On Monday, a group of lucky New York high school kids got their own personal Kris Allen concert in what may go down as the loudest, most rocking school assembly of 2011.
The 2009 "American Idol" champ has teamed up with the Music Empowers Foundation for a unique tour with the Berklee City Music All-Star Ensemble, a group of talented teenagers who have benefited from the Berklee College of Music's program for passionate high school musicians.
"They don't seem like high school kids," Allen said, praising his underage tourmates. "Obviously they're really great and musically talented and I can tell that they spend a lot of time on it. I did not spend as much time as they did [when I was their age]. They're rock stars and they know it. They just get up there and just own the stage."
The eight-piece pop/rock group captivated the crowd with impressive covers of hits by the Raconteurs, Evanescence and Relient K. Then Kris joined the teen ensemble to perform a handful of tunes from his 2009 self-titled debut with interesting new arrangements.
An organ solo made Allen's bluesy "Is It Over" even richer. An extended guitar run gave "Can't Stay Away" a fresh jam-band vibe. Strong female vocalists blended so well with Kris on "Live Like We're Dying" that he might want to include some girl power on album #2, which he promises to have in stores later this year.
Inspired by the tour and the urban setting of his New York gig, Allen even busted out a brand-new cover for the approving high school audience. His seductive acoustic version of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" would have sounded right at home with "Heartless" and "Falling Slowly" had he performed it on "Idol" back in season eight. "We walked in and said, 'This Is Martin Luther King Jr. High School. Maybe I should bring some soul today.' So I decided to bring the soul," Allen said.
On hand to show his support (as well as provide free unsolicited sound-mixing advice) was E Street Band superstar "Little" Steven Van Zandt, who's no stranger to supporting music education himself. He told MTV News that his cause, the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, is on track to pilot a history of rock and roll curriculum in classrooms in the next few years.
"I support [music education] in every kind of way, whether it's physically putting instruments in kids' hands ... or the history side, which is what [my charity is] doing. And everything in between! Anything having to do with music [education] is great," Van Zandt said. "It keeps kids in schools."
Music education awareness aside, Van Zandt and his wife, fellow "Sopranos" co-star Maureen Van Zandt, couldn't pass up the chance to watch one of their favorite "Idol" winners take the stage in the tri-state area.
"I don't watch TV myself, but my wife is a like a fanatical 'American Idol' person and she turns me on to these great singers like Kris. And seeing what he did with the [Berklee City Music] kids today was fantastic," gushed van Zandt, adding, "I'm an old-school guy, so when I see someone respect the music of the past, it just kind of turns me on. And Kris had that soul when he did that Ben E. King thing today. It gives you hope."
Kris Allen wraps up his hope-filled mini-tour with the Berklee City Music All-Stars Wednesday (May 4) in Washington, D.C.
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