*The following article contains discussion of suicide/self-harm.
Singer David Archuleta can now identify with how fans related to his 2008 debut song "Crush" after he kissed a man last year for the first time. He was 30.
Now 31, the former American Idol finalist opened up in a powerful interview with PEOPLE magazine about his long struggle with sexual identity while being devoted to the Mormon Church, which strongly denounces same-sex marriage and homosexuality.
Last year during Pride, he wrote a pensive social media post about reconciling his faith with his sexuality, saying he was "maybe a spectrum of bisexual" without labeling himself.
Yet he continued to struggle with a "faith crisis," and suppressed his strong desires for men, which eventually took a mental and emotional toll on him.
After a number of failed engagements with women, and thoughts of suicide because of the church's doctrine, he now identifies as queer and said he finally feels "liberated."
"I'm finally learning what it's like to actually love myself," he said during the Zoom interview from his Nashville home.
Last May, Archuleta suffered a paralyzing anxiety attack during dinner with his then-fiancée.
"I was panicking. I didn't move for 30 minutes," he recalled.
"I was thinking about having to be her partner and being intimate."
"She said, 'What the heck is going on?' I was like, 'All I know is I can't be around you. I need three weeks."
"I'm going to work really hard. I'm going too fast. I'm going to pray.'"
His near-breakdown in front of his fiancée was a result of years of denying his attraction to men.
"I was having anxiety attacks when I was around her because you're trying to force intimacy with someone that you're not able to experience."
"I didn't want to accept that I was into guys."
Archuleta had ended three engagements before last year's panic attack.
"No matter how hard I tried to marry a girl, it wasn't right," he said.
"And if you talk to my exes, they'll tell you it was rough."
"I'm sure other people who've been in that situation can relate."
"People who are queer, who've tried to get married just to do the 'right' thing, it ends up not being a very good thing, and it's not very healthy for either participant of the relationship."
In November 2008 Archuleta released a self-titled debut album following his participation on American Idol, where he came in second behind the season's winner, David Cook.
The album featured his debut single "Crush," a song that he didn't feel a connection with until last year's same-sex kiss.
Here is the music video for "Crush."
David Archuleta - Crush (Official Video)youtu.be
"It felt effortless," he recalled. "I was like, 'Oh, so this is what it feels like to like someone.' Now I see why everyone relates to my song."
His path to discovery is an ongoing one and he has dated other men since coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
"I just have to figure out who I am," he said after stepping back from the Mormon Church "for my own sanity."
He recalled the religious values instilled in him after all these years.
"They're comparing being gay to murdering someone," said Archuleta, "and you're like, 'I don't want to be an evil person.'"
"Once you step away, you're finally able to see the fuller picture."
"It's confusing because, literally, the pictures on my wall are all Christian-based pictures of Jesus and of scriptures and things."
"Now I'm like, 'This was my world, but now it isn't. Now what do I do?' I have no idea."
The singer said he feels he's in a much better place.
"I've allowed myself to love myself for everything I am, to not be conditioned to shame myself—and to be not ashamed of who I am feels wonderful because I didn't think it was ever okay to love myself."
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