Friday, May 22, 2009

Hometown Acoustic Rock Worship Leader Wins American Idol Competition

For the record I have not been following "American Idol". Stopped watching after the season where the cute Jasmine Trias (the one with the flower behind her ear) got kicked out :-) Not sure what season that was ...

Anyway once in a while I watch the show (if it is playing in the background) and I thought this guy was good. Did not realize he was a "worship pastor"! (never heard of that term either ...) Interesting ANS report and I wish Kriss all the best in his ministry ...

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hometown Acoustic Rock Worship Leader Wins American Idol Competition

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

LOS ANGELES, CA / CONWAY, AR (ANS) -- More than 100 million votes were cast in the American Idol final to catapult a Southern hometown Christian worship leader to stardom against a West Coast glam-rock guyliner who seemed to have the title all sewn-up from early days of the competition.

American Idol 2009 competition winner Kris Allen

In the end, America voted for quiet,mild mannered 23-year-old acoustic rock singer Kris Allen from Conway, Arkansas, who seemed shocked at the announcement by Idol host Ryan Seacrest at the season eight finale at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.

The underdog singer, who beat out the expected favorite, rocker Adam Lambert, looked stunned at the announcement that he had won the competition, saying: "I'm sorry, I don't even know what to feel right now. This is crazy," as he leaned on program host Ryan Seacrest to keep from staggering.

Allen is the worship pastor for the Chi Alpha campus ministry location at University of Central Arkansas and at New Life Church in Conway and Little Rock, Arkansas.

According to Peter Elliott, a veteran news and sports journalist who writes the blog, and who enjoys interviewing others about how God works in their lives and sharing that with readers, ministry colleagues describe Allen as "humble, compassionate and dedicated to God."

Elliott says American Idol finalist Kris Allen is a humble young man with a heart for Christian service according to two pastors who know him well.

Allen's rise to fame joining Danny Gokey (also a worship leader outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta in the Idol final four brought plenty of attention to Conway -- population 52,000 -- and the UCA campus.

Amid the excitement, Allen, 23, has used his faith and his marriage as cornerstones, Elliot writes.

"I think he's doing really well," said Matt Carpenter, 34, UCA Chi Alpha director and an ordained Assemblies of God pastor. "This is probably the biggest challenge he's faced, but I know him and (his wife) Katy and they are both dealing well with it.

"Kris is a guy who takes a lot of things in stride. He's not too dramatic."

Allen advanced out of the 'Idol' Louisville audition round and tried out along with his brother, who encouraged Kris to participate.

Elliott says Allen gained perspective on his faith by traveling on Chi Alpha mission trips to Spain, Morocco, Thailand, Mozambique and South Africa.

"Especially for the ministry here at UCA, we have done a lot of mission trips," Carpenter said. "We feel it is a deep core value to reach out to the poor and oppressed at all ends of the Earth, and I know this is what in Kris' heart too. "God gave Kris a heart for compassion and empathy, and to reach out to others."

Allen had been playing part-time at New Life before taking on a more permanent performance role in August 2007, said the church's worship pastor Brandon Shatswell. Fellow finalist Gokey is also a worship musician, hailing from Faith Builders International Ministries in Milwaukee, Elliottwrites.

"It's weird to think just last June he talked about going to do this," Shatswell said. "As soon as he said that, because of his talent, I knew his time here was going to be very, very limited.

"For a while he was able to come back and forth (from California). He is a really, really great friend and on the selfish side, sure, I'd like him to come around and sing and play with us. I know he has expressed to me that he just wants to be doing good music in whatever contract he is a part of."

Carpenter said Allen has returned to campus to help with worship even while he has been in Hollywood.

"Kris is an incredibly humble guy," he said. "He has led worship for us for years. He is not like a lot of worship leaders who tend to be prima donnas where it's half about his own spirituality and half about God's glory. Kris has always used his talent not to get glory for himself.

"When he tried out, it was more just to spend time with his brother than anything else. He has handled it with a lot of humility. From a faith standpoint, the show really has nothing to offer him that he doesn't already have. He has an incredible relationship with God and with his wife. He has great people around him and he uses that as a source of strength."

Elliott writes that Shatswell has seen the faith component in play as well.

"I think Kris and his family are mindful of their faith and it's definitely at the forefront," he said. "There have been situations arise with money provided for the family to travel and just the overall support. It has been an amazing time."

Carpenter also noticed a difference in local support for Allen of people who know him well as opposed to those who may be riding a popularity bandwagon.

"I think it's interesting for at least the people I know that know Kris well is that it's neat, and they support him, but it's not at some fanatical level," he said. "Part of this is just wanting what's best for Kris. Whether he is a star or not he's still my friend.

"Once you get a little distance away where people say, 'I know someone who knows Kris,' and that type of thing, it becomes a little more fanatical. Those of us who are a lot closer to him are proud of him and want what's best. It would be totally fine for him if he just came home."

Elliott said that Allen will be part of the summer concert tour all Idol finalists take part in and will almost undoubtedly release an album before the end of the year.

Would Allen be open to recording on something other than a Christian label? "Yes," Shatswell said. "I think he is open-minded about a particular genre or label."

Shatswell said New Life church has received attention because of Allen's success and agreed that his performance in front of large crowds may have helped him. New Life draws between 5,000 and 6,000 worshippers each Sunday between the two campuses where Allen has sung.

"I think the church is very, very excited and the community is very, very excited about what happens, but I don't think we have the mindset of what this necessarily does for us a church. We are pleased to have provided an environment that may have made him a little more prepared for performing in front of a large crowd," Shatswell said


In another blog entry, Elliott writes that Carpenter, director of the Chi Alpha ministry at the University of Central Arkansas where Allen was enrolled, says: "I don't think my prayer is any different than it has been all along. My prayer is God will be able to use it (the American Idol show) and Kris will use the platform He has given him.

"I pray for Kris that this doesn't change him," Carpenter said. "It really doesn't need to. I think Kris feels God has entrusted him with everything he needs in life. It's an incredible feeling to see him use his gifts and talents for God's glory."

Elliott says that for those who know Kris Allen the initial amazement over seeing someone you know gain fame so quickly has passed, but the excitement associated with it hasn't.

"Around church, overall, everyone is really excited," explained Brandon Shatswell, New Life's worship pastor, adding that during the past couple of weeks more and more people around church began thinking that Kris really was going to win.

"It's not quite the same as earlier on. It's not the same shock factor as at first of seeing someone you know in that position. It's not as unbelievable to people."

Shatswell has spoke to Allen since he advanced to the final.

"He said, 'Dude, I never thought it would end up like this,'" Shatswell said.

"In post-show interviews I saw where he said the (final three of himself, Lambert and Danny Gokey) would all have good careers. I think that's true and he knows that's what this is really all about is having that great start to a career, but yeah, he's excited to have a chance to win."

Allen saw the depth and breadth of local support when he returned home a couple of weekends ago.

Sonja Keith is part owner of 501 Advertising and Publishing and member of the Kris Allen Kick Awesome Task Force comprised of local business and community leaders. The group had a large role in working with American Idol production staff in pulling off the visit, which drew large crowds at several locations.

"I was at several events Kris attended and I heard him say more than once, 'This is nuts,' Keith said. "He was taken aback and surprised by the reaction. Kris is a pretty humble person and had no concept of the amount of support people were sending his way."

Elliott said the galvanizing of local support was something remarkable to see to for Rachel Dickerson, who has covered the story in recent weeks for the local newspaper, The Log Cabin Democrat.

"The turnout for the homecoming was pretty incredible, and I don't think that's an exaggeration," Dickerson said. "For the story I did I talked to people who waited outside the arena at UCA at 5 or 6 in the morning and waited all day to hear him play one song. The whole crowd demanded he played another song and he did. The parade through downtown was pretty wild, too."

'Idol' host Ryan Seacrest mentioned to Allen and Lambert that 88 million votes were cast after last week's Tuesday edition of the show with just one million separating the two of them. For Shatswell, the local show of support was more significant.

"To see the viewing parties every week and watch the hometown visit being planned with the number of people involved, I was just blown away," he said. "To see that persistent effort and see people working their tails off for Kris who have no relationship to him outside of watching the show is remarkable."

What happens next for Allen is a summer tour with other 'Idol' finalists and an inevitable record deal. The hope for Conway in particular and Arkansas in general is a perceptual shift, said Elliott.

"I think this is going to have a long-term positive effect," Keith said. "When I travel around the U.S. and especially outside of the country, most people associate the state with Bill Clinton. I think that may change and people will associate Arkansas with Kris. He is such a great ambassador for the community."

Shatswell wasn't quite as sure if Allen's success would cause any long-term perceptual changes about Arkansas, but he echoed Carpenter's hope that Allen remains the regular guy he knows him as.

"I've heard people say from early on that Kris is someone we can be proud of on any level," he said. "That is for sure."


After Wednesday night's final, Elliott wrote that Kris Allen's stunning victory on the season finale of American Idol came as quite a surprise.

"Adam Lambert had been the front-runner for months, but like the horse that charges late in the race -- does the Kentucky Derby ring a bell? -- Allen came on fast and strong at the end," Elliott writes.

He believes that Allen may have split the 'mainstream' vote with Danny Gokey, nudging him in to the finals.

Allen's homespun appeal apparently was the ticket that carried the day, Elliott writes.

"As shocked as I may be, Allen has a door of wide-open musical possibilities. His worship musician background could lead to a folksy brand of contemporary Christian music, although that genre seems in the short-term more likely for Gokey. Seeing Gokey cover a Casting Crowns tune on his first album, for example, would be a natural fit."

Elliott believes that Allen "could conceivably go down a country music road. He has the look and the guitar-playing flair, as his duet Wednesday with Keith Urban illustrated."

The blogger says the most important thing for Allen as his faith-walk begins a whole new dimension in stardom is to stay true to who he is.

As Matt Carpenter, director of the Chi Alpha ministry at the University of Central Arkansas where Allen performed, told Everyday Christian: "I pray for Kris that this doesn't change him. It really doesn't need to. I think Kris feels God has entrusted him with everything he needs in life. It's an incredible feeling to see him use his gifts and talents for God's glory."


Elliott also writes that Kris Allen and Adam Lambert made it as clear as they probably could Monday in Los Angeles, 'Don't focus on our faith perspective when you vote tonight for the American Idol winner,' they said, loud and clear.

According to Elliott, Allen had the most to gain by appealing to a Christian audience. "While he may do that during his career, for now he wants the focus on his voice,' he wrote.

"For me, I hope that having the Christian vote doesn't help with anything," Allen said, according to the Associated Press. "I hope it has to do with your talent and the performance that you give and the package that you have. It's not about religion and all that kind of stuff."

Writing for , Ramin Setoodeh, says the Christian factor played a huge role in Allen's winning of the coveted American Idol title.

Setoodeh says that last week, rocker Adam Lambert's groupies, ".overlooked a possible roadblock to the title. Idol is the No. 1 show on TV at least in part because it's so family-friendly, and it also appeals to a large demographic of Christian viewers.

"These are the same fans who made High School Musical and Dancing With the Stars huge TV hits.

"Many of Idol's previous winners -- Jordin Sparks, Carrie Underwood, Ruben Studdard -- are devout Christians. Coincidence? Perhaps. But we don't know much about Lambert's faith, and that might hurt him with Christian voters. He could be extremely religious, but he's kept his religious beliefs quiet."

Setoodeh says that Lamberts two competitors, on the other hand, "are a different story.

"Kris Allen and Danny Gokey both introduced themselves as devout Christians who are very involved in their churches, and both have gotten substantial interest from Christian blogs and websites. In February, multifaith website reported that: 'Before Idol, Danny Gokey was the praise and worship leader at both Faith Builders International Ministry locations, in Beloit, Wisconsin, for the morning service and then he headed to Milwaukee for the afternoon service, as well as doing mid-week services. Faith Builders is his home church.' "

Setoodeh also says said: "Kris Allen has been working with the worship ministry at his home church, New Life Church in Arkansas, on both the Conway and Little Rock campuses since 2007. He is also involved with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries at the University of Central Arkansas."

He continued: "I wrote about how Adam (who hasn't spoken about his religious beliefs on the show) might be hurt by the fact that he was going up against two devout Christian finalists, Kris and Danny Gokey.

"Most of Gokey's fans probably ended up voting for Kris over Adam, giving him the boost he needed to win. You could say -- as many of you have in the comments -- that religion is an irrelevant criterion for judging a singing competition. But the fact remains that Idol is one of TV's most family-friendly shows, and it draws a large number of Christian viewers. Five out of seven of the past Idol winners have been very vocal about their Christian faith. Kris Allen had the edge here."

The Log Cabin Democrat at says that on Wednesday night's finale, the top 14 Idol contestants performed together, and several of those who made it through more eliminations performed additional songs.

Allen performed "Kiss a Girl" with country music artist Keith Urban, and Lambert performed with Kiss. Top three contestant Danny Gokey performed with Lionel Richie. Other artists who performed included Cyndi Lauper, Carlos Santana, Queen Latifah, Rod Stewart and Steve Martin. Allen and Lambert teamed up with Queen to perform "We Are the Champions."

The internet newspaper stated: "Following the announcement that Allen was the winner, the crowd at Simon Park began screaming, jumping up and down, waving signs and generally celebrating. They did not stop for Allen's acceptance speech when he received the award or when he sang his final song.

"As the crowd began to disperse, cheers could still be heard around the park. Cars honked their horns as they drove around downtown."

According to the website, Kristopher Neil Allen was born June 21st, 1985, grew up in Jacksonville, Arkansas but now lives in Conway, attended College Station Elementary, Fuller Junior High, and Mills University Studies High School as a student in the gifted and talented program.

The site says Allen leads worship at New Life Churches in Central Arkansas and is a member of Chi Alpha at the University of Central Arkansas, and has taken part in missionary work in Morocco, Spain, Mozambique, South Africa, Thailand, and Burma.

Allen can play a variety of instruments, including the guitar, piano, viola, and ukulele, and started playing the viola in 4th grade, became All-State in high school and received opportunities to play in college orchestras, but declined. He is a fan of the Packers and the Braves, and even played varsity baseball throughout high school.

He is married to Katy Allen, a former homecoming queen at the University of Arkansas and is a business major at the UCA. He has one sibling, Daniel, has a Shetland sheepdog named Elvis (well, at least his mom and dad, Kim and Neil, do) -- and has one less rib that had to be surgically removed while he was in junior high school.


A blog entry posted in April of this year, entitled "An Amazing Story About Kris," at , says: "We heard a story about Kris that we felt we just had to share. As some of you may know, Kris has been on mission trips across the world to Spain, Morocco, South Africa, Mozambique, Burma, and Thailand.

"While the most predominant story that has circulated on the Internet has been Kris's near death experience in Morocco when he fell gravely ill, this story is heart-warming and telling of Kris's character. Please circulate this to your friends and family.

"Before traveling to Thailand, Kris decided that he wanted to bring along his new $700 guitar, a beautiful Takamine, that his parents had recently given him. Of course, Kris's parents thought he should leave his prized-possession at home and go without this guitar. Promising to keep it safe, Kris chose to take the Takamine.

"During his trip across Southeast Asia, Kris managed to transport the guitar unharmed. But one day, Kris attended a worship service at a large refugee camp in Thailand. There was a local girl leading worship playing a guitar, though her guitar wasn't compatible with the plug for the amps and most of the crowd had difficulty hearing. Without complete knowledge of why or what he was doing, Kris began to cry; and, feeling moved to act, he approached the stage and the girl. He laid down his guitar and plugged in his new, expensive guitar into the amp and walked away.

"Kris later called his parents, worried that they would be upset with him for having given away his new Takiname guitar. But, of course, the Allens were simply moved by Kris's gesture and proud of the man they had raised. Now, on American Idol, Kris has received many free gifts from clothing designers and from the show, but none of which are more meaningful than a number of new, Takamine guitars."

The blog includes this quote from Kris's campus minister who led the mission trip: "The guitar that they had at the Karen refugee camp outside of Mae Sot Thailand was missing pegs and I think it only had 4 strings. Also, they were unable to tune it."

The blogger concludes: "Definitely a great story that speaks to Kris' character."


New Life Church:

Chi Alpha:

Kris Allen site at American Idol:

Conway Log Cabin Democrat photo gallery:

501 Life photo gallery:

** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. Michael has traveled to Albania and the former Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany and the former Czechoslovakia, Israel,and Canada. He has reported for ANS from Jordan, China, Russia, Jamaica, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- Michael Ireland Media Missionary (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.'

1 comment:

  1. i wish Kris would embrace his victory better, but maybe he just needs some time for it all to soak in... In any case he'd better not wait too long, Adam is already swooping in to steal his thunder