Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville native is an American Idol

Leader staff writer

On a cool morning this past January, Mary Twitty walked into The Leader’s office with a news tip – a young man, born and raised in Jacksonville and now attending college in Conway, had made it to the Hollywood portion of “American Idol” tryouts.

On Wednesday, nearly five months later, that young man, Kris Allen, became the new American Idol.

“The show was amazing!” Twitty said of the finale that aired this week. “They (Kris’ parents) are so overwhelmed by the love everyone has for their son.”

Twitty said she received a text from Kris’ mother, Kim, saying, “I’m the mom of the American Idol.”

“All I could say when I read it was ‘I told you,’” Twitty said. “Everybody is just so happy and proud for him and his family. They’re such good people.”

Allen was born at the former Rebsamen Hospital to Neil and Kim Allen on June 21, 1985. Allen played T-ball on the Jacksonville youth baseball league with Twitty’s son. The families have known each other for years.

Allen attended kindergarten at Murrell Taylor Elementary School, where he met Chris Rodriguez. The pair have been friends since day one. They and their wives have gone on mission trips together.

His grandparents still reside in Jacksonville.

“I think it’s wonderful … what he’s done for the state of Arkansas,” said Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim.

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce presented Allen with a key to the city on May 7, when he returned to the state for his hometown celebration.

During an appearance at Riverfest Amphitheater the next day, Allen seemed overwhelmed by the number of fans who turned out. “I feel like I have the best fans in the world,” he told the crowd. “I’ve been to this place a lot and never seen this many people here. You guys are why I’m here.

“This is crazy,” he continued. “A few months ago you didn’t even know my name. You guys are great.”

Just shy of two weeks later, Allen appeared even more at awe when, at the end of a star-studded two-hour show, Ryan Seacrest said, “The American Idol 2009 is…Kris Allen!” It may be safe to say that there were few Arkansans who didn’t have their TVs tuned in for that moment.

It may also be safe to say that had Allen not won, he would have still gone home happy. He, as well as the other top contestants on this season’s show, got the chance to perform with some of music’s greatest. Allen performed with Kenny Chesney, and shortly before the revelation of the winner’s name, he and Adam Lambert – who also made the final two – took the stage.

The pair began singing the well-known anthem, “We are the Champions.”

They had sung the first few lines when the stage curtains were pulled back and rock legends Queen – minus the late Freddie Mercury – joined Allen and Lambert.

During Thursday’s meeting, the Jacksonville City Council unanimously declared a “Kris Allen Day.”

When that day will be is up in the air as it has to be coordinated between all of Allen’s other commitments, but July 25 is most likely the date as Allen and nine other Idol finalists will be in central Arkansas for an “American Idol” concert.

Alderman Reedie Ray made the suggestion, which was quickly and unanimously agreed on. Afterwards, most aldermen shared their Kris Allen stories or connections.

Allen lived in Jacksonville until about 18 months ago when he moved to Conway for college.

Alderman Linda Rinker was Allen’s assistant principal. Allen attended the same church as Alderman Marshall Smith, First Freewill Baptist (now known as Crossroads), where Smith was his choir director. Smith attended Allen’s wedding.

Allen lived behind Alderman Terry Sansing’s house and graduated with Sansing’s son.

Ray wants the city to post a sign or billboard at the southern entrance to the city on Hwy. 67/167 congratulating Allen and letting everyone know the star is from Jacksonville.

Amy Mattison, director of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, said Allen’s grandparents, who still live in Jacksonville, are behind the idea of a local Kris Allen Day and so is Allen’s mother.

Allen and his wife, Katy, reside in Conway, where they attend the University of Central Arkansas.