What Happened to Kris Allen, the ‘American Idol’ Star Who Defeated Queen’s Adam Lambert?
When fans look back at Season 8 of American Idol, most conjure up thoughts of Adam Lambert. The reality program was the singer’s first introduction to a worldwide audience, showcasing the future Queen frontman as a truly unique vocal talent.
What many forget is that Lambert didn’t win the reality-singing competition that year; he was actually runner-up to Kris Allen.
While Lambert was earning TV watchers' attention with his flamboyance and bravado, Allen proved to be a very different kind of performer. Indeed, the Arkansas native with a slight Southern drawl came across as an anti-rockstar – humble, unassuming and with minimal swagger. This aw-shucks persona annoyed Simon Cowell, the always-opinionated Idol judge.
“I think part of the problem, Kris, is you,” Cowell said during Allen’s initial audition. “Because you don’t have a huge amount of personality. And your modesty is actually putting me off a little bit.”
Still, it was Allen’s voice that eventually won over the judges and viewers at home. Round by round, he delivered memorable performances with original takes on songs from various genres. Notable examples include a rousing rendition of the Bill Withers classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” and an acoustic version of the Kanye West chart-topper “Heartless.”
Watch Kris Allen Perform 'Heartless' on 'American Idol'
Behind the scenes, Lambert and Allen became good friends. They developed a mutual admiration for one other’s talent, and Lambert later admitted to a slight crush on his fellow Idol competitor.
They would eventually become finalists and on May 20, 2009, each sang on the season eight finale. Part of the night’s festivities included a performance that paired Allen and Lambert with the remaining members of Queen for a rendition of “We Are the Champions.”
Watch Kris Allen and Adam Lambert Perform With Queen
"Just meeting them for the first time, it was so surreal. I don't even think I realized the weight of the moment until after the fact," Lambert said of his first performance with Queen in the 2019 ABC documentary The Show Must Go On: The Queen & Adam Lambert Story. "You're preparing for the finale of a big show like that and the week of rehearsals is a whirlwind, and your head's spinning."
Queen were immediately taken by Lambert's talent and charisma, to such a degree that they later admitted they had to take pains not to show any favoritism. "It was quite odd, because they're both really good singers, but there's some kind of chemistry already between us and Adam, it was just instant," guitarist Brian May recalled in The Show Must Go On. "So it was so easy just to play off Adam, and I think we sort of consciously made an effort so that we wouldn't kind of favorite anyone. But there was that feeling with Adam, like, this kind of does work."
Lambert's mother Leila also immediately understood something special had been discovered. "I was sitting in the front row and he looked me in the eye and said, 'I really wanted to win,' and I mouthed to him, 'you did.'" While somewhat disappointed, Lambert realized it too: "I knew that in my way I had won, for myself, for my life." Two years later, after Lambert had successfully established a solo career, he took the stage as Queen's lead singer for the first time.
But back to the 'Idol' finale. More than 100 million fan votes were placed to determine that season’s champion. When the results were revealed, Kris Allen was crowned the winner. There was much controversy and debate following the win.
Conspiracy theorists argued, among other things, that voters in Arkansas skewed the results and that AT&T employees had also affected the outcome. The Fox network denied these claims, insisting that the rightful winner had been named.
Watch as Kris Allen Wins on 'American Idol'
Allen later admitted that he thought Lambert deserved the American Idol crown: “He was the most consistent person all year, and seriously, one of the most gifted performers I’ve ever met. We became great friends, and we told each other that day, ‘You deserve it.’ … And so, I think it could have gone either way. America couldn’t have gotten it wrong.”
Paula Abdul pointed to Allen’s broad appeal as a contributing factor to his success. “There are huge Kris fans out there,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “Kris is relevant today on the radio, pop music, along the soulful, John Mayer type of way.”
Soon after his time in the American Idol spotlight, Allen scored his first hit. Released in September 2009, “Live Like We’re Dying” sold more than a million copies, earning platinum certification. The track was also featured on Allen’s self-titled debut album, which went on to sell more than 300,000 copies. But then a second single, “The Truth” featuring Pat Monahan from Train, was unable to sustain that momentum. Kris Allen remains the most commercially successful release in his discography.
Watch Kris Allen Perform 'Live Like We're Dying'
Thank You Camellia, Allen’s second major-label LP, was issued in 2012. At the time, the label was being merged with other entities, meaning very little promotion was put into the release. Allen's album failed to chart and he soon lost his contract.
“There were a lot of things that happened with [Thank You Camellia] that I would have liked to have happened better. And it just didn't," Kris told Yahoo Music in 2014. "We did the best that we could; there were things that were out of my hands. But I love that record, I really do. The first record happened so fast, and there was no continuity to it whatsoever. The second one, I felt really good about it. Do I wish more people would have heard it? Yes. But that's just the way things are. And that's OK."
Allen auditioned for the lead in the feature-film production of Rock of Ages in 2012, but later admitted that he was relieved to be passed over. “I would have been terrible!,” he told OK! Magazine. “I am supposed to have long hair and be this rock star guy. I would have sucked at it." The part he auditioned for eventually went to Diego Boneta.
Watch Kris Allen's Discuss His Car Accident
Allen was involved in a serious car accident on New Year’s Day 2013 that landed him in the emergency room. Among several injuries was a shattered wrist. "I remember the first time I looked at (my wrist), I said, 'I'll probably never be able to play again,'" Allen told Yahoo Music. "But after three surgeries and playing with a cast on, over and over again, I figured it out.”
Allen had just learned that he was to be a father for the first time. "My biggest worry was like, 'I want to be able to pick up my kid,'" he added. "I remember the day that he was born, I was able to pick him up, and I was like, 'That's all that matters.'"
Since his recovery, Allen has released two more studio albums, 2014’s Horizons and 2016’s Letting You In. Neither have come close to commercial breakthrough of his debut effort, but several of his songs have been licensed for television shows.
Listen to Kris Allen's 'Lost' on 'Arrow'
Allen still speaks highly of his American Idol experience, even if he was somewhat unprepared for everything that came with it. "I was like a deer in headlights," he told Yahoo Music. "You get thrown into it all. But [since then], I feel like I've learned a ton, and I now really enjoy this career. It's a lot of fun."