Kris Allen: The Billboard Cover Q&A
'American Idol' season-eight champ talks about his new album, his upcoming tour - and what he learned from Wikipedia. Plus: The Adam Lambert Billboard cover feature and video.
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One year ago, Kris Allen was attending the University of Central Arkansas, playing gigs at local bars and adjusting to life as a newlywed. Now, thanks to "American Idol," he's enough of a brand name that his major-label debut is self-titled.
"Kris Allen" (19 Recordings/Jive) was released Nov. 17, and odds are good that Allen can build off his digital single sales success from "American Idol." To date, Allen has sold 1.1 million copies of tracks he performed on the show, according to Nielsen SoundScan, lead by his version of the show's coronation song "No Boundaries" with 312,000. Allen sold more total "Idol" tracks than runner-up Adam Lambert (997,000) or fourth-place finisher Allison Iraheta (79,000).
"The exposure an up-and-coming artist receives from 'American Idol' is nothing short of amazing," RCA/Jive Label Group chairman/CEO Barry Weiss says. "Where else in today's difficult music industry can one get five years of artist development, artist loyalty and public awareness achieved in a short five months?"
The first single from the album, "Live Like We're Dying," is being worked to top 40 and hot AC radio and has sold 98,000 copies, according to SoundScan. Jive Label Group GM/executive VP Tom Carrabba says Allen will have 13 TV appearances between now and New Year's Eve. "We have 'Idol' fans and young girls as big supporters, but I think we can also attract moms and guys who are going to respect his live performance," he says.
Much of Allen's success on "Idol" derived from his ability to insert his skills on guitar and piano into his performances, creating affable interpretations of songs like OneRepublic's "Apologize" and Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine." For his debut album, Allen takes a similar approach, relying on his musicality for a collection of guitar-driven pop.
Video Above: Kris sat down for an interview with Billboard shortly after winning 'American Idol' in May.
It's been a pretty intense time for you, going from winning "Idol" to the tour to the recording of the album. You co-wrote eight of the songs on the album, and you have a solo writing credit on one of them. How did you manage all that work on the road?
Your mind has to switch over from two different things. When you're on tour, you're trying to get the crowd involved and really sing and perform to them. When you're going to write and be in the studio, it's like, "Now I have to think about me." That's the mind-set you have to work with. I keep a journal, and maybe I'll take something from that-but when I'm writing a song I'll usually just be playing around on my guitar. More than anything, I just try to capture a moment.
You have a solo writing credit on "Red Guitar." What was your inspiration?
I bought a red guitar for my wife for her birthday and she never played it [laughs], so we ended up sticking it on the wall in our house-it was a horrible guitar, just like a $50 guitar-but it was a good house decoration. And one day I picked it up and tuned it and started playing it, and this song just became kind of a metaphor for how I feel about my wife. It was nice to get that one on the album because it was something from before the "Idol" stuff and I feel like it's an amazing song. It shows who I am as a songwriter and as a musician.
On the album, you worked with everyone from Switchfoot's Jon Foreman to producer Mike Elizondo. Is there anyone out there you'd like to collaborate with?
It would be fun to write with Adele, actually. She seems like a fun girl to write with. I'm still new in the music business-it was funny, they would be like, "You're going to write and produce with this guy," and I'd be like, "OK!" I didn't know who it was, so I would look them up on Wikipedia. When I went to work with Mike Elizondo, I had no idea who he was. I went on the Internet and it was like-Dr. Dre, Eminem, Switchfoot, Maroon 5, Fiona Apple and a bunch of people, and I was like, "What's he doing with me?" [laughs] I ended up going to his house many, many times and working on a lot of songs with him.
How did fans respond when you previewed a few of the songs off the album at a tailgate party for a Miami Dolphins game in October?
"Can't Stay Away" is a really, really fun song to perform, really funky, really groovy. I think people can really get into it. It was kind of crazy, because the first time anybody heard that song it was in that crowd-and people started singing along. That's a good thing. I had a huge smile on my face the whole time.
What was it like filming the video for the first single, "Live Like We're Dying"?
It's a song that has a really good message-that we only have so much time, let's make the most of it. It's definitely got one of the choruses where I can picture people rolling down the windows of their cars and singing along to it.
The video looks great. It was really fun shooting it-we shot it from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. so it was an all-night thing with no breaks. [The shoot was] set up like a digital clock, but it's huge, it's this monstrous thing-like 25 feet tall and who knows how long. I get to hold a flare, which was pretty cool. I ended up throwing it at people on set. [laughs]
On the show, you always made a point to complement your singing with playing an instrument, which is something the TV audience really responded to. Did you make that same connection on the album?
Most of the songs are very guitar- and piano-driven. I was pushing really hard to make sure it had that organic feel to it, which I also really wanted to have on the show. Obviously, you've got to amp it up a little bit-like Gavin McGraw or Jason Mraz would.
On "American Idol," the spotlight was always on you and Adam Lambert. Simon Cowell kept trying to set up a rivalry, and now you have albums coming out within a week of each other.
That's the thing-we're going to go through at least the first part of our careers doing everything back to back. We were on the show throughout the whole time, then we were on the tour, and now we're coming out with albums. I feel like we're always going to have this time of our lives, we're going to share it, and we're going to be able to go through it together. We know exactly what the other is going through.
Did you watch "American Idol" while it was on the air?
I actually did not watch myself. I just couldn't. It's too much. I'm a little bit hard on myself, so even if the judges were really nice I'd be like, "Dude, that was bad."
What did you learn from the "American Idol" tour that you can apply to your own tour?
It's a lot of work. You kind of have to prep yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, because it's crazy. More than anything I think it will be [the lesson of] making the most of every moment. We're only going to be in those cities once and those people only get to see one show-I think that you have to give it your all every night. I always loved when we were on tour and I came off the stage just drenched in sweat.
I'm going to do some Christmas shows for radio, and after that we're going to start rehearsing through February. I don't know exactly what we're going to do yet on tour; we may do a college, small club kind of thing, which would be really fun. We may get on an arena tour as well; maybe a little combination of both. We're going to tour until we can't tour anymore.
Who inspires you?
I just watched "This Is it" last night. Michael Jackson was the biggest star the world has ever seen-he put so much into everything; a lot of attention to detail. I want to do that. I want to pay that kind of attention to detail in everything-in music, visually-all of that.