'American Idol' Champ Kris Allen Discusses New Album 'Horizons,' Remembers Michael Johns

Kris Allen: The Billboard Cover Q&A
Eric Ogden

Kris Allen

It’s less than a week before the release date of his new album, Horizons, and American Idol season eight winner Kris Allen is like a kid on Christmas Eve.

The 29-year old singer had just released a live stream of the collection on YouTube, and stayed up into the wee hours reading fan reaction on the Internet. While he excitedly waited to see which songs were emerging as fan favorites, he was most amused by one question about who the mysterious vocalist on one song was hitting an extraordinarily low note.

“It was me, singing,” he laughed. “I was sitting there on Twitter before going to bed and watching people’s comments and that meant the world, you know?”

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Horizons is Allen’s third release since winning Idol in 2009, and the first one he's putting out independently -- on his Dogbear Records. While he admits that going out on his own as his own CEO, and being in charge of hiring promotions and distribution people, is a challenge, he feels like he has a lot more control in “calling the shots.”

Says Allen: “It’s a lot more work, but because of that I have more ownership than before," he said. 

The Aug. 12 release of Horizons promises to be a fulfilling moment for a man who survived a car crash last year. During the head-on collision, Allen’s wrist was broken and as he recovered, he had to re-learn the way he approached making music. The result can be heard throughout Horizons, particularly in his new finger-picking style of guitar playing, which is prominent in the final mixes.

“I’ve been playing with my fingers a lot more because of my wrist,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a different way to play and some of those songs  were written when my hand was in a cast so all I had was my fingers. I think it made me a bit more melodic than just strumming a bunch of chords.”

The first song he wrote in that style, “Beautiful & Wild,” was inspired by impending fatherhood (he's now dad to one-year old son, Oliver). “He wasn’t even born yet, but it was one of those songs where the lyrics just kind of floated into my head," says Allen.

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Once songs started flowing, Allen reached out to Civil Wars and Switchfoot producer Charlie Peacock and was surprised to get an immediate response. As Allen recalls: “We met on a Sunday in Nashville, went over to his place… we didn’t even play any music; We just talked about life and what I wanted to do with this record. I think we both knew this was going to be a good thing.”

Peacock's goal with the album was to bring Allen's voice and his evolving guitar style to the forefront, something that he felt was hidden in his previous rock releases. Allen also adds that his songwriting skills got sharper.

"When I started songwriting I was terrible — so bad," says the Arkansas native. "It wasn’t the thing I was really good at and I would like to think that now I can hold my own. I know how to craft a song and be true to myself and not be afraid to say things. It’s been a process and I feel like I got closer on the second record and figured out some things."

Allen says that Peacock also brought something else to the table: “amazing musicians” such as Russian vocalist Lenachka, who is featured on the intimate single, “Prove It To You.”

“She is just an incredible singer and I love her vibe,” he says. “I think we sang this song three times and then we were done. It’s a really simple song. There’s not a lot to it and she came in and made it a hundred times better. “

Peacock served as a good sounding board for Allen, who at first toyed with keeping the song “Young Love (Paul Simon)” as a performance-only piece. “I’m a little ADD when it comes to songs,” he explains. “I had this song for a little bit and played it a bunch live, and Charlie wanted to record it. And it was cool because it’s different than most songs. It doesn’t have any structure whatsoever. It’s a really great introduction for the record."

Other songs sure to surprise fans of Allen include the soulful, piano-driven song “Lost,” one of the first written at Peacock’s house. While Allen says the song — written as an answer to people who are always “telling you you are not where you should be or not where you thought you’d be” — has a little bit of “snark” to it, but isn’t intended to be rude. “It is the only song like it on the record,” he says.

“In Time,” he admits, is his most personal tracks, detailing his struggles after his accident. “It was a message to myself, but it is a really universal message that sometimes when things go bad, you have to take that time to let it get better,” he says. “It’s not going to immediately get there, and it was something that I needed to hear as far as things that I went through in the past year-and-a-half.”

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Perhaps “In Time” can help others heal as well. On Aug. 2, the Idol community was rocked by news of the death of season seven finalist, Michael Johns -- Allen, among them. “One of my best experiences was hanging out with [Michael] at a Bruce Springsteen concert," he recalls. "He and his wife were always so warm to me and my family. He was a super fun dude to hang out with. I can’t imagine what his family is going through. It’s really sad to see something like that happen because you don’t see it coming and you can’t prepare for it. My prayers go out to his family. If something like that happened to someone on my season that I had spent the whole year with, there are so many people from that season, like David Cook and Brooke White, and those people knew him really, really well. When something like that happens with someone you spent the craziest time in your life with, it’s so sad.”

Speaking of his fellow season eight alums, Allen says Allison Iraheta is “killing it” as a backup singer for Rickey Minor’s band, as well as fronting her own group, Halo Circus. Says Allen: "I felt like she was the best singer ... on the show. Now she is so much better, which is scary. I’m proud of her.”

As for runner-up Adam Lambert’s triumphant turn touring with Queen this summer, Allen admits he hasn't caught the show, but adds, "I want to see it really bad. I’m a big Queen fan and I’m also an Adam fan and I’m sure he’s just perfect for the job.”

As for his own touring plans, Allen says he will stay on the road into the fall and beyond the announced dates, but can’t say exactly where yet. And for fans who loved the covers he did on his Out Alive  tour, Allen teases that there are more to come. Just don’t expect him to do any John Mayer or Jason Mraz songs. “Those are really obvious," he says. "I try to stick to all the girl covers, because nobody ever thinks that a guy is going to do, like, a Katy Perry song." 

Can we expect an Ariana Grande number in the set? Says Allen: "It could happen.”

Kris Allen will host a release party for Horizons with a 9 p.m. EDT show Aug. 12 on stageit.com.

  • This article originally appeared in THR.com.

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