Monday, March 23, 2009

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville native a week closer to win

Leader staff writer

For the past few weeks, people across the nation have been glued to the TV following the current season of “American Idol.” Arkansans have had a special interest in this season’s show, and his name is Kris Allen.

Allen, a Conway resident formerly of Jacksonville, has earned praise from the judges, even Simon Cowell. After Allen’s performance of Garth Brooks’ “To Make You Feel My Love” (written by Bob Dylan, Cowell remarked that he “thought it was terrific.”

Allen plays multiple instruments, including the guitar, piano and viola.He has made the Top 10. He has tackled such songs as “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5, “Everything” by Michael Buble and “Man in the Mirror” and “Remember the Time” by Michael Jackson.

The Jacksonville native, a student at University of Central Arkansas in Conway, released an album in 2007 titled “Brand New Shoes.” Allen wrote the music for the album. He lives in Conway with his wife, Katy. He is the son of Neil and Kim Allen of Maumelle, formerly of Jacksonville. His grandparents, Charles and Linda Wood, still live in Jacksonville.

“He’s a great singer,” said Jack-sonville Alderman Marshall Smith. “He might go all the way.”

Smith was Allen’s choir director when the Allen family attended church at First Freewill Baptist (now Crossroads Baptist) in Jacksonville. “He had a great voice, even when he was younger,” Smith said.

Smith and his wife, Edith, had known the Allens for a long time. “They’re great people.” According to Smith, Allen often performed solos and specials at church services.

“I’ve always been his biggest fan,” said Chris Rodriguez, a medical student at UAMS. He and Allen met in kindergarten at Murrell Taylor Elementary School in Jacksonville. “Kris is the nicest guy in the world.”

“He was good at school, good at sports,” said Rodriguez. “He was popular but he wasn’t arrogant.”

“He was really shy and didn’t want to sing, but we pushed him,” he said of Allen. The two were members of the same youth group at the church. “I always thought he would do very well. We’ve watched everything, seen every blog, talked to every person. We’re obsessed.”

He and his wife, Susan, gather with friends each Wednesday night to watch the result show.

“He’s 100 times more confident,” Rodriguez said. Allen sang at their wedding.

“We had this running joke, that if he sang at my wedding I would sing at his,” he said. “I did not, lucky for him. He’s an incredibly good Christian. He’s a great guy.”

“Music is his passion,” said his wife. “He sings at our church in Maumelle.” She has known Allen for five or six years. “My first interaction with him was on the mission trip to Spain,” she said.

A few years back, the Rodriguezes, dating at the time went on a mission trip with Allen to Spain and Morocco.

While on the trip, Allen sang some gospel for the missionary group after being cornered by his fellow travelers. “I thought, Oh my gosh!” said Susan. “I couldn’t believe it. He’s deserving. He’s humble.

“He knows he’s good,” she continued. “But I don’t think he knows how good.” Mrs. Rodriguez teaches at Fuller Junior High School, where Allen attended junior high.

Her students are excited about Allen. “They’ve made T-shirts,” she said. I’m so excited he’s got this opportunity. “The exposure is just a blessing.”

Did she think Allen would be a successful singer? “I did think that. I just didn’t know when,” she said.

The next episode of “American Idol” will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the Fox network.