On May 20, 2009, 28.8 million viewers witnessed Kris Allen win Season 8 of American Idol. Heady stuff for a 23-year-old from a small town in Arkansas.
Too bad he can't remember any of it. Well, most of it.
Reached recently at his home in Nashville, Tenn., where he lives with his wife, Katy, and their 2 1/2-year-old son, Oliver, the personable and soft-spoken former Conway resident admits that the experience that "changed my life 100 percent" was a bit overwhelming and a lot fuzzy.
That includes the whirlwind American Idols Live! tour that followed his victory.
The 50-city, 52-date musical marathon featured the Season 8 Top 10 finalists (including runner-up Adam Lambert) and ran from July 5 to Sept. 15, 2009.
"Yeah, that was a lot," Allen says. "And I was making a record at the time, too. It was all a blur. It really was.
"Because it all happened so fast, I started forgetting things and forgetting experiences and people I'd met or things that I'd done. I feel like bits and pieces come back to me now, more than I ever thought I was going to remember.
"I mean, it was my first tour and we were doing stadiums! That was the norm. And the show was so big back then and we were packing in those places.
"There were 15,000 to 20,000 people coming to see us every night. The production was insane. The meet-and-greets had hundreds of people. It was just a blur, because you're not easing yourself into it like a lot of people do. And now it's slowly starting to come back, which is good timing."
A musical artist's typical career track of working up from small clubs and cafes to state fairs was bypassed when the touring Idol finalists were suddenly elevated "to the highest level."
"Our break-in period is what everyone sees on TV," Allen says about Idol. "That was it. And then it was, 'Oh, here's the music world now,' and you get to go experience what this actually means for you instead of just being on a TV show."
During all that Idol tour whirlwind, Allen and Katy, his high school sweetheart, were also newlyweds, having gotten married in Maumelle on Sept. 26, 2008, shortly after Allen had earned his "Golden Ticket to Hollywood" at the Louisville, Ky., auditions.
Allen laughs and says, "We try not to talk about that first year of marriage. It didn't happen."
Now, seven years later, Katy is expecting baby No. 2 in June and Allen's fifth album, Letting You In, debuted March 18. He's on a 37-city North American tour to promote it.
Remembering how it all began for him is "good timing" for Allen because after 15 seasons, American Idol, which revolutionized reality competition shows, is coming to an end.
The three-night "Grand Finale Week" kicks off at 7 p.m. today on Fox with American Idol: American Dream, a one-hour retrospective, featuring host Ryan Seacrest and current and former judges sharing their Idol memories.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the remaining finalists -- Trent Harmon, La'Porsha Renae and Dalton Rapattoni -- will perform live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
There's an Arkansas connection to root for. Mississippi native Harmon graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello and currently lives in Malvern. The two-hour final show will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday and (after many, many commercials) will crown the 15th American Idol champion. The finale will include a special tribute to the past seasons, contestants and millions of fans who voted over the years.
Despite his hectic schedule, Allen has been keeping tabs on Idol this season.
"Well, I have been busy, but because this is the last season and because I've been involved and I know I'm going to be at the finale, I have tried to watch more this season than I've ever watched. So I've tried to keep up."
There are no 20,000-seat arenas on the Letting You In tour. In fact, the venues are relatively intimate, such as The Ark (400 seats) in Ann Arbor, Mich., The Gramercy Theatre in New York (499 seats), and Bentonville's Meteor Guitar Gallery (299 seats).
Allen, who says the tour will play at a yet-to-be-named venue in Little Rock on June 18, seems fine with smaller audiences.
"I would always hope to be playing bigger and bigger places," he says, "but I think it's the natural progression of things. With the way that my career has gone, and starting out on TV, you do get this initial boost of fandom, but they're also TV fans. Some of them would much rather take a picture of you than listen to your music.
"I'm not saying that's for all of them, and I'm not even faulting people for that, but I think that's just how they perceive you -- as a TV person instead of a musician."
Now an experienced tour veteran, Allen has not been coasting since his Idol win. And the post-surgeries recovery time following his wrist-shattering, head-on car crash on Jan. 1, 2013, has also been put to good use honing his art.
"I had a lot to learn," Allen says. "I needed to learn how to write a song. I needed to be a better singer. I needed to learn how to record music. I needed to learn a lot. As far as learning curves go, I feel like I'm in the natural place for me right now, and hopefully it keeps getting bigger."
All the hard work seems to be paying off, as reflected by Letting You In, which one reviewer described as "easy-listening jams and glistening melodies" that are "recklessly reflective and emotive," and "befitting of one of American Idol's most expressive and charming storytellers."
"I feel like my music is always getting better, more personal," Allen says, "and I feel that brings more people in. I feel that people are coming for the music now instead of [the tunes he sang on Idol]. I hope that's OK, because that was seven years ago."
Don't misunderstand, Allen still feels grateful for Idol and doesn't mind being asked to sing his early hits such as "Heartless," "Live Like We're Dying," or "No Boundaries."
"I'm not upset about that," he says. "I'm not upset about being on the show. It was a great experience and a great launching point for me. But seven years after, I'd like to think I've established myself as my own musician and my own artist and not the kid that was on TV in 2009."
Some American Idol alumni have grumbled about what they see as stifling contracts with the show and were champing at the bit to be free from them. Allen, whose contractual ties with Idol are long over, has no such complaints: "I think everyone has this bad context about what the contracts with Idol mean. Maybe because I won the show, but it was good for me.
"I needed some guidance and help. Was it always perfect? No, but it was good and I think that the people I was working with genuinely cared about me and my career and I had a lot to learn, so they helped me learn."
Times have also changed for young singers since Allen competed on Idol. He says that had he not won, he would have gone back to college, but still would have played as much as he could even though he wasn't making much money, certainly not enough to support a wife and family.
"I didn't know how to do it on my own," he says. "I didn't know how to make it happen for myself, and nowadays I think it's very possible to make it happen for yourself. You can put out your music on YouTube and on iTunes, Spotify, all these different things. There are a lot of different avenues for artists to put out their own music these days and I think that's great.
"When I was on the show, Twitter had just come out and I had [an account], but we weren't allowed to use it. Now, that's how you get your votes -- get on Twitter."
Allen, by the way, as 278,000 Twitter followers and 58,000 on Instagram.
Finally, after 15 seasons and a plethora of similar programs such as The X-Factor, The Voice, Nashville Star and The Sing-Off, American Idol is bringing down the curtain.
"Speaking on the saturation of singing shows," Allen says, "I do think that the world will miss something about American Idol that the other shows don't have and that's the realness to it. Especially when I was on the show, I didn't know anything about how to get into the music industry and no one was hand-picking me to make it this far. It was all real.
"People ask me all the time if I knew I was going to make it. I had no idea. I thought I was going home every week.
"And with shows like The Voice -- not to put it down because I think it's a good show -- they're kind of hand-picking their contestants, [promoting] people who have been on labels and with different bands and all. I think you kind of see Idol doing that a little bit now, but that was the beauty of that show.
"Kelly Clarkson, for example, was just a girl from Texas and was doing her thing when she tried out for the show. She was a real girl, like Carrie [Underwood]. I mean people are just people and trying to find their way and I don't think there are any of the other shows that can say they genuinely do that with the contestants."
Finally, Allen may be living in Nashville now, but his Arkansas fans, who follow him on the Team Kris link on KrisAllenOfficial.com, will never have to wait long to catch him.
"I still make it back there all the time," he says. "I've still got family there."
Style on 04/05/2016
Print Headline: Whirlwinded winner: Ex-Arkansan Kris Allen doesn’t remember much about becoming Idol No. 8