One of the first Christmas songs David Archuleta sang was "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," a song he admits he has always hated.
The idea that his mother would ever kiss someone else besides him offended the preschooler's sensibility. "I was super-protective of my mom," Archuleta said. "Even when I was 3, no one could touch my mommy. I would sing that song in a jealous way."
So, when Archuleta headlines Abravanel Hall during his "My Kind of Christmas" tour, suffice to say that song will not be on the set list.
It has been a year of valleys and peaks for the singer, who turns 21 on Dec. 28. Last December, he headlined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's annual Christmas extravaganza in front of more than 80,000 concertgoers. Earlier this year, the Utah singer and Jive Records parted ways after Archuleta's "The Other Side of Down" only sold about 67,000 copies, according to Billboard. That's in contrast to self-titled 2007 debut album, which reached as high as No. 2 on the Billboard charts, sold 765,000 copies and spawned the hit single "Crush."
But locally, Archuleta helped draw a stadium's worth of fans as the co-headliner with Brad Paisley for Provo's Stadium of Fire concert over the July Fourth weekend.
And this fall he hit another local high note, as the CD/DVD of last year's Tabernacle Choir concert, "Glad Christmas Tidings," has been among the best-sellers at Deseret Book and other religious bookstores.
The Abravanel Hall concert will be the second-to-last performance of his tour, which began in New York on Dec. 1 and concludes in Colorado on Dec. 21. Monday's performance will be more like the Christmas shows he performed two years ago, after the release of his 2009 album "Christmas From the Heart." Along with traditional yuletide tunes, Archuleta said he will include "Crush" and other popular songs, "just for energy's sake."
Although he has toured the world since he finished second in 2008's season of "American Idol," in an interview Archuleta still displayed the jitters he says he feels when he's the center of attention. He sang bits of songs to himself under his breath, and when asked, he admitted his friends make fun of that trait. "I don't even notice it," he says. "When I'm not thinking about being watched, or being threatened, I do it."
The lack of self-confidence comes from his perception that he's not a "Vegas performer," with decades of experience under his belt. "I'm still learning how to do it," he says. "I'm not the most professionally skilled performer out there, and I will say my abilities are limited. What I do know, I love to sing, and I always want to do my best."
Archuleta's self-deprecatory demeanor doesn't faze his fans. One of his admirers is Scotty McCreery, the winner of the most recent season of "American Idol." "He's the man," McCreery said in a Tribune interview. "I grew up watching him on 'Idol.' "
On this tour, Archuleta has continued writing songs for his next album, experimenting with what he described as a more natural approach than on his two pop-influenced Jive albums. He's concentrating on writing uplifting music not religious songs exactly, but songs with a message.
When he was younger, vocal coach Dean Kaelin took him to assisted-living homes to perform. Archuleta remembered standing at the side of a bed that held a terminally ill patient, singing "A Piece of Sky" from the Barbra Streisand film "Yentl."
"That music meant a lot to her," Archuleta says. "She was coming alive during the song. That's when I realized how important music could be."
2012 will likely be another defining year for a young performer who is still finding the musician inside himself. "The goal this year is to take the time I need to know what I want to become," he says.
As he crooned to an elderly woman so many years ago:
Tell me where
Where is it written
What is it I'm meant to be?
The Christmas 'Crush'
P Utah singer David Archuleta performs with Jeff LeBlanc.
When • Monday, Dec. 19, at 8 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • $35 at ArtTix.org.