Kris Allen on the controversy over his new single, 'The Truth,' and those added Pat Monahan vocals
Kris Allen fans have been waiting for months for an announcement about a followup single to his platinum-selling debut ditty, “Live Like We’re Dying.” But the recent decision by Jive/19 to serve radio with a recut rendition of “The Truth” — it’s now a duet with Train frontman Pat Monahan that’s slated to hit iTunes on May 11 — has met with its fair share of controversy. I caught up with the American Idol season 8 champ to find out who cooked up the idea for a reconfigured track, how the duet came about, and whether or not he’s upset that despite having cowritten nine of the 12 tracks on his self-titled disc, his label has now chosen two singles he didn’t have a hand in writing. (For the uninitiated, both versions of “The Truth,” with and without Monahan, are embedded after the jump.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about your new single, “The Truth.” The album version of the song contains your vocals only. Now it’s been re-recorded as a duet of sorts with Train’s Pat Monahan (who co-wrote the song with Toby Gad). How did that come about?
KRIS ALLEN: It came about through an idea from the label. Their idea was that Pat wrote the song, so why not get him involved in it in some way. And obviously Train is doing really well right now, and I don’t think that can be ignored. Everyone thought it was a good idea.
The song wasn’t written as a duet. How did you decide which parts of the song Pat would be singing?
Right, it wasn’t written as a duet, and I think the plan was to make it not seem like a typical duet. It wasn’t like, “Hey, I can sing a verse, then he can sing a verse.” ‘Cause then maybe we’re breaking up with each other, and that’s not what we were trying to convey. So we thought it would be good idea to just put him on the bridge.
When it comes to the Idol universe, fans take a certain sense of ownership of your career, and they can get pretty worked up if they feel like you’re being done wrong. That was the case with this new version of “The Truth.” People were on the Internet asking, “What are Jive and 19 doing to Kris?” Conversely, though, it’s not like Beyoncé fans were upset when she recut “Video Phone” as a duet with Lady Gaga. Is there a worry that you might get painted with the victim brush? How would you respond to fans who are upset about the addition of Pat Monahan to this song?
The funny thing is I get this all the time. “So when can you get out of this contract?” And I’m like, “First of all, hopefully never.” The people I work with are really great. The people at 19 and the people at Jive have been great. I’m not gonna say there haven’t been things that have happened, some conflicts. Not bad stuff — I think it’s just general stuff that goes on between artists and labels or whatever. Questions that come up. I’m very new to this. But it’s really nice to have fans who care about you, who want you to be done right, and for the label and management to treat you right. I think they felt like I wasn’t being cared for and being respected. And I appreciate them worrying about that. But I feel like I am. I really do.
In an ideal world, would you have added the Pat Monahan vocals to the record?
It never even crossed my mind to do that. So it wouldn’t have happened in my mind. It wasn’t that type of song where you say, “We need someone else on this.” Now that it’s done, I hope it does really well, man. I really do.
Beyond how you visualize the song as an artist, I guess the reality is it’s hard out there to get radio play. Was that the mindset behind adding Pat? “Let’s do what we’ve got to do to get traction for this second single”?
Well the first single [“Live Like We’re Dying”] did so well. It took a while, but it’s done really incredible. It exceeded all my expectations anyway. But me, and everybody at the label, management, we all wanted this second single to do really well, and that was the idea that some people from the label came up with.
A minute ago, you alluded to the fact that the new version of “The Truth” could conceivably be construed as a breakup ballad between two men. Was there any concern you were going to radio, which is a fairly conservative space, with a love story of Brokeback Mountain proportions?
[Laughs.] It was a worry when the idea first came about. But I think all those worries have kind of been shoved in the closet — no pun intended.
[Laughs.] Well, maybe that added layer of drama isn’t such a bad thing for some listeners.
Were you aware of the movement on Twitter where some of your fans changed their profile pics to elephants to pick up on the line in “The Truth” that goes “it’s the elephant in the room and we pretend that we don’t see it.” For some fans, it was their way of saying, “This song is not written by Kris. This is not the original version. And we are protesting.” And now that “The Truth” is officially the single, the elephant has maybe morphed into a show of support.
I think it’s such a huge testament to my fans. I love my fans because they’re smart, dude. They get it. They get behind anything that I do. And so thank you so much to those people. They’ve really gotten behind this. I hope it takes off, I really do. I hope the song takes off.
Your own mother had an elephant as her Twitter icon.
That’s my mom.
Did she want a Kris Allen co-write as the next single? Can we infer that from her elephant?
Yeah, probably. She probably wants every song to be a song written by me. But she does like “The Truth,” though.
A lot of people were saying David Cook’s album — the label did not go with the David Cook-penned singles to launch the album. And now we’re seeing that happening with you. You wrote or co-wrote the bulk of the album, but the first two singles were not ones you had a hand in writing. Are you going to stamp your feet if the third single doesn’t turn out to be a Kris Allen co-write? Or is it a case of “whatever works at radio”?
It’s a little of both, I guess. That said, the only other option on the album [where that scenario could play out] is “Written All Over My Face,” and I really don’t think [that’s likely]. I was part of the writing process on every other song on the album [except “Live Like We’re Dying,” “The Truth,” and “Written All Over My Face”]. So yeah, I think it’s a really, really, really good chance the next single will be something I had a hand in writing. [Laughs.]
They’re running out of options!
Speaking of “Live Like We’re Dying,” you and I spoke shortly after its release, and at the time, it was a little bit of a slow build. But it really took off after — and eventually went platinum.
To be honest, I was a little worried when it first came out and it wasn’t doing great. [Laughs.] But I think it’s just about working hard and getting people to hear the song, and then everyone started believing in it a little bit more. I remember getting a text from Keith Urban saying “I’m not gonna lie: The first time I heard that song I wasn’t crazy about it. But after a couple listens, I really, really like it.” And I mean, I think that’s how everybody felt about the song. And I think that’s a testament to a good song. You don’t have to love ’em the first time you hear ’em. It grew on people.
Well, I liked it from the get go. So there! Anyway, you’ve lined up a summer tour with Barenaked Ladies.
We’re excited to be on tour with them. They have a huge live following, so that’ll be fun. We get to play in places like Red Rock because of them. We’ll be playing shows every night.
Any additions to the set list from when you toured with Keith Urban?
We’re gonna add some songs from the album. We haven’t played some of them yet, but once we get to rehearse them, we’ll pretty much play everything off the album. Maybe not at every show — we’ll switch it up. But we will play most of the stuff from the album. We’ve thought about adding some new cover songs. And maybe, maybe — just maybe — you might hear a new song. Maybe a couple. We’ll see what happens.
You’ve become well-known for your brilliant mashups like “Falling Slowly”/”With or Without You” and “Heartless”/”Gangster’s Paradise.” Any new ones in the works for your summer dates?
We love ’em. The only reason I ever do them is when you play a song on American Idol and it becomes one of your best, you have to play it so many times, you think “Why not change it up a bit?” So yeah, for me, I don’t want to play just “Heartless.” You might as well mix it with something fun like “Gangster’s Paradise.”
Given your penchant for quality mashups, any thoughts of trying to get yourself on Glee?
I’ve never watched the show, so I don’t even know what it’s like. Probably not?
That’s absolutely blasphemous. But then again, Madonna had reportedly never watched and they built an entire episode around her music.
That’s true. Maybe it’s time for a Kris Allen-themed episode. Yeah, y’know, there should be a Kris Allen-themed episode!
Yes! Okay, so I have to ask you about last week, where you did a duet with Allison Iraheta at a California high school as part of Oprah Winfrey’s No Phone Zone rally. You guys covered “The Scientist,” and it was all kinds of amazing.
That was Allison’s idea. We heard about doing a song together only two days before we had to do it. And I was going out of town [on the second day] so I was like “Frick! What are we gonna do?” So she comes over to my house, I was staying in an apartment, and we go into the stairwell. I had the idea of doing “Desperado,” she had the idea to do “The Scientist,” and that worked way better, so we ran with it. We worked on it maybe 15-20 minutes, and it was really cool. That was the first time we really did a duet together, and obviously you know, she’s incredible, and it’s so much fun to work with her.
Did that really happen at 7 a.m.?
Yeah, it was really early. I got up at like five o’clock that morning. That was too early to be singing, but…
When Oprah puts in a request…
You just have to do it, right?
Any other scoop you want to share?
Um, maybe for August. Just be on the lookout. We’ll keep people updated on tour dates.
Your scoop for me is “Maybe for August”? Could you be any more cryptic? What does that mean?
Maybe for August! That can be the name of the interview.