With a No. 1 hit under his belt, this breakout artist is now looking to break through in every field of entertainment

By Nancy Kruh
December 19, 2018 04:35 PM
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These days it’s hard to miss Jimmie Allen.

His career has taken off at warp speed: Radio can’t get enough of his infectious debut single “Best Shot,” which has hit the top of the charts — twice. Already he’s landed on a half-dozen “ones to watch” lists, handed out a CMA trophy, and he’s regularly kibitzing with Kathie Lee and Hoda on the TODAY show. Now on tour with Scotty McCreery, he soon heads out with Kane Brown.

But if Allen has his way, get ready for more — a whole lot more.

“Ever since I was a kid,” Allen, 32, tells PEOPLE, “I remember telling my mom and telling my grandma and my dad, ‘Listen, I’m going to be a singer, an author. I’m going to be an actor on Broadway, a movie actor. I’m going to host TV shows. I’m going to do standup comedy. I’m going to have my own radio show.’ And my mom was like, you will. Do it.”

Jimmie Allen
Lee Steffen

This is not a man who wants to prove his mother wrong. Other breakthrough artists may be content just figuring out what their next single will be, but not Allen.

At the moment, he says, he is actively trying to break into movies and TV acting. He’s working on creating his own radio show. He has a couple of books in progress. And then there’s the clothing line, the cologne and the signature whiskey — all in the works.

“I’m just trying to do everything I’ve always wanted to do,” Allen explains. “I’m like, there’s no rules … You know, people say, ‘Well, Jimmie, you should do this first and then worry about that.’ I’m like, why? If I’ve got time to do it all, why can’t I?”

If he has the time, one reason is that he’s sleeping only two to three hours a night — the reality for an artist now ping-ponging across the country, getting up early for morning radio and staying up late for stage shows. When PEOPLE caught up with him, he hadn’t slept in his own bed in 17 days (and even then, that was a nap). His last home-cooked meal, he says, was Thanksgiving … 2017.

Jimmie Allen
Lee Steffen

All this ambition, Allen insists, isn’t about fame: He says he’s still getting used to being recognized by strangers. Yeah, money is important, but only because he now can better support his 4-year-old son, Aadyn, whom he shares with a former girlfriend. Otherwise, he says, he prides himself on pinching pennies after years of scraping by with two or three jobs at a time.

No, Allen says, his drive comes mostly from wanting to live up to his potential.

“I feel like, if you don’t chase every dream, if you don’t search every inch of your heart to find out everything you want to do,” he says, “you’re doing yourself a disservice because there’s always going to be some part of you that’s like, man, I wish I would have done this.”

But why do it all at once? Well, as he says, why not?

“I look at it like this: you have a small window to really plant your feet in everything,” Allen says. “All people can say is no. You know, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

He’s quoting hockey great Wayne Gretzky there, but Allen says he has plenty of his own catchphrases, which he’s taken to writing down. He’s about halfway to 500, and when he gets there — boom — they’re going to be a book.

His favorite at the moment? No hesitation: “Our dreams don’t quit on us. We quit on them.”

Jimmie Allen
Jason Lee

That, of course, does not describe Allen’s life. Raised on the outskirts of tiny Milton, Delaware, he arrived in Nashville in 2007 with little more than a rabid determination to start a music career. For several months he lived out of his car, saving money not only for an apartment but also to help his younger sister with her schooling.

In 2011, he was in the top 40 of American Idol Season 10, the one that current tour-mate McCreery won. Looking back, he says, he realizes it was a blessing he didn’t do better because “it wasn’t my time yet.” Not only was he too young and unprepared, he says, but his pop- and R&B-infused sound didn’t have a home in country at that point. Obviously, it does now.

Allen says he’s earned the right to call himself country from his roots: His dad raised him on country music, and he lived the country life, hunting, fishing and four-wheeling as a boy growing up on Mercury Lane, the rural two-block street that he’s named his debut album after. The authenticity of his lyrics, he believes, also allows him to stake his claim in the genre.

“For me, I try to take a country lyric,” Allen explains, “and wrap it in a pop-rock production with pop and R&B melodies, because I feel like it’s not really about how you deliver it, it’s about what you’re trying to deliver.”

Allen is similarly adamant about his place in country as one of the few African-American artists in the genre. The last cut off his album, “All Tractors Ain’t Green,” directly addresses the issue, but to Allen, “that song is not only about being a black guy in country music and going against stereotypes. It’s for everyone that gets told they can’t do something because of the way they look or where they’re from.”

As diversified as Allen soon intends to be, he’s just as determined to keep the music going. He says he already has enough songs recorded and ready to go for second and third albums, freeing him up even more for everything else that’s on the drawing boards.

“It’s just proper planning,” he says. “Everything I’m doing now, I’ve been ready. I just had to wait for the music to take off.”