CONWAY, Arkansas — The window paint praising Kris Allen on the many businesses on Oak Street downtown may have faded and smeared from the torrential rains earlier in the week, but Wednesday (April 29) dawned sunny in Allen’s hometown.
After a much-praised performance on the Rat Pack-themed night of Tuesday’s “American Idol,” during which judge Kara DioGuardi referred to the 23-year-old Allen as an (ahem) “dark horse” and Randy Jackson called his lively performance of “The Way You Look Tonight” his best to date, America was perhaps waking up to what the fine folks here have known for months: The Conway Kid might just pull it out.
“I think he definitely has a shot at winning it,” the town’s mayor, Tab Townsell, said on Tuesday afternoon, hours before he gathered with the city council to beam in a message to the nearly 2,000 faithful gathered in the Farris Center on the campus of Allen’s alma mater, the University of Central Arkansas, to cheer Allen on. In the close-knit city of 60,000 — where locals are quick to apologize for the biblical rains that can inundate the streets one moment only to give way to tropical heat and, they swear, the possibility of snow the next — the buzz over Allen’s improbable run at the “Idol” title is growing by the day. For months, Conway has been proud of how far Allen has come. And in recent weeks residents have been amazed that he’s still in it, but now they’re starting to feel like the finish line is in sight.
Everywhere you go around Conway there are signs supporting Allen. You see the green T-shirts the Chamber of Commerce has printed up to raise money for friends and family to fly to California to watch him perform and homemade shirts and banners made by teenagers electrified by the thought that someone from their city might be the last one standing a few weeks from now.
“I think there’s a big possibility of him winning,” good friend Cale Mills, 25, said after Tuesday’s performance. As hundreds of fans furiously texted their votes for Allen in the Farris Center following the show, Mills recalled watching “Idol” for the first time last year and telling Allen that he should try out. “Last year was the first time I’d ever watched the show, but Kris didn’t watch it,” Mills, who often jams with Allen and who drove the “Idol” finalist and his older brother, Daniel Allen, to last year’s auditions in Louisville, Kentucky, continued. One reason Allen never watched the show might be because, as another friend disclosed, the New Life Church worship leader and his wife, Katy, agreed after getting married last year that they would not buy a TV for their loft apartment for one full year.
But now the guy who was invariably described by his friends as shy, gracious and humble is on the cusp of making it into the top four, even if Simon Cowell said Tuesday night that he doesn’t think Allen can win .
“Oh, he will win, for sure,” an excited Eleise Myers, 27, one of Allen’s cousins, said. Allen sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration” at Eleise’s wedding, and just moments before he took the stage in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, she admitted she might be a bit biased, but “he’s definitely an American idol.”
Less than 24 hours before they would hear his fate, the organizers of the second weekly massive watch party in Conway promised that they would be back in the Farris Center again next week and the week after that. “We’ll move it to a bigger facility if we have to,” Kathy Wyrick, who works for the Chamber of Commerce and helped organize the event, offered. “We’re just waiting for word about when [the show is] going to come here. We’re ready.”
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