A decade from today, then-teenager Oliver Allen will be sitting in front of a TV and an upcoming documentary show will be promoted.
Young Oliver will lean over and ask his father Kris: “Dad, what was American Idol?”
“I know exactly what I will tell him,” Kris Allen said in a recent telephone interview from his Nashville home. “I’ll say, ‘It’s the reason your dad sings.’”
Allen, the Idol Season 8 winner, and a few hundred others saw their careers – from huge successes to small-bar gigs – launched over the 15-year run of the show. It will come to a conclusion on April 7 with the finale of Season 15. That will be five weeks before Allen’s performance at The Music Box in downtown San Diego.
“We (Idol) gave people a chance,” said the show’s senior supervising producer Patrick Lynn. “We went to them, to places like Omaha and Kansas City. They didn’t have to come to Hollywood to realize their dream.”
And for a decade-and-a-half “American Idol” did just that as it meandered into our living rooms amid astronomical ratings which started to dwindle over the past few years and then…
“I guess I learned of the possibility of this being the final season after last spring’s finale,” Lynn said, “it didn’t really surprise me.”
The backstories never seemed to stop: David Cook was tending bar in Kansas City, Kellie Pickler was a waitress on roller skates, Jennifer Hudson was a singer on a cruise ship, Clay Aiken was a special education teacher, Carrie Underwood was a college senior, she had never flown before.
Now even contestants on this season’s show seemed to understand the decision that it was now time to end the show. “It was time. Nothing lasts forever,” said 21-year-old San Diegan Avalon Young. She started watching the show in her Tierrasanta home when she was six, tried out a couple of times. This season, following a successful audition in San Francisco, she managed an eighth place finish she is hoping will springboard her music career.
“In the beginning other people were shocked by what we were doing. But it clicked,” Lynn said. “We went to cities for auditions and people were getting off of public transportation to audition. It was crazy.”
Kris Allen was 23 when he won the Season 8 Idol title. The small-town Arkansas guitar-playing kid didn’t take public transportation to the Louisville, Ky. audition, but he almost didn’t make it.
“I’m not one to read instructions very well,” Allen said. “We got there late after driving all the way and we had to talk our way into the tryout.”
The “we” was Kris and brother Daniel who didn’t get a gold ticket to Hollywood like Kris did.
“The whole Idol thing seems like another lifetime to me,” Allen admitted. “I’m a different person now, in a good way.”
Getting little air-time after making it to the Hollywood, he advanced after an off-the-air sing-off with another contestant. And it all led to a finale showdown with San Diego’s Adam Lambert.
Allen won, although many Lambert fans questioned the voting. In a rare moment, although exact totals were never revealed, Idol executives said the margin of victory was less than a million votes.
“It does feel like seven years ago,” Allen said of the finale. “And we are friends. On the show we were always trying to encourage each other. We were really close. But it’s been a little while since I’ve seen him. He is performing here in Nashville this week.
“During the show I put a lot of pressure on myself and I had all these expectations on myself – but it’s a cool position to be in. Not everyone knows …but it’s fine to have to win people over.
“If I had come in second I don’t know what that would have been like, but it would have been different.”
In some capacity he will be involved in the Idol finale and he’ll probably be on-stage with his guitar as he was for much of his Idol run. But being a part of the show’s finale almost didn’t work out this way. On New Year’s Day 2013 he was involved in a head-on auto wreck that left him with a broken wrist. “I had to learn how to play all over again. But it’s getting better all the time as we (his band includes bass player Chris Torres from Carlsbad) play more dates.”
Allen admits this much about “American Idol”:
“I think the show could have kept going because it has been doing the right thing. But I will miss it because it’s so real. No one called me to come on the show. I had no idea how to get in the industry.”
When he was told that Young worked at a Mira Mesa Applebee’s before trying out a second time and advancing to the Top 10 this season, his response?
“See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
For his part, at the moment Lynn isn’t married, has only three cats, no children. But if he does have kids one day and they ask him about Idol…
“I will tell them it was a TV show that came along at the right time in the right place. After 9-11 (Idol debuted nine months later) people needed it. We gave everybody something they needed at the time – hope. We gave them the fact that anybody can be the American Idol.”
And what about the recurring urban myth that in some form Idol will return for a 16th season?
“That’s true,” Lynn said, “it’s just an urban myth.”
American Idol’s farewell week TV schedule starts today. Here’s the lineup:
Tuesday, April 5, 8 p.m.
American Dream: A special event celebrating 15 legendary years.
Wednesday, April 6, 8 p.m.
Top 3 Perform: Will the final Idol be La’Porsha Renae, Trent Harmon or Dalton Rapattoni? Your vote will decide.
Thursday, April 7, 8 p.m.
Winner Chosen: Not only will the winner of this year’s American Idol be revealed, but there will also be star-studded performances, and plenty of AI alumni gracing the stage, including Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
For all the details, visit www.americanidol.com.