Allen is the worship pastor for the Chi Alpha campus ministry location at University of Central Arkansas and at New Life Church in Conway and Little Rock, Ark.
His rise to fame joining Danny Gokey, Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta on Tuesday’s “Idol” final four has brought plenty of attention to Conway–population 52,000–and the UCA campus.
Amid the excitement, Allen, 23, has used his faith and his marriage as cornerstones.
“I think he’s doing really well,” said Matt Carpenter, 34, UCA Chi Alpha director and an ordained Assemblies of God pastor. “This is probably the biggest challenge he’s faced, but I know him and (his wife) Katy and they are both dealing well with it.
“Kris is a guy who takes a lot of things in stride. He’s not too dramatic.”
Allen advanced out of the “Idol” Louisville audition round and tried out along with his brother.
He gained perspective on his faith by traveling on Chi Alpha mission trips to Spain, Morocco, Thailand, Mozambique and South Africa.
“Especially for the ministry here at UCA, we have done a lot of mission trips,” Carpenter said. “We feel it is a deep core value to reach out to the poor and oppressed at all ends of the Earth, and I know this is what in Kris’ heart too.
“God gave Kris a heart for compassion and empathy, and to reach out to others.”
Allen had been playing part-time at New Life before taking on a more permanent performance role in August 2007, said the church’s worship pastor Brandon Shatswell. Fellow finalist Gokey is also a worship musician, hailing from Faith Builders International Ministries in Milwaukee.
“It’s weird to think just last June he talked about going to do this,” Shatswell said. “As soon as he said that, because of his talent, I knew his time here was going to be very, very limited.
“For a while he was able to come back and forth (from California). He is a really, really great friend and on the selfish side, sure, I’d like him to come around and sing and play with us. I know he has expressed to me that he just wants to be doing good music in whatever contract he is a part of.”
Carpenter said Allen has returned to campus to help with worship even while he has been in Hollywood.
“Kris is an incredibly humble guy,” he said. “He has led worship for us for years. He is not like a lot of worship leaders who tend to be prima donnas where it’s half about his own spirituality and half about God’s glory. Kris has always used his talent not to get glory for himself.
“When he tried out, it was more just to spend time with his brother than anything else. He has handled it with a lot of humility. From a faith standpoint, the show really has nothing to offer him that he doesn’t already have. He has an incredible relationship with God and with his wife. He has great people around him and he uses that as a source of strength.”
Shatswell has seen the faith component in play as well.
“I think Kris and his family are mindful of their faith and it’s definitely at the forefront,” he said. “There have been situations arise with money provided for the family to travel and just the overall support. It has been an amazing time.”
Carpenter has also noticed a difference in local support for Allen of people who know him well as opposed to those who may be riding a popularity bandwagon.
“I think it’s interesting for at least the people I know that know Kris well is that it’s neat, and they support him, but it’s not at some fanatical level,” he said. “Part of this is just wanting what’s best for Kris. Whether he is a star or not he’s still my friend.
“Once you get a little distance away where people say, ‘I know someone who knows Kris,’ and that type of thing, it becomes a little more fanatical. Those of us who are a lot closer to him are proud of him and want what’s best. It would be totally fine for him if he just came home.”
That is unlikely.
Allen will be part of the summer concert tour all Idol finalists take part in and will almost undoubtedly release an album before the end of the year.
“Would he be open to recording on something other than a Christian label? Yes,” Shatswell said. “I think he is open-minded about a particular genre or label.”
New Life will be hosting a viewing party for the show Tuesday. Shatswell said the church has received attention because of Allen’s success and agreed that his performance in front of large crowds may have helped him. New Life draws between 5,000 and 6,000 worshippers each Sunday between the two campuses where Allen has sung.
“I think the church is very, very excited and the community is very,” Shatswell said. “Very excited about what happens, but I don’t think we have the mindset of what this necessarily does for us a church. We are pleased to have provided an environment that may have made him a little more prepared for performing in front of a large crowd.”
Watch parties are also the norm at UCA. Carpenter said many people affiliated with Chi Alpha are watching in small groups.
“There are definitely large watch parties here at the school, and I know some people will go an support him that way,” he said. “A lot of his close friends will get together on a smaller level. I’ll watch it home with my wife and three kids.”
He joked: “I actually want it to be quiet enough I can hear the singing. Our boys go through these little idiosyncratic patterns in how they do things thinking it will help Kris to advance. It’s pretty comical.”
New Life Church: http://www.newlifechurch.tv/
Chi Alpha: http://www.xauca.com/
Kris Allen site at American Idol: http://www.americanidol.com/contestants/season_8/kris_allen/