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What a difference two years make.

Not the two years that Utah singer David Archuleta soon will serve on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as he announced Monday night at Salt Lake City's Abravanel Hall. No, let's consider the two years since Archuleta was one of the rising stars in pop music.

Two years ago, Archuleta was still riding high in the public imagination after his second-place finish on "American Idol" in 2008 and the release of two well-received albums: his self-titled debut in 2008 (which started at No. 2 on the Billboard charts) and his holiday album, "Christmas From the Heart," in 2009.

Then it was expected that music would be Archuleta's ministry and that he would follow the long-standing tradition of prominent Mormons, from the Osmond brothers to Brigham Young University quarterbacks Steve Young and Ty Detmer, who passed on the mission call in their youth.

In 2008, a teenage Archuleta told The Tribune's David Burger, "I already feel like this is my mission, like I am serving a mission doing this." It's a sentiment Archuleta repeated in his 2010 memoir Chords of Strength, when he wrote that performing before giant audiences "is very much like a missionary experience for me."

Professionally, the past two years have been rough for Archuleta. His third album, 2010's "The Other Side of Down," topped out at No. 13 on the Billboard charts. In February this year, Archuleta's record label, Jive, dropped him — though Archuleta at the time said the decision was mutual: "I need to start going a different direction now. It felt like the right time to part ways," he said on a video blog.

It would be cynical to suggest that God would scan the Billboard charts (when not watching Tim Tebow quarterback the Broncos) and decide Archuleta's value as a "singing ambassador" for Mormonism isn't what it used to be.

But Archuleta has never shown a cynical side, and it's easy to believe he is genuine in his desire to serve his church.

Certainly the crowd at Abravanel Hall Monday night was accepting of Archuleta's decision. Heck, they were rapturous, as the ear-piercing screams at the start of a 52-second standing ovation (which you can see and hear on YouTube) made clear.

"It's not because somebody told me that I was supposed to do it, not because that I no longer want to do music anymore, but it's because it's the feeling that I felt that I need to do next in my life," Archuleta, who turns 21 next Wednesday, told his audience during his encore. "It's just the same feeling that I've always followed, tried to follow in my life. It's the feeling that has allowed me to have the opportunities that I've had, the challenges that I've overcome and the blessings, too. And I've learned to trust that feeling, and I've learned that I need to answer when it calls. And that is the reason why I know I need to do this in my life."

Questions will arise about where Archuleta will serve his mission. Will he be sent to Paris, like Elizabeth Smart and Mitt Romney? Or maybe Australia, like Shawn Bradley? Or some safe, remote corner of the world that never heard of "American Idol"?

The other question is what will become of Archuleta, the singer, when he gets back in two years.

Will he reinvent himself as a mature artist, ready to claim the international stage with a grown-up musical repertoire? Or will he play to the audience that still embraces him — the ones who bought the CDs and DVDs of his 2010 Christmas performance with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — and join the ranks of musicians (like Kurt Bestor, Jon Schmidt and Peter Breinholt) who can sell out concert halls in Salt Lake City but are fairly obscure everywhere else? Or will he be so touched by his missionary experience that he'll come back with a completely different set of priorities?

"I'm different from who I was two years ago," Archuleta told The Tribune's Burger in 2010, when his memoir was published. He'll be different two years from now, too —and it will be interesting to see who he is then.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at Contact him via email at Follow him on Twitter at @moviecricket or on Facebook at