Kris Allen Talks Haiti and His Return to American Idol
Last year's American Idol winner Kris Allen recently took a trip to the ravaged areas of Haiti affected by the tragic earthquake and American Idol viewers will get to see the results of this trip on the show's new results show, which airs this Thursday, February 25 at 8 PM ET on Fox. Joining Allen was United Nations Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin and both Allen and Calvin recently held a conference call to talk about their experiences in Haiti. Before the call got under way, Calvin spoke and gave some background information on their trip.
Kathy Calvin: So as you know, Kris and I went to Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Friday to see the extent, the scale, and the impact of the work being done by the United Nations to help Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake in January. We went expecting to see heartbreak, and of course we did. There are lots of malnourished kids. There is lots of challenging situations with sanitation and housing. There is an incomparable amount of damage, but we also saw plenty of hope from UN agencies to the US government, to peacekeepers from 25 nations, NGO's; everyone is working together to try to provide help to the Haitians. We saw the Haitians themselves as a people of remarkable resilience, ingenuity, and determination. They are really working hard to restore their country's infrastructure and their economy. We saw lots of hope and humor. We saw women and men cleaning up the damage and we saw UN workers who were just so compassionate and so effective at bringing help.
The UN told us that they're facing a challenge that's quite unique. They both have a long-term rebuilding effort, an effort to build back better, as Bill Clinton has been saying, but they also have the urgency of an upcoming rainy season which could bring even further and more devastating damage to communities that have been waiting to be rebuilt. They are facing some real challenges. Funds are still desperately needed for both challenges and so we really appreciated the fact that American American Idol and Kris Allen were willing to go to Haiti to learn more from our UN colleagues, and to bring that message home.
We will be raising funds from the show from committed and dedicated Americans who want to help. The funds will go to the United Nations Foundation Fund for Haiti to provide needed food, shelter, sanitation, and help for rebuilding back their economy. I want to thank Kris Allen in particular for going with us, his compassion, his willingness to pitch in and help in every situation we went into, from cleaning up rubble to handing out rice bags. His desire to help everybody there and his effort to bring this message back and help all of us understand and keep the focus on Haiti was truly remarkable. We know he is a rock star in this country and I have to say he made a lot of new friends in Haiti as well. Thanks for giving us this opportunity.
Kris Allen: Thank you so much, Kathy. Hello, everyone. I would like to just say that being with someone like Kathy, she was incredible in the way that she dealt with the Haitians and I feel like she has a lot of great ideas as well, so, Kathy it was awesome to go with you. Right now I want to thank Simon Fuller for giving me the opportunity to go out there, and to hopefully make a difference in what's going on with Haiti. If you all have any questions me and Kathy are welcome to answer them.
Kris, could you describe, back before American Idol, when you did the mission trips what those were like, just real briefly and then kind of compare it emotionally to the experience of going to Haiti this time.
Kris Allen: They were all different. I've been to a lot of different places, but I did do something similar because I went to Thailand right after the tsunami so I got to see a lot of destruction there. It was kind of the same deal. There was a lot of happiness and hope in people's eyes. That was a great thing, and I felt like saw that in Haiti. The destruction was a lot and the devastation was a lot more in Haiti because what happened in Haiti, until you go there, you can see all the pictures or whatever, but until you go there and actually see it, it is insane how much destruction was caused. It was kind of the same thing, though. I think people were hurt by it and everyone was affected by that, but I think you could see, especially the way the UN was helping and just the smiles on the kids' faces, they know that everything is going to be okay. It is going to take a long time, but everything is going to be hopefully better than it was.
Kris, I just wondered if you could think of a lasting memory that you will take away from this trip to Haiti. If you could just think of a picture that is in your mind when you think back on the trip. Also, secondly, was Katy able to go with you?
Kris Allen: No, Katy was not able to go with me. It was a really short trip so she wasn't able to go. I think there was a lot of lasting memories, but for me it's always the kids. I got to go into this women's tent and it felt like a really safe place and they were taking care of their babies, which are from newborn to two, and just taking care of them. I got to sing a song for them and hold a couple of babies. It just seemed so happy. It was a really cool experience.
What song did you sing?
Kris Allen: I sang "Amazing Grace."
I was wondering, just to kind to veer off onto another subject really quick, has there been any talk of any new singles off of your album?
Kris Allen: Not quite yet. There is definitely some talk about what's going to happen with a new single, but we don't have anything set in stone or anything.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what you're actually going to be doing on the show on Thursday. Will you be performing? Will you just be introducing the footage? How will the asking for the donations work?
Kris Allen: I know for sure that I'm going to be singing a song and it's going to be an inspirational kind of thing and hopefully people can really connect to it. The performance is going to be sold on iTunes. Right afterwards there is a way you can text in and help the UN raise some funds for Haiti, so there is going to be some of that. I might be able to talk. I don't remember if that's going to happen or not, but maybe so.
Aside from the charitable aspect of the appearance though, how will you feel about being back on the American Idol stage? Is that an exciting prospect for you?
Kris Allen: I don't know. It's nerve-racking. The thing is about this, it's not about me, so I think that feels really good. Every time that I was on that stage last year it was about me, and for this it's not and that feels like a really good thing to come back there for.
So how did this trip make you feel? Did you expect to see some of the things you saw, or did anything come as a surprise to you, or a shock?
Kris Allen: There was definitely some shock. I think the biggest shock for me - there was a lot of things - but the biggest thing was went we went to the Palace in Haiti, and it's kind of like a national icon kind of thing and it was completely in devastation. It's like this huge beautiful place and it looked like the Palace of Versailles had been completely demolished. That was pretty crazy. There were definitely some shocking things. There were buildings all over the place down, people living in tiny little tents that are blazing hot, six or seven to a family. It was a pretty rough experience for them.
How did this affect you on a personal level?
Kris Allen: When you see something like that it definitely affects you. It makes you happy for what you have, but it also makes you want to do something to help those people, and I think it's an innate human kind of thing. When you see people hurting, you want to help them.
Do you have any plans to go back in the future?
Kris Allen: I would love to. If I get some time I would love to go back there and help for a longer period of time. We were only there for nine or ten hours or something like that, so I'd like to go back and spend a longer period of time and get my hands dirty.
Kathy mentioned that you were cleaning through rubble and handing out rice bags. What can you tell me about what you were able to do and help with in the short time that you were there.
Kris Allen: We went to a couple different places. The first place was like a camp that they had set up with a lot of tents and they were handing out some food. I got to help out with that. I got to hand out the different kinds of food that they were giving out to the people. I got to be a part of a registration thing where people were getting cards where they could get food and there was a cash for work program also where people; there was a lot of jobs that were just destroyed and so people are able to clear the rubble out for money during the day and I got to help out with that. That was hard work. I don't know how they do that all day, but that was definitely some hard work. I got to do a couple other things and talk to the kids and play with them. It was nice for me to just get to be involved. I didn't want to go there and just walk around and look at it. I wanted to do something.
You have a history with missionary work, you've been to, like you said, Thailand after the tsunami and now Haiti. After winning American American Idol, after having a hit album and fans, when you go and see that kind of devastation does it feel different for you now? Is it even more humbling?
Kris Allen: I wouldn't say that it's more humbling because I felt like the stuff that I'd seen before was really humbling as well. It was definitely the worst devastation that I've seen and so that was different. When I went to South Africa and saw all the problems that they had there with the AIDS stuff, that was really rough, but this is on a totally different scale.
In the short period of time you were in Haiti, what would you say was the supply they needed the most? Was it food? Was it water? Was it medical supplies? What would you say?
Kris Allen: The thing that, and I think Kathy touched on this, was shelter because, and Kathy if you're there you can talk about this because she knows a little bit more about this, but I think it was shelter because of the rainy season. So if you want to elaborate on that Kathy, you can.
Kathy Calvin: I would say Kris is absolutely right. It's shelter. Over the next six weeks the UN is going to deliver probably up to 30,000 tents and enough waterproof sheeting for a million people. They've got to build more substantial community centers that can withstand the tropical storms and I'd say, frankly, latrines. The biggest issue they've had is that they've not yet had an outbreak of any water-borne diseases, whether it be dysentery, or diarrhea, or cholera, or malaria, but as the rainy season comes and some of the camps are actually in the flood plain itself, they are going to have to move the people out of those. They have a huge logistical challenge ahead. This is something the UN is really good at, and they really know what the system needs to do, but they do need help on housing and sanitation facilities pretty heavily. It's not the kind of thing where people could just send them. They really need the money because they have a really effective way of bringing in the stuff that's absolutely needed. Some stuff works in a rainy season and in a hurricane area, other stuff doesn't. So while everybody wants to give and give of all of their assets, we really do need to remind people that money is the most effective way to do it, and giving to the UN is the surest way to get it to the people who need it the most.
We saw a lot of celebrities participate in the telethon and participate musically. Was it very important for you to be able to do something hands-on as opposed to participating in a telethon?
Kris Allen: I was actually going to do the telethon and then I was walking into the offices at 19 and Simon Fuller walked up to me. He was in the office and Simon Fuller was like "How would you feel about going to Haiti?" and I was like, "That sounds like way better." I owe this to him and I was able to go and actually do something. That thing raised so much money and it was really moving as well, but to get to go there and actually be a part and talk to the Haitians and talk to the UN and see all that they were doing, it was a great thing.
Unfortunately, when we get a little bit of distance from these types of catastrophes some people sometimes forget how much help is needed. What would say to your fans to get them, to encourage them to participate and give to American Idol Gives Back?
Kris Allen: That's the thing about Haiti, there was so much money given at first, but this is going to last, and Kathy you can talk about this too. This thing is not going away. They need so much help right now, and when I say help, they need a lot of money. The UN is out there doing everything that they can, and Kathy if you want to talk more about this that would be awesome.
Kathy Calvin: You raise such a good question because the outpouring of compassion and giving at the beginning through the American Red Cross and everything else was phenomenal, and so impressive and empowering, but the challenge in all of these situations is the big ticket item is the long-term rebuilding and recovery. We need to keep people focused on that and that's actually what Americans are really good at is helping countries build back and to become better than they were. This is a country that was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the poorest in the world, eight million people in a very small space and so it's a situation where almost all the damage was done in areas where so many of the people live. They've got some real big challenges going forward and this is right in our backyard and I think everybody should want to help out.
I was wondering, you've touched on the devastation right there and a little bit on the hope. What exactly is the morale like?
Kris Allen: We were actually talking to one of the Haitians there that was there translating for us, and I think it's a little split. A lot of people have been really hurt and they've lost most of their family. They've lost a lot of their friends. They've lost their homes. No one is really staying in a home right now. I think there are a lot of people that feel like that it's not going to turn around, but there is a whole bunch of people that believe in what's going on and that believe in what the UN is doing, and all the help that they've been given. I think it's up to the Haitians. We're there to help them, but I feel like they want it to be a lot better. I think the morale is for the most part pretty good, for what's happened to them anyway.
Kathy Calvin: I would agree with that and just add that there was a moment when people thought there might be serious violence in the streets, and if anything, this country has kept its cool far better than anyone expected. It has been really impressive and you see people really digging in. I think the fear is mothers with brand new babies, and the length of time it's going to take for hospitals to get back up and running and that we have a nation with a large number of amputees now, so there is some systemic problems that make it challenging. But Kris is right, we saw just such commitment by the people and gratitude that they weren't alone and that others were trying to help them. Everybody who can watch on Thursday and who can follow-up will be greatly appreciated.
Kris, do you know what you will sing and how long the segment will be?
Kris Allen: I'm actually going to sing "Let It Be," and I think the musical segment is going to be maybe two and a half, three minutes long. There may be some more time where I actually get to talk, and where Ryan gets to talk; to talk about the UN and what it's done. There may be a little bit of time after that, but the music thing is going to be like two and half to three minutes long.
Kathy, I wonder how you would describe conditions in Haiti right now. Are things improving at all, or is it just so dire that you don't even look at it in those terms.
Kathy Calvin: I think people from the UN Foundation, for instance, who went in in the very first days after the earthquake, and certainly the folks from the UN who have been there the entire time, there is big improvement in that we've now found almost all of the people who died in the quake, and we've gotten people into hospitals. Interestingly, people have created their own living spaces and communities, so there is a sense of progress. I think the challenge is you just don't know how long people can live through that kind of a dislocated environment. One really interesting thing that has happened is that within the last few weeks the marketplace has come back into play, so you see people selling fruits and vegetables from the fields and that is exciting to see an economy coming back. People lost a lot of money and they lost the ability to make money, but I think once there's a market, you know people will find ways to restore the basic elements of a working system. I think there is important progress on things that need to be put in place. The UN is in there for the long-haul and that was actually something really important that people wanted to hear. Kris even asked that, "You guys are going to stay here, right?" They're committed. They were in there for the long-haul before and they're definitely in for the long-haul now. I think President Clinton has also made it very clear that his role as the Special Envoy is one that will continue until we really see Haiti back on its feet.
I guess going to the whole adoption and everything, you must have seen so many little kids out there that you just probably wanted to hug and bring back with you. What was it like interacting with them and to look in their eyes?
Kris Allen: That was the most incredible thing, and it always is because I've done this before, you can always see the hope and stuff in the kids' eyes because they don't exactly know what's going on. They kind of do, but some of them, they're smiling and they're having a good time, and I think that's the moments that I like to grab on to. I got to hang out with some kids and some little ones. This little kid was playing a Coke bottle, he wrapped a rubber band around the Coke bottle and started singing to me and playing it at the same time. They're making the most out of everything and I think that we can take a lot out from how kids react when stuff like this happens. When you get to really hang out with the kids and play with them and just see how excited they are to see you and to hang out with you for a second, it means so much.
Kathy Calvin: Hey Kris, you even learned some Creole, right?
Kris Allen: I tried.
You can watch Kris Allen perform and see footage from his Haiti trip on a special episode of American Idol which airs on Thursday, February 25 at 8 PM ET on Fox.