said. "And I'm, like, 'I'm not signing anything for you. We are blood-related. I live by you. We see each other all the time. I will not sign an autograph. That's ridiculous."'
Archuleta can expect to see people coming at him with their hands out. Rasmusen recalled people approaching her looking for jobs as her driver, her housekeeper, her personal assistant.
The assumption was that, having been on "Idol," she had achieved instant wealth to go with the TV fame.
"That has a HUGE thing. In fact, people still assume I'm, like, a millionaire," Rasmusen said. "You really have to hit huge, huge numbers to even see money. You're paying the record label, you're paying producers, you're paying managers. You're paying your investors back first before you see a dime a penny of anything."
Archuleta is going to be faced with a new set of challenges. While his vocal skills are obvious, he has yet to develop the ability to handle interviews.
"David Archuleta has everything it takes on stage, but when he does interviews he freezes up," Rasmusen said. "He gets nervous. He doesn't know how to talk naturally and normally. And that will come with the 500 interviews that he'll be doing after this."
It's almost inevitable, however, that he'll have to learn to be both more open and more guarded. Archuleta has already learned that the truth and what gets reported are often not the same thing. It's something he's already talked about with Mercado.
"Some people are going to get the story wrong. It already has been gotten wrong a lot," Mercado said, pointing to erroneous stories about how she was homeless. "I'm, like, what? What are you talking about?"'
As hectic as his life is bound to become, at least this summer Archuleta won't have to spend three hours a day on school work.
What: American Idol finals
When: David Archuleta and David Cook perform today, 7-8 p.m.; the winner is announced at the conclusion of Wednesday's episode, 7-9 p.m.
E-mail: [email protected]