Kris Allen loves the holidays, so much so that he released the EP Waiting for Christmas in 2012 and the seasonal album Somethin’ About Christmas last year; he’s currently on a Christmas concert tour inspired by “old Christmas radio shows from the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s.” But this time of year is also associated with some rough memories for the American Idol Season 8 winner. Nearly five years ago, on New Year’s Day 2013, he seriously injured his wrist in an auto accident, and at one time he wasn’t sure if he’d even be able to play guitar again.
“I won’t go into the details of what it looked like, but it was really bad,” he says during a visit at Build Series in New York. “My first thought was, ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to play.’ And that’s how I write music, is I play, you know? So I had to learn how to play again.”
It was a terrible setback for Allen, but in true holiday spirit, he now has gratitude for the life-changing experience — and feels it even improved his musicianship.
“I feel like when something like that happens, I’ll look upon my life later on and even now, and there are turning points,” Allen muses. “That was definitely a turning point, where it was like someone, or something, felt like it was going to be taken from me. And it’s like, ‘Well, no, it’s not.’ You persevere, and you get through it, and you learn to deal with your misfortunes, and try to become better because of them, even better than you were before. So I think I spent more time playing guitar than I ever had after that wreck. … If you see me now, my hand doesn’t move a lot; I play with my fingers a ton, and I kind of enjoy playing like that. I think I’ve become a more melodic player, with just more attention to detail.”
When the news of Allen’s New Year’s Day car crash came out, so did the news that Allen’s wife, Katy, who was also a passenger, was pregnant — when Allen took to Twitter to report that, thankfully, she and their unborn son were unharmed. The Allens’ first child, Oliver, came into the world six months later after the accident, and Allen confesses that this mix of life highs and lows was a lot to process. “My son was born right around that time. I feel like all those things happened … I feel like I’m just crying a lot now, just all the time, you know? Like, when your son is born, there’s just a lot of emotion that goes on with that. I was going through a lot of emotion, going through this stuff too. So it’s just a lot.”
These days, Allen is in a happy place. In June 2016, he and Katy welcomed a daughter, Rose, and the growing Allen family now resides in Nashville among a thriving community of musicians and songwriters.
“A lot of things have happened in my life in the best way possible. I’ve had a lot of great luck, or blessings, or whatever. You don’t just win American Idol on pure talent. There’s got to be some sort of luck involved when 100,000 people try out for something and you’re the one that ends up doing it,” Allen says with the typical humility that endeared the Arkansas boy-next-door to millions of Idol viewers in 2009. “There’s been a lot of great things that have happened in my life. [The wrist injury] didn’t feel like a setback, but it felt like, ‘Oh, this is getting tougher. This is a tough thing that’s happened. I’m going to have to go through this.’ But, yeah, I do feel like I have a different lease on life.”
As for American Idol, Allen expresses surprise when he realizes it’s been almost a decade since his season, and he also admits he was “shocked” when he found out that the show is coming back as a reboot on ABC — only two years after its farewell Fox season, on which Allen performed a memorable David Bowie medley with fellow guitar-slinging past winners David Cook, Lee DeWyze, Phillip Phillips, and Nick Fradiani. “I thought it was going to go away for a while and come back after some time. Now, I don’t know the ins and outs of how all these things work, and it said it was coming back after a year. I was like, ‘What?’ Seacrest just signed off forever, and then he’s like, ‘We’re back!’ I was like, ‘OK…’”
Still, Allen was happy to be involved with the show again, appearing with a couple of other past champs, Ruben Studdard and Jordin Sparks, this year at an Idol kickoff auditions event at Disney World. And he’d love to participate in the forthcoming Season 16. “If they asked me to, I would definitely do it, just because I like getting to know the contestants,” he says. “I enjoy watching [the contestants’] faces, just scared. I do know the feeling! I don’t know, I want to [comfort them and say], ‘It’s OK if you don’t make it this week. Just keep making music.’”
On the subject of making music, Allen is, incredibly, already on his sixth album (counting Somethin’ About Christmas and his 2007 pre-Idol album, Brand New Shoes), and the 32-year-old singer-songwriter — who says, “I am, at my core, an album person” — has plenty of material in the can for a seventh. “I don’t want to be in a hurry for the next thing, but I do have a crop of songs that I’m really, really proud of and really excited about. I wouldn’t be surprised if something — like, not a full record, came out — if it was one or two songs or something like that, just because I think you can do that these days. Just because I think that I’m really proud of some of the stuff that’s come out in the past six months or something like that. But I’m always writing, always working on stuff.”
Watch Kris Allen’s entire BUILD Series interview below.