May 09, 2009 12:00 AM

“It’s him! He’s here!” squealed the teenaged girl.

Right on both counts. For 24 frenzied hours, the young woman and tens of thousands like her got as much Kris Allen as they could maneuver themselves to see, hear and touch. Fresh from the latest round of Internet balloting that left him as one of three American Idol contestants still standing, Allen had come home to Arkansas. “It’s great to be back,” grinned the diminutive singer and guitarist.

Allen had little time to savor the comforts of home. From the moment a chartered Gulfstream jet returned him to Little Rock on Thursday night, Allen’s breakneck schedule — seen to by a phalanx of security men, minders and Fox television crew members — afforded him not much more than a few hours of solitude with family and friends.

The jet’s engines barely had stopped screaming than a motorcade delivered Allen to hundreds of shouting fans awaiting him at the Fox affiliate at Little Rock, which made a Kris-fest of its evening newscast: a lengthy live studio interview, the presentation by municipal officials of keys to the cities of Little Rock and Jacksonville (a nearby suburb where Allen spent part of his boyhood), and, naturally, a quick performance. Allen and his guitar delivered the Beatles’ storied “Come Together.”

“It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a lot of fun, too,” Allen told PEOPLE, smiling as he autographed his way to his limousine though the station’s fan-crammed corridor. Surveying the throng, he added: “It’s definitely more than I expected.”

Allen’s expectations of the following day were, by that standard, likely undersized. The audiences were not: More than 3,000 fans filled a Little Rock riverfront amphitheater to overflowing for a free, if brief, concert with Allen relying on personal favorites: “She Works Hard for the Money,” “Falling Softly” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

A half-hour away at Conway, Allen’s hometown, 1,200 tickets for a second free concert were gone minutes after the box office opened, dispensed to fans who began lining up before dawn. First in line were two 14-year-olds (escorted by the mother of one of them).

“You can tell from the way he sings and acts that he’s very humble and a good Christian,” said, Alexis LaPlante, who attends the same church as Allen. “He remembers where he came from,” agreed her companion, Brianna Swindle, also a resident of Greenbrier, Ark., near Conway.

“I grew up that way. My parents raised me that way,” Allen told PEOPLE. “It’s not trying to push God on , it’s just being who I am.”

( Similar hoopla greeted the hometown visits of Adam Lambert in San Diego and Danny Gokey in Milwaukee.)

One performance remained in Allen’s homecoming, a finale that attracted an estimated 20,000 to a downtown park and brought the small town to a standstill. Then came more official honors, from the Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives and the city of Conway, and more music: “Man in the Mirror,” in addition to “Softly” and “Works Hard.”

“He’s got the prettiest smile, and he’s just a nice person, “cooed Jean Dozier, 64, waving goodbye as Allen departed the stage. “He deserves every bit of this.” — Steve Barnes

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