Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Never Underestimate the ALLENation

It all seems so natural now.
The lovable underdog who slips gracefully past the competition to take it all in the end.
But looking back from inside the Little Fan base That Could, it was a thrilling, passion-filled uphill climb from obscurity that exceeded all logical expectations.

Aside from a short audition-footage blip in the early episodes, Kris Allen first appeared to the Idol world in the infamous group round as part of the friendly and talented group "White Chocolate." By now lists of the Top 36 had leaked, and anyone seeing Kris for the first time joined an already buzzing fan base known as the "ALLENation." Kris would be shown mere seconds more during Idol's Season 8 pre-taped footage, but the foundation had already been set in place.

I was one of these members. Searching desperately for the contestant I would get behind, I combed the leaked list of the Top 36 as contestant after contestant appeared onscreen before me. It took just three lines of a 4-contestant group performance to make up my mind. The voice hooked me before the measure had ended, and I was from that moment forward, a Kris Allen fan.

Prior to Allen's "debut" in Group 2, I was asked by a coworker which contestant I liked in that group. I said to her "My favorite out of all 36 is Kris Allen. you won't know who he is, but I'm teling you- watch out for this guy." Just two short months later, the same coworker and I would share a laugh at just how right I had been.
I had a similar experience with a division of the ALLENation on myspace- I was asked by a woman in Arkansas to collect photos of friends and family holding up signs of support for Kris that were later put into a book and given to him personally. Sixteen of my closest friends and I made sure Kris knew that Boston did indeed love Kris Allen. ;-)

Anyone familiar with Idol knows that screen time plays a huge part in the first voting rounds. those who missed Kris Allen's Idol "debut," and therefore had no idea who he was, quickly played him off as "cannon fodder"- that is, a contestant inserted as a guaranteed cast-off to serve as a buffer for the bigger Idol stars. In other words, they decided that he didn't matter. Kris' charismatic, infectious performance of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" was enough to get him into the top 12, and what ensued likely set him off on the path to victory.

That night had been my first in 7 years of Idol viewership that I picked up my phone to vote. I voted the entire two hours, checking feverishly on the controversial DialIdol website and panicking because - as would become the norm - DialIdol had Kris out of the running. But when the results were read the following night, and I reveled in a state of stunned, overwhelmed shock, I became fully and irreversabily invested in my contestant. The very next night, I bought a Kris Allen button on cafepress so that no one would ever have to ask who I was behind.
I made weekly ads. I threw myself into heated debates. I voted every minute of every available hour.

Why? Because it was fun. A rush. An excitement at seeing how thins snowballed. And boy, did they ever snowball from there.

What happened in the following weeks is something lost in the retrospect of victory. For every doubter, every voice who wrote him off and counted him out, came an ever growing and energized wave from the multiplying ALLENation. And as the fan base grew, so did public attention on the multi-talented singer/songwriter from Arkansas. And with every stellar performance, America began to fall in love with Kris Allen.

I can recall with humor reading an Idol theorist who underestimated the magnitude of the ALLENation as a voting fan base. Numbers alone could not define Kris' fan base. We may not have been as numerous, but we were loud, at times crazy, and bursting with passion. We had a mission, and no one was going to tell us no.

Of course, this simplification ignores the brilliant musicianship that drove the fan base. In his time on idol, Kris delivered back to back solid performances, surprising and pleasing the American voters each week with his creativity and intelligent choice of song. Even in his most under appreciated moments- the beautiful, brilliant "Falling Slowly," for example - Kris managed to create Idol moments which will not soon be matched.

He was honest and true. Open, relatable. The kind of guy you wished you could have 5 minutes with, if only to be touched by his giving, free spirit. He has a love for people and for touching others [something which, as a childcare provider since the age of 14, I hold dear to my heart].
He could turn an old song on its head and make it exciting and new and fresh. It was impossible to not love this man- I defy anyone to give me even one reason why they would.

He challenged the American Idol formula, proving that talent and drive can overcome the dredges of over baked Reality TV. That pushing the envelope and surprising people can be done with grace and subtlety. That a kid from Arkansas with no professional resume can still win it all.
That it's not just about vocals, but about raw, uncompromised musicality.
That the world can still be touched without flair, without flash, but with pure, honest heart.
That a real difference can be made.

This fall, Kris Allen will release his major label debut- and we'll all be waiting to push him to the top once more.

It's like I said just before Group 2 of the Season 8 semi-finals:
Never underestimate the ALLENation. =)

[Kris Allen promo ads I made each week - click for full-sized view]

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Michael Sarver - A New Perspective

As an American Idol fan, it is easy to get caught up in the politics, the drama, and the favoritism that comes with being a viewer. This is especially difficult when you find a favorite early, since every other contestant becomes someone in the way of said contestant's victory.

I have well professed thus far my primary loyalty to Kris Allen and, as a "one-man girl," never really let myself take to anyone else. However, post-Idol I have been given a new perspective on the other nine finalists joining Allen on the annual cross-country tour. One such contestant is Michael Sarver.

Sarver was best known on the show as the "blue collar family man." He had a gentle Texas charm and an adorable family back home to go with it. It was impossible not to root for this guy even a little. Like so many early finalists, however, Sarver got lost amid a flurrying class of big voices, big personalities, and daring song choices to a respectable 10th place finish, earning him a spot on the tour.

It's a shame that the Idol recordings are released after voting- for understandable reasons, of course- because Sarver may have seen a very different ending. His Idol recordings flow with sweet, soulful vocals that carry his song selections through with seemingly flawless ease. His voice builds with a pleasant sincerity that somehow got lost on the live shows. Sounding just as natural with a country twang on "Aint' Goin' Down" as he does slipping through a boyband-reminiscent rendition of Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone," [which, as a product of the boyband era, excites me to no end ;-)] Sarver's versatility pleads his case far beyond the stretches that Idol ever could.

I became a fan of Michael's after following him on Twitter. An avid "tweeter," Michael reaches out to his fans on a regular basis, providing them with details and unabashed opinions on all kinds of topics and happenings. He will readily defend his family and any member of his Idol "family" and speaks often of missing family back home. In the sordid, jaded world of entertainment, this attitude is both refreshing and endearing. I hope none of these 10 ever lose it.

In the absence of traditional Idol competition, I have gained a new respect and excitement for the man from Texas. I wait excitedly to hear him open the show with his take on two incredible songs. More than that, however, I am excited to hear what Sarver does in the future. You can be sure that I'm listening in. =)

Listen to Michael Sarver's take on You Are Not Alone - Michael Jackson