Although not the first contestant to play his own instrument on American Idol, Kris Allen benefitted more than most from the experience, and his coffeehouse singer/songwriter vibe earned him a first place finish in 2009. Pitted against powerhouse vocalist Adam Lambert during the show's finale, Allen emphasized his wide-ranging abilities as a musician, playing piano during a cover of "Ain't No Sunshine" and strumming the guitar for an acoustic take on Kanye West's "Heartless." The instrumental accompaniment paid off, as Allen won the competition on May 20, 2009.
Born in 1985 in Jacksonville, Arkansas, Kristopher Neil Allen embraced music at an early age. He took up the viola during middle school, earning a spot in Arkansas' all-state orchestra before teaching himself to play guitar several years later. While studying business at the University of Central Arkansas, he also focused on songwriting and recorded an EP, Brand New Shoes, with the help of two classmates. The EP's material showed traces of Jason Mraz's folk-pop. Moreover, it gave Allen enough confidence to audition for American Idol in mid-2008, and he returned early the following year as part of the show's cast.
Hailed as the competition's dark horse, Allen slowly amassed a TV following with performances of the Swell Season's "Falling Slowly," Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time," and Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money." Although he shared a room with Adam Lambert throughout the season, Allen proved to be the stylistic opposite of his contender, whose theatrical performances often contrasted with Allen's unassuming demeanor and laid-back, guitar-driven arrangements. Such differences contributed to Allen's first-place victory, and the singer hit the road shortly thereafter on the annual American Idol tour. He also prepped his debut album for release in late 2009, working with songwriters and producers including Eg White, Chris Daughtry, and David Hodges. The album's first single, "Live Like We're Dying," was released in September and peaked at number 89 on the singles charts, followed two months later by Allen's self-titled debut album.
Allen returned in 2012 with his sophomore album, Thank You Camellia. Purportedly named after his house in Los Angeles, the album found Allen working with a handful of producer/songwriters including former Sugarcult singer Tim Pagnotta, Nasri & Adam Messinger, and Boots Ottestad, among others. Included on Camellia was the lead-off single, "The Vision of Love."
Despite the relative success with his first two major-label releases, he parted ways with RCA that year. A holiday EP, Waiting for Christmas, was released at the end of the year and Allen continued to tour through 2013.
In 2014, Allen unveiled his fourth effort, Horizons, which he released on his own Dog Bear Records label. Letting You In arrived in 2016, and was his second consecutive release to debut in the Top 20 on Billboard's Independent chart. ~ Andrew Leahey