Country star Jimmie Allen, left, was part of the competition for “American Idol” 11 years ago. Last Sunday he returned to the show as a mentor, working with current contestant Mike Parker, who sang one of Allen’s signature numbers and also talked about Allen’s impact on him as a performer.

By Tribune Staff

NASHVILLE, TN — It was 11 years ago that an unknown country vocalist named Jimmy Allen auditioned for the TV show “American Idol.” He made it to Hollywood, but was cut prior to the live rounds. Today Allen’s an established star, one of the biggest names in contemporary country. He’s also part of the new breed among Black country artists. Allen has joined Darius Rucker, Kane Brown, Mickey Guyton, Allison Russell, Brittney Spencer, Breland, and Rhiannon Giddens as proud, prominent country voices.

Allen returned to the show last Sunday having just won both the ACM Awards’ New Male Artist of the Year and CMA Awards’ New Artist of the Year. He was on the program to provide assistance and encouragement to fellow Black country singer and Season 20 top 24 hopeful Mike Parker.

Parker had already decided to perform his idol Allen’s breakout hit “Best Shot” — the first debut single by a Black artist to top the Billboard Country Airplay chart — before he even knew that Allen was this week’s mentor. When they finally had a chance to have a one-on-one sit-down, Parker more seriously explained to Allen that when he was searching for his own musical identity, “I did a lot of digging — I watched a lot of your interviews, man, and just how you perceived country music yourself.” 

Tears immediately streamed down Allen’s cheeks as he told Parker, “Hearing you tell me that I’m an inspiration reminds me of my purpose.” Later, after Parker’s performance that brought Allen to tears, the judges had lots of complements. 

“For him to tell me that I mean to him what Charley Pride meant to me, it’s more that I could have asked for,” confessed a choked-up Allen, who dueted with trailblazer Charley Pride at the 2020 CMA Awards (in what turned out to be Pride’s final public performance) and presented Pride with a Lifetime Achievement Award that night. “So, thank you. And thank you for continuing what me, Charley, Mickey, Kane, and Darius want to see in this genre of music.”

“He made me feel like there’s a spot for me in country music. I’m going to remember this day until I leave this Earth,” Parker added.   Although he seems a shoo-in to advance to the top 20 live rounds after this magical moment, whatever happens next on the show, Parker has clearly already won.