"It's clear they don't think of me the same," Archuleta tells PEOPLE at Project Angel Food's George Michael star dedication ceremony
At Project Angel Food's star dedication ceremony for the late George Michael in Los Angeles on Monday, the singer and American Idol alum opened up to PEOPLE about embracing his true self despite what his former community taught him to believe.
"I feel like I'm in this stage where I'm learning to not have to apologize anymore for who I am," Archuleta, 32, tells PEOPLE. "[I'm] now trying to find myself as an adult queer person and say, 'You know what? It's OK to be me, even if that means I'm someone else from who I was maybe 10 years ago, five years ago.'"
He is looking to follow in the footsteps of the out-and-proud Wham! performer, who was honored by Project Angel Food on the 25th anniversary of his volunteer work at the charity organization. The two also share a special connection, as Michael performed on season 7 of Idol, where Archuleta was runner-up.
"He was just not afraid to get people a little uncomfortable, and I think I need to learn how to do that a little more," says Archuleta. "As I step away more and more away from the culture I grew up in and the mindset that I was raised to have, I am learning to find myself more and more."
One way the "Crush" hitmaker has let loose since leaving the Mormon faith is by attending electronic dance music festivals like Dreamstate, which occurred last weekend in Long Beach, California. "Before, I'd be like, 'This is wrong. This is bad. I'm going to get in trouble,'" explains Archuleta. "You think you're going to die because you're in a place that is too freeing, but it's a beautiful experience."
While he hasn't looked to completely cease contact with his former Mormon friends, he's found they haven't exactly continued embracing him since he left the church and revealed his queer identity.
"I went to a funeral of one of the worldwide church leaders of the Mormon church a few days ago, and it was weird to step into it no longer being a part of it and see, 'You know what? It seems like everyone has moved on from me as well,'" says Archuleta.
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He continues, "The people I knew were just like, 'Oh, hi.' I used to give them a hug and stuff, and now they're just reaching out their hand. I'm like, 'I haven't changed. I'm still trying to show my love to y'all,' but it's like, 'You know what? They've moved on from me. Why am I still hanging on to this?'"
Since leaving a year ago, Archuleta reveals he's learned his ex-peers "don't think of me the same."
"They were cold with me, and so it's like, 'You know what? I'm still trying to get these people's approval even though I'm no longer a part of this and don't believe it anymore," says the performer. "I just need to move on."
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