Kristopher Neil Allen (known as Kris Allen) was born on June 21, 1985 in Jacksonville, Arkansas to Kimberly and Neil Allen. He has one younger brother named Daniel who is a student and cheerleading coach at the University of Central Arkansas. Allen attended Murrell Taylor Elementary School, Fuller Middle School and Mills University Studies High School, where he was active in the school’s orchestra as a viola player and later went on to win a spot in his state’s all-state orchestra.
Along with the viola, Allen taught himself how to play the guitar at age 13, and is also proficient with the piano and the ukulele. In 2007, he self-produced an album entitled Brand New Shoes with college friends and bandmates Michael Holmes (drums) and Chase Erwin (bass). Songs from the album began being widely distributed during his time on Idol.
Allen is a devout Christian. He was a worship leader at New Life Church in Maumelle, Arkansas, as well as at the Chi Alpha campus ministry of the University of Central Arkansas, where he was a business major. He has done missionary work around the world, including in Burma, Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa, Spain and Thailand.
On September 26, 2008, he married longtime girlfriend Katy O’Connell Allen.
Allen auditioned for the eighth season of American Idol in Louisville, Kentucky with his brother Daniel, who didn’t make it to Hollywood. He performed “I Want You Back,” by The Jackson 5, during Hollywood week as part of a group named White Chocolate, which included fellow finalist and semi-finals roommate Matt Giraud. At the Idol Mansion, Allen was roommates with contestant Adam Lambert. According to the Us Weekly article about the Top 13, Allen stated, in regard to Lambert being a good fit, “We’re both neat.”
Allen was voted into the finals along with Lambert and Allison Iraheta on February 26, 2009. He has received many compliments throughout the competition for his folk-inspired interpretations of modern pop songs, and has played several instruments during his performances, including the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar, the keyboard, and the piano. Randy Jackson has compared him to Jason Mraz. His performance of “To Make You Feel My Love” as part of the Top 11 earned praise from the judges, with Simon Cowell commenting “I am genuinely beginning to think you have a shot of doing well in this competition.” On the Top 9 show, he performed his own arrangement of “Ain’t No Sunshine” on a keyboard, with a few musicians on stage, which earned praise from the judges. Cowell lauded it his “best performance so far.” On the first Top 7 night, he chose to sing the Oscar-winning song from the indie film Once. While Jackson described it as “pitchy from note one”, Kara DioGuardi declared it “one of your best moments ever.” Due to time constraints, Paula Abdul and Cowell did not comment. But on the following night’s results show, Cowell stated “Kris, you were brilliant.” On the second Top 7 show, Allen brought back the guitar for the fourth time and performed an original, acoustic version of “She Works Hard for the Money”, complete with bongo drums and the band on stage. This earned praise from all four judges, with Abdul remarking “There aren’t many men who are willing to shop in the women’s department. You shopped and found a perfect fit.” For his second Top 3 performance, Allen impressed the judges with an acoustic arrangement of Kanye West’s “Heartless”, prompting Jackson to state that he preferred it to West’s original and The Fray’s cover version. Simon Cowell agreed and said, “I had written you out of the competition but that has changed after that performance.”
And on the night of May 20, 2009, Kris Allen bested the highly-favored Adam Lambert to become the 8th American Idol. Kris is the fourth male contestant to win the show after Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks and David Cook.