Jeff Archuleta, who plays jazz trumpet, and his wife, Lupe, a singer, raise their five children in a musical atmosphere. At 7, little David begins singing. "They've always been there to give me support and advice," Archuleta tells PEOPLE in 2008 of his parents. "They help remind me what matters in life, which things are important and which things I shouldn't worry about."
At 12, Archuleta wins the junior category of Star Search. A few years after his win, he is put under vocal rest to recover from a paralyzed vocal chord. "But that's what gives his voice an interesting quality to it. It's why he has kind of an airy sound to his voice," Dean Kaelin, Archuleta's vocal coach, later tells the AP. "This definitely was an obstacle he had to overcome. But for him, it's a blessing."
Archuleta auditions for the seventh season of American Idol in San Diego. Although he flubs the lyrics of John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change," the 16-year-old surprises judges with his big voice, prompting Randy Jackson to sing background vocals, while Paula Abdul calls him a "sweetheart." All three judges send him to Hollywood.
After performing a soulful rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," judge Simon Cowell says, "You're the one to beat, and there are 19 very miserable contestants sitting here tonight." Jackson also proclaims, "Dawg, that's one of the best vocals I've ever heard on this show."
Dogged by rumors of stage-dad behavior, Archuleta's dad, Jeff (left), has his behind-the-scenes access limited by Idol after he allegedly interfered with music arrangements. "He's fine to be in the studio – nothing wrong with that," producer Nigel Lythgoe tells EW. "We just want David to be able to be free like everybody else to get on and do what they want to do." Family friend Richard Parkinson deems the treatment "unfair." He calls Jeff "intense" but "a great guy...David is a minor. He has to be involved."
After Jason Castro's elimination, Archuleta makes the coveted Top Three with rocker David Cook and blossoming diva Syesha Mercado. When Archuleta performs Chris Brown's hit "With You," Cowell says, "It was a little bit like a Chihuahua trying to be a tiger." But it's Cook who shines, with Cowell declaring him the night's winner.
The Davids battle it out in the American Idol finale. "I have done my best to show my vocal ability," he tells USA Today. "I wanted to show people why I love music, and I think I've managed to do that." Although Cowell declares Archuleta the evening's winner, it's Cook who wins the Idol crown. In June, Archuleta signs a record deal with 19 Recordings/Jive Records.
Archuleta's self-titled debut premieres at No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart with 183,000 copies sold in its first week. "I think the album shows a variety of styles," he says of the disc. "I wanted to show that I'm still young and fresh and that I listen to Top 40 radio too."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): FOX; INF; INF; Kenny Crookston/AP; Frank Micelotta/Getty; Frank Micelotta/Getty; amazon.com