Kris Allen with Green River Ordinance
6 p.m. Thursday
11501 N.E. Expressway
Free with park admission, $19.99-$36.99
Kris Allen was ready to chuck the idea of a music career. Inspired by his father, who was himself an amateur musician, he had been making music since he was 8, first on viola, then guitar and piano in his early teens.
Allen dropped out of the University of Central Arkansas to pursue the dream, and spent a couple years working a day job hawking shoes so he could spend three hours playing originals and covers to the indifferent. As he readied to marry his high school sweetheart, Katy, he thought it might be time to hang it up.
“I was about to get married, and I said, ‘If I have to go back to college, it’s fine,'” he said, recalling that fateful summer two years ago when his path crossed with TV’s “American Idol.” “It was pretty much a fluke when my brother said, ‘I’m going to go try out, if you want to come, we’ll have a good road trip.’ So I did, and everyone knows the story from there.”
The quiet, earnest Arkansas kid with a strong baritone and diffident manner is now a year removed from his “Idol” victory, supporting his self-titled November release on his first headlining national tour. Not only did his understated personality make him a perfect contrast to the glam of Adam Lambert, it lends itself to his pretty, unassuming adult contemporary pop.
When Allen suggests carpe diem, on “Live Like We’re Dying,” or weighs his faith on “I Need to Know,” there’s an authenticity about him that makes his emotion pleas resonate. There’s just something so wholesome, honest and humble that makes you want to buy in, which obviously served him well on “Idol.”
“It’s not so much a talent competition as it is a TV show. So I was expecting the worst, and every week that I made it through was a blessing,” he said. “I’m a very low-key guy; I always have been. I’m not one to showcase anything. I think, for me, it was go out there and do my thing, and if it works, awesome. If it doesn’t, it’s ‘OK, my life was great before.'”
One of the keys to his victory was his ability to take and transform other people’s songs, be it his reworked version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” his acoustic version of Kanye West’s “Heartless” or a surprising take on Donna Summer’s disco classic “She Works Hard for the Money.”
For “Idol,” which often relies much on vocals, Allen’s extra ability to transform his covers instrumentally helped key his victory. He credited those years in the bars, filling a long set list and playing to distracted patrons.
“You have to keep people entertained. So you play songs that they know, and for me it was always fun to kind of switch up a song and make it my own,” he said.
After winning “Idol,” Allen embarked on the show’s subsequent summer tour, and shortly after returning, was expected to turn in his debut disc. It was a stressful, challenging situation, not the least because it was the first time he had tried to write with another musician, but it only served to build his confidence.
“We were trying to write an album in four months and three of those months I was on tour, so it was tough,” he said. “I worked with a ton of different writers. And at first, it was a little frustrating for me, so I had to get used to it, and now, I don’t even know if I can write a song by myself. It’s cool bouncing ideas off somebody else, especially songwriters that have had huge hits.”
Although the tour’s just begun Allen is excited to be on the road. He’s already bonded with his live band and started working on songs for his next record to alleviate pressure the next time around.
It’s been a thrill-a-minute year, from working with superstars like Keith Urban and Smokey Robinson on “Idol” to singing with Train’s Pat Monahan on his single, “The Truth,” at a recent show. Allen is living proof that anything is possible with the right attitude.
“Even when I left college and tried the music thing, there was a lot of procrastination going on. I didn’t probably try as hard as I should’ve,” he said. “For me I learned if you want to do something, you have to keep trying, and if you try hard enough, it’s going to work out in some form or fashion. Just keep trying to do whatever you love to do.” “Chris Parker