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From Conway to glory 

‘American Idol’ Kris Allen is an unknown music minister no more.

HOMETOWN HERO: Allen and wife cruise through Conway.
  • HOMETOWN HERO: Allen and wife cruise through Conway.

Today, without much effort, you can get online and read about Kris Allen's chest hair, learn that he had a rib surgically removed in junior high and see a video about his “young, effortless hairstyle.” And that's just a whiff of the exhaustive attention paid to the new American Idol, who three months ago, even after “Idol's” famously acerbic judge Simon Cowell signaled his legitimacy in the competition with, “I think the chicks are going to love you,” wasn't even the most famous Kris Allen on Google. That honor belonged to country singer Kris Allen, leader of the band Southern Thunder and owner of a flowing blonde mullet. Slightly farther back, say six months ago, even with a CD to his name and a host of club performances in Little Rock and Fayetteville under his belt, Allen wasn't known in Central Arkansas much farther than the campus of the University of Central Arkansas or the walls of New Life Church, where he served as assistant music minister.

But that's why we watch, right? To see the unknown rise to glory. Or rather, to lift the unknown to glory. We're invested because the “Idol” story is one of our most archetypal — a pop version of the American Dream. But mostly, we watch and we vote because we're a nation that devours celebrity by the Britney-load, and we can't resist the prospect of electing some better version to stardom.

Of course, there is that not insignificant contingent, undoubtedly saying “ ‘we' nothing, man,” who've never watched or who actively loathe “Idol.” But among the general population of TV viewers, “Idol” is king. Even after three straight seasons of declining viewership, this year the Fox series was 72 percent more popular than “Desperate Housewives,” the next most watched program among 18- to 49-year-olds.

In the show finale, before host Ryan Seacrest announced that Kris Allen was the new “American Idol,” he said that a record-breaking 100 million votes were cast in the final performance night. That's only 30 million votes shy of those cast in the last presidential election. A statistician — or maybe even a 7th grader — might argue that those numbers aren't analogous. “Idol” notoriously doesn't restrict the number of times one can vote, only the window of time in which votes are eligible. But riddle me this: Why shouldn't a person be able to vote over and over until his fingertips turn bloody? Don't 50 votes from 2,000,000 people each express an equal amount of affection as one vote from 100 million?

 

Don't answer that. Instead, consider the improbability of Kris Allen, 23-year-old former business major at UCA, coming anywhere close to the finale of “American Idol.” Leading up to season eight, more than 100,000 auditioned for the show in eight cities. Of the more than 10,000 who auditioned in Louisville, Ky., in January, Allen, by his telling, was one of the last to receive a ticket to audition. His brother Daniel had convinced him to give “Idol” a shot, and the Louisville audition was the only one in reasonable proximity that fit their schedules, though a gig at church the evening before forced the brothers to drive through the night. By the time Allen auditioned, he'd lost his voice. Adrenaline must've pushed him through several rounds with producers to an appearance in front of the four celebrity judges, where he sang the same song he'd sung at his wedding four months earlier, Donny Hathaway's take on Leon Russell's “A Song for You.” Next came those four words every “Idol” hopeful longs to hear: “You're going to Hollywood.”

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