Fifteen years ago, David Archuleta lost that epic “David vs. David” battle against David Cook on American Idol Season 7, and in one of that show’s earliest meme moments, a home video of a squad of devastated Archies — i.e., Archuleta superfans — sobbing over his defeat went viral. In 2021, on the 13th anniversary of that finale, Archuleta amusingly tweeted a video of the tweens’ living room meltdown, saying, “Thinking about these girls. Hope they’re doing fine, wherever they are!” And last year, he surprised those fans — older, wiser, and calmer, but still proudly wearing their Archie iron-on T-shirts— on the “Great Idol Reunion” special.
This week, Archuleta was back on the Fox network on another finale, when he was revealed to be the Macaw on The Masked Singer Season 9. (Of course, all self-respecting, card-carrying Archies figured out it was him weeks ago, from the voice alone, the instant he opened his beak to sing.) “If I win, maybe it means I actually can win something,” he joked earlier in the night.
Unfortunately, Archuleta yet again stalled yet again in second place, making him the fifth Idol alumnus — following Chris Daughtry (who once quipped to Yahoo Entertainment, “I’m just not good at winning shit!”), Katharine McPhee, Todrick Hall, and Tori Kelly — to compete on The Masked Singer but ultimately not take home the Golden Mask trophy. However, if those above-mentioned viral fangirls were watching at home, there was no reason for them to burst into tears this time around, unless they were happy ones. Archuleta shed a few happy tears himself Wednesday, as his “healing” journey from shy, closeted Idol to rainbow-winged Macaw was complete.
Earlier during Wednesday’s finale, Archuleta said cosplaying as the Macaw had allowed him to “show the colors I was afraid to show before,” and revealed that not long ago, he’d considered quitting music altogether, after “a difficult couple of years” that included a “major injury” that left him “completely silent for three months” and a “scary” decision to coming out as LGBTQ+. Once unmasked, his tear-filled eyes were visible, as he confessed to the studio audience: “Just like being the Macaw is liberating, coming out was liberating. I grew up very religious; it was a huge part of my life. And I believed that if lived being queer, that I was going to be evil, so I worked really hard to be anything but that. I began to think, ‘Maybe it’s better if I’m not here.’ … If anyone else is feeling like they are bad just because of who they are attracted to and who they love, I want you to know that it is worth taking the courage to show your true colors.”
“You are such an inspiration to so many. … You have touched our hearts all season,” said Nicole Scherzinger (who is apparently an Archie, because she was the only judge to figure out the Macaw’s identity early on). “Thank you for being so bold and so brave to share your story. … You are a gift from heaven.”
And just in case Archuleta was feeling dejected about the second “silver medal” finish of his career, judge Ken Jeong, who was weeping hardest of all, let him know that a decade and a half ago, Archuleta’s runner-up Idol run had made a big difference. Saying that American Idol Season 7 was his favorite Idol season and that Archuleta’s “stirring rendition” of John Lennon’s “Imagine” on Idol had moved him to tears, Jeong revealed: “Real talk, when my [pregnant-with-twins] wife was on bedrest in the hospital, not knowing whether our kids would live or die, we would watch Idol every week, and you were like a ray of light for my family. And it’s an honor to see you in this capacity. Thank God for you, and I love you.” (Odd side note: Jeong’s wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, but gave birth to her twins in 2007, reportedly before her diagnosis and definitely before Archuleta’s Idol season. Perhaps Jeong got Archuleta mixed up with the previous Idol runner-up, Blake Lewis, or mixed up the timeline of his wife’s various hospital stays. But this was such a nice TV moment, I won’t overthink it too much…)
Anyway, Wednesday’s climactic, dramatic finale of what judge Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg fittingly dubbed “The Season of the Feels” all came down to the Macaw vs. Medusa. And while Archuleta stunned with his two highly emotional performances, of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” and James Bay’s “Hold Back the River” — which the judges described as “exceptional” and “perfect” — it was another “River” singer who eventually triumphed. Newly unmasked Season 9 champion the Medusa turned out to be alt-rock star Bishop Briggs, as also correctly guessed by Scherzinger.
While Briggs’s finale performances of Sia’s “Elastic Heart” and My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade” weren’t quite as pitch-perfect as Archuleta’s, they were equally passionate, if not more so. And the latter emo classic, which the judges called Briggs’s “winning anthem,” held especially personal meaning for her, as she confessed: “The fact that I got to end my journey with my sister’s favorite song — and sadly, she’s no longer here — it means so much. Truly, for my spirit and my soul, I really needed this.” Briggs’s “other half” and “biggest supporter,” her older sister Kate, died from ovarian cancer in January 2021.
And while the Macaw arguably delivered the two technically superior vocals of Wednesday’s finale, as the Medusa pointed out, she “fought so hard to get here.” In fact, “more than any other contestant this season,” she “had to fight to earn [her] place.” And like Archuleta, Briggs was a second-chancer in her own right. She was actually almost eliminated this season, before being saved at the last second by the judges’ first-ever Ding Song Keep It On Bell, and it was only after she returned to face off in a rematch against fellow Bell recipients the Gargoyle and Mantis, in a special “Battle of the Saved” episode, that she slithered back into the competition… and all the way to the winner’s circle. Over the course of Season 9, the Medusa actually performed on the show more than any other contestant.
“You have shown a vulnerability that has truly moved and awed us all,” Jeong told the comeback queen, while judge Robin Thicke added, “You’ve been one of my favorites of all nine seasons. You are one of the best we’ve ever had, period.”
Briggs had confessed that she had “a fire in me that really wants to win,” and as she shed her own happy tears upon finding out that her Masked Singer dream had come true, she shared a sweet tribute to her “huge competitor,” Archuleta, marveling: “Hearing David’s story, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at us — a couple of emo kids, unsure of who we are, not knowing if we wanting to continue on.’ And we made it!”
Briggs also said her Medusa costume had become her “second skin,” semi-joking, “I’m actually afraid I may get to used to it, and I won’t take it off when I go on tour!” But whether or not Briggs’s Masked Singer journey ends here, or if she’ll be rocking that snaky-haired headdress and reptilian body-suit on the road, it is clear that this “Season of the Feels” has transformed both her and Archuleta’s lives in more than skin-deep ways, and that there were two winners tonight.
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