CONWAY, Arkansas — He might have referred to Kris Allen's performance of "The Way You Look Tonight" as inexplicably "wet," but Simon Cowell got a rousing ovation when his name was announced Tuesday night (April 28) inside the Farris Center on the campus of University of Central Arkansas as Conway gathered to watch "American Idol" en masse. It was all the love Cowell would get, though.
And it was nothing compared to the deafening screams every time hometown hero Allen was shown on the giant inflatable megascreen set up in the university's arena to view Tuesday night's Rat Pack-themed show. The home side of the bleachers were packed with nearly 2,000 Conway faithful, many of them waving the one-page insert from that day's local paper hyping the 23-year-old native son, while others held up homemade signs professing their love for the young man who might want to consider a run for mayor if this whole music thing doesn't work out.
Commercial breaks were filled with the sound of Allen's performances of "Falling Slowly" and "Ain't No Sunshine," but when he finally took the stage to sing "The Way You Look," the room rocked as if the Jonas Brothers had just walked onstage with the cast of "Twilight," carrying Miley Cyrus on their shoulders (seriously, it was really loud). With every breath and every pause Allen took during his buttery, languid rendition of the standard, the crowd yelped anew, providing proof why so many of Allen's friends said earlier in the day that they would have loved to join the crowd but simply couldn't take the constant distraction.
Immediately after the performance, one of the local organizers of the event encouraged everyone in the room to program Allen's two numbers into their phones right there. "You heard what Simon said!" she yelled, referring to the cryptic "wet" comment. "We need to do it! . Seriously, Simon, what was he thinking?" And though the crowd sat politely as the rest of the contestants performed, when favorite Adam Lambert came onstage there was a low murmur of boos for the one contestant the crowd seemed to think could spoil their shot at collective fame.
Along the far wall, a long line of people waited their turn to send personal video messages to Allen, and by the end of the hour, the series of nine long tables on the other end of the arena began to fill up as Allen acolytes readied to wear their fingers out speed-dialing for the singer. Seconds after the show ended, the house lights came on and the cell phones lit up, with most fans double-fisting it and excitedly yelling out their totals. "I've already got 40 votes in!" shrieked one woman barely 10 minutes into voting.
Sarah Mayer, 17, barely looked up from her phone as she admitted that she'd never watched "Idol" before Allen got the town buzzing. "He's amazing," she said. "I couldn't believe how many people came out." Her friend, Lauren Rivers, also 17, said her friends at school were talking about the watch party all week, and in the time she was saying how great it is that the town was supporting Allen so much, she lodged 15 votes. "I think Simon's crazy," she said, blasting away at her phone.
Cale Mills, 25, an old friend of Allen's who actually accompanied him to his "Idol" audition in Louisville last year, stayed late at the event and said the amount of people who hung around to vote was a testament to Allen. "His character is shining through on the show," he said. "And the community is picking up on that. If they didn't think he was talented, they wouldn't be here."
As Allen's performance from Tuesday night unspooled for a third time on the big screen, Mills' words rung true, as all around him, supporters were still working their phones, including some with a cell phone in one hand and a land line up their other ear. "I'm going out next week, so he will make it through," Mills promised with a smile.
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