DAVID ARCHULETA, BENTON PAUL, Abravanel Hall, Nov. 25

David Archuleta may have finished as runner-up to the 2008 "American Idol," but he's clearly No. 1 in the hearts and minds of his hometown fans — especially those gathered at Abravanel Hall Wednesday as the young singer kicked off his Christmas tour.

From the reaction Archuleta got before he even stepped on stage, he probably could have stood up there and sung the phone book, and no one would have cared. But he didn't, of course. Rather, he put on a stellar show that showcased his range and ability, paid homage to his pop success and captured the spirit of the season.

Archuleta started off the program with a set of some of his pop favorites, including "Waiting for Yesterday," "Crush" and "Zero Gravity." He debuted a new song called "The Riddle," which is all about why we are here, he said, and which was very well-received by the audience.

He gave a beautiful rendition of "Fields of Gold," a song he first heard when Michelle Kwan skated to it at the 2002 Olympics; and also served up a moving version of Kurt Bestor's "Prayer of the Children."

But Christmas didn't wait in the wings for very long, and with a small orchestra and dramatic lighting effects, Archuleta welcomed in the "Melodies of Christmas," starting with a song of that title that he co-wrote for his new CD.

It was followed by a variety of traditional carols and songs, including the French "Pat-a-pan," the Spanish "Riu Riu Chiu" and the English "What Child Is This?"

He was joined by his mother for a beautiful, harmonic duet of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and Bestor joined him on stage at the piano for a powerful rendering of "Ave Maria," which Bestor arranged.

Striking versions of "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night" were also part of the program.

Archuleta demonstrated a confident and endearing stage presence, clearly having a good time with his hometown fans. Even more, he showed an ability to convey emotion and feeling as well as strength and musicality. He combines a powerful voice with a youthful vitality that is both engaging and impressive.

The night got off to a lively, energetic start with another Utah singer, Benton Paul, from Highland. He sang a few of his hits, including "Look for the Light" and "Paris" before shifting into the holiday mode with a beautiful "Still, Still, Still."