Missy Schwartz
May 29, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Five days after winning American Idol, Kris Allen still insists he would have been happy coming in second to Adam Lambert. ”Seriously!” he says, sitting in the airy restaurant of his Manhattan hotel on a gorgeous Memorial Day afternoon. ”I would have been stoked, because Adam is crazy, crazy talented. We kept telling each other, ‘It does not matter who wins.’ We’re both going to be really successful.”

Allen fans may want to note the date and time — May 25, 2009, just after 12 p.m. EDT — because that last sentence is the closest the 23-year-old singer has ever come to exhibiting anything resembling an ego. Humble and unassuming to a fault, the Arkansas native won the contest in classic Idol underdog style, rarely benefiting from the effusive praise that the judges lavished on Lambert each week. (Simon Cowell even took it upon himself to go on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show the day after the May 20 finale and comment on Kris: ”I wouldn’t have said he was the best singer in the competition.”) While Allen got the last laugh by winning, he’s unlikely to trade in his aw-shucks charm for rock-star swagger. ”I’m a laid-back guy. I like to fly under the radar,” says the singer, who married his high school sweetheart, Katy, eight months ago. ”I never saw American Idol as a competition. I was just like, ‘I’m gonna go do what I do, and hopefully someone notices and I can make a CD.”’

So it goes with the preternaturally low-key Allen, who, during a walk around Central Park earlier that day, graciously obliged fan after gushing fan dying to snap a picture with him. He didn’t so much as flinch when one excited fiftysomething woman planted a wet one on his cheek (though as soon as she was out of eyesight, he did rub Purell on his face and hands). In conversation, he is relentlessly upbeat, even about ”No Boundaries,” the much-ridiculed song co-written by Idol‘s own Kara DioGuardi that he is contractually obligated to release as his first single. ”It’s not a bad song,” he says, diplomatically. ”But it’s a hard song to sing — it’s hard to take a freakin’ breath.” If there’s one Idol-related topic that elicits a note of disappointment from him, it’s that the media analyzed the finale in politically charged, culture-war terms: edgy, androgynous Lambert versus wholesome, Christian Allen. ”That was rough,” says Allen, a worship director at a non-denominational church in Conway, Ark. ”It’s frustrating that the world is still like that. Like, get over it. Adam and I are great, great friends. Our relationship is, hopefully, an inspiration to people: No matter who you are, you can get along with anyone.”

Allen attributes his open mind to his parents, whom he lovingly also credits with introducing him to music. Dad played guitar, and both were fans of country and classic rock. At 13, Allen taught himself how to play the six-string, and seven years later, he teamed up with some friends to record an album, a soft-rock collection called Brand New Shoes. Today, the mere mention of the record makes him wince. ”I can’t even listen to that thing,” he says, laughing. ”The music and the songs were really immature. But that’s okay. Everyone goes through that.”

The new album is a happier subject. ”I’m really excited about it,” he says, declining to offer details about the sound, other than to say it will be ”more soft-rock…not just a guy and his guitar.” The first recording sessions will begin during the Idol tour, which kicks off July 5. Any anxiety about reuniting with his former competitors? Ha! Positive till the end, Allen says, ”It’s just gonna be 10 goofballs hanging out.”

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