Murray native and “American Idol” finalist David Archuleta began his journey to become a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by entering Missionary Training Center in late March.
It was thought that once he went inside the doors of the secretive Provo institution, the 21-year-old would be out of the public eye for about two years, spending about 10 weeks at MTC and then the rest of his time in his assigned mission, reportedly in Chile.
But this is an age where social media breaks down ramparts and bulwarks, no matter how much Elder Archuleta desires his pious privacy. As a consequence, the public and his fans have been able to read about his experiences through blog posts written by fellow elders and sisters at MTC.
“I’ve been officially star struck,” wrote Sister Emily Lewis. “I just drooled over him when he was on “‘American Idol.’”
“David Archuleta entered the MTC yesterday, and I’ll try to get a picture with him,” wrote Elder Abel Hemenway, assigned to Paraguay. “But it won’t be an easy task since all the sister missionaries are always around him and everywhere he goes ... I can tell he doesn’t like the attention because he wanted to have a normal mission, but hey, what did he expect, I mean, he is famous.”
“Last week as Wednesday approached, the rumors started flying that the great DA would be entering the MTC,” wrote Sister Elise Marquitta Leavitt. “When Wednesday came, I was literally sick to my stomach thinking that the ONLY ‘celebrity’ I have ever loved or cared about would be here!”
Although the websites where these letters are posted seem to be a personal website — with sites usually associated with Blogspot and Missionsite.net — in reality the websites are usually set up by families to let others know about how their missionary sons and daughters are faring.
“Missionaries are encouraged to write weekly to family often through e-mail,” said Scott Trotter, spokesman for the Church. “Generally, blogs documenting the experiences of missionaries are maintained by family members or friends from home. Often these blogs draw upon letters or photos sent by the missionary. The Church has no policy related to these blogs beyond general guidelines provided in the Church Handbook.”
The Church Handbook states: “Members are encouraged to be examples of their faith at all times and in all places, including on the Internet. If they use blogs, social networks, and other Internet technologies, they are encouraged to strengthen others and help them become aware of that which is useful, good, and praiseworthy. When appropriate, members are encouraged to mention the Church and to link to and share approved Church materials. When members use the Internet for purposes other than Church callings, they should understand that the message they give is personal. They should not give the impression that they represent or are sponsored by the Church.”
Trotter had no comment on Archuleta or his experiences as a missionary, except to say that The Church would not confirm that Archuleta would be serving his mission in Chile, and Trotter spoke only of general guidelines given to all missionaries.
As expected, the weekly letters posted do focus primarily on the Church, since Archuleta is not more popular than Jesus. Elder Dayne Joyner, assigned to Mexico, wrote on April 2 that he “recently become very interest[ed] in the history of some of the hymns.” Elder Anthony Kai Buckwalter, assigned to Taiwan, writes about “going to the temple so early in the morning” is something he loves. And Sister Natalie Sargeant, assigned to Chile, writes about General Conference in that the “Spirit was strong, our songs turned out great, we were only like 50 yds from President Monson and the apostles ... really, amazing.”
But when arguably the biggest celebrity to ever enter the MTC takes classes and meals with 19-year-olds and 20-year-olds, it is hard not to write home about Archuleta.
Elder Tanner Browning, assigned to Moscow, on April 4, wrote: “For all of my girl cousins back home I can say yeah, that I have briefly talked to him haha.”
“I feel bad for him sometimes because people come up and talk to him alot and one guy asked for his autograph,” Joyner wrote.
Most of those who encountered him said that he was shy and humble, as well as being much shorter than they expected him to be. Some take Advanced Spanish with him, and others jog with him. Sister Hermana Goimarac wrote that Archuleta “wears the tightest missionary pants, haha.”
However, no matter how hard the Church might try, it appears as if the presence of Archuleta has affected the MTC in small ways. Sister Skyler Elizabeth Dunford wrote that the missionaries “started getting all of those talks — “Please leave famous missionaries alone.” “It is not appropriate to ask other missionaries for autographs.”
And one persistent scuttlebutt is that Archuleta got special treatment for being allowed to in the MTC choir early for General Conference. “I said there is a choir of 364 people to Gen Conf,” wrote Elder Ian Derik Sanderson on March 31. “I am not, however, included in them. I haven’t had enough singing experience. The choir now includes 365 people, Can you guess who the last one is? Yep, Elder David Archuleta. My [companion] is super pissed!”
Elder Jordan Olsen, assigned to Nagoya, Japan, also addressed the rumors of special treatment, and seemed unimpressed: “To be honest, I was sorta hoping he wouldn’t be here while I was here ... Also, HE got into the MTC choir on thursday. WHAT the what. ... Oh, and rumor has it that his [companion] doubles as his bodyguard. What? haha.”
Sister Kelsey Whitaker, assigned to Nauvoo, even seemed a bit irritated. “I was so caught up with the spirit, I didn’t even notice Elder Archuleta,” she wrote. “He’s a pretty big deal amongst the mormons. No one wants to hear what WE’RE doing, they just want to tell us what the latest is with David. Its a little out of control how many people are talking about him.”
But once elders and sisters move past rumors, they seem to all agree that Elder Archuleta is genuine and goes out of his way to be normal. “Just yesterday, he was in the salad line with me and so I talked with him for about 5 minutes,” wrote Elder Ryan Moffet. “He’s pretty awesome, but he said he hates having everyone know who he is. I wasn’t like AWE-stricken when I saw him, but he is way cool. Usually he sits by us at lunch so it’s an interesting experience ... He’s a great guy.”
Sister Leavitt calls him her “love, the great Elder Archuleta,” and adds that “he is THEE most humble, shy, wonderful thing ever and so delightful, and it was basically the most blissful minutes of my life [talking to him]. Heavenly Father truly does smile down on His missionaries. ;)”
Elder Joseph Gibbons, assigned to Bangkok, wrote that Archuleta is “very nice, respectful, and humble. Also very short.”