WASHINGTON — He memorably upset Adam Lambert to win Season 8 of “American Idol.”
“If you don’t want to hear Christmas music, I would advise you not to come,” Allen joked on WTOP. “It’s very Christmasy, but I think in a different way than a lot of people do it. It’s more of a vintagey vibe [with] props. I found this old TV, this old radio and old other things and just propped the stage with that. I got really inspired listening to these old Christmas radio shows and the idea that families would sit around in a living room, turn on the radio and listen.”
Expect to hear selections from Allen’s “Somethin’ About Christmas” album (2016), including the original title track, as well as classic favorites from “Jingle Bells” to “Winter Wonderland.”
“I think we might be playing the whole record,” Allen said. “It’s five classic Christmas tunes, some of them kind of redone. There’s a version of ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ on there that feels like a brand new rendition of it. ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ is on there. We’ve got ‘Silent Night.’ But I’ve also written a lot of tunes as well that are very Christmasy.”
The album cover is a childhood photo of Allen on Christmas morning in Conway, Arkansas.
“Growing up, music was always in my house,” he said. “My dad played guitar and sang, so it was always around. I loved it. My parents put me in a school that had a music program when I was 8 years old. I started playing viola. I was the weird kid who loved it. It was required and most of my friends hated playing in the orchestra, but I was one of the ones who loved it.”
The older he got, the more he fell in love with music.
“It grew from there,” Allen said. “I started playing guitar when I was 13, but I didn’t sing for anybody for a long time until I was 17. I knew that I had something in there that I enjoyed, but I was incredibly shy and didn’t feel incredibly comfortable with showing that to anybody else.”
Then came his life-changing decision to audition for Season 8 of “American Idol” (2009).
“If you go in there thinking you’re going to win, you’ve already lost,” Allen said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it past the first round. Every round I was ready to pack my bags. Everything past Hollywood Week was icing on the cake. I thought, ‘Man, these people are so talented.’ … I’m fairly competitive, but I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d make it as far as I did.”
His most memorable performance was an acoustic cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless.”
“It was the week we could choose whatever we wanted to,” Allen said. “That record had just come out and I loved it. I thought it was really great. … I played it for a couple people and they were like, ‘This is either going to go really well or fall flat on its face’ — and it went really well.”
His biggest fan was songwriter Kara DioGuardi, who had just recently joined the judges’ panel that season alongside original mainstays Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.
“They are who you think they are; they don’t change backstage,” Allen said. “Simon I didn’t really have a lot of time with backstage, but Kara was new to the show as well that year so I think she felt close to the contestants because she was an outsider as well. She was hanging out with us a lot and she was really great, very open and honest and just very encouraging.”
It all built to an underdog showdown with glam-rock phenomenon Adam Lambert, who many pundits were predicting to win — until host Ryan Seacrest read Allen’s name as the winner.
“Right before it happened, I went up to Adam and said, ‘I’m so happy for you. If you win this, there’s no hard feelings whatsoever,'” Allen said. “He said the same thing, so I think both of us were in a good mindset. We’re friends, so that made it easier. But I will say that I had no idea I was going to win…. [Adam] is so immensely talented and crushed it every single night, so for me to come out on top, I was not expecting that — and I think you could see that on my face.”
Since then, Lambert has found success touring with Queen, while Allen’s debut single “Live Like We’re Dying” went platinum in 2009. But the highest of highs couldn’t last for long.
On New Year’s Day 2013, Allen was involved in a head-on collision with his pregnant wife in the car. Both survived, but Allen shattered his wrist. The career-threatening injury required three surgeries over the next two years, forcing him to re-learn how to play the guitar.
“It was the toughest thing I’ve gone through,” Allen said. “It was insane. It was years of surgery and learning how to play again. But I think you either fold and buckle, or you persevere and find ways to turn all of the bad things that have happened to you into good things. I’d like to think that I’m a better player because of it, because I’ve spent so much time trying to get better and better than I was before. … Worse things have happened to many people in life.”
Today, Allen has clawed his way back to six studio albums in addition to his current Christmas tour. Having endured so much, the holidays are the perfect time to count his blessings.
“I think it’ll put you in the [holiday] spirit if you come out,” Allen said.
Click here for event details. Listen to our full conversation with “American Idol” Kris Allen below: