ake heart, Sanjaya. If there’s proof positive that an “American Idol” contestant needn’t win to be successful, it’s Chris Daughtry. America may have voted the North Carolina rocker off the show in the ninth week of Season 5, but it — and the rest of the world — loves him now. The self-titled debut by his band, which goes by his surname, is a tripleplatinum, chart-topping smash that’s the top-selling album so far of 2007 and the fastest-selling debut rock album . “Daughtry” also has spawned the hits “It’s Not Over,” “Home” and “What I Want.” “It’s definitely far-exceeded my expectations,” notes Daughtry, 27, who has a stepdaughter and an adopted son.
“It’s a little weird, ’cause you don’t really get a chance to take it all in and you’re always going 100 miles per hour. Sometimes it never really sinks in, and then you get a break and you sit back and you’re like, ‘Oh, man ...’
“I remember it seeming so unreal when we found out we were platinum. I was at home and doing normal, everyday stuff — taking out the trash, the dishes and whatnot — and I found out we’re selling over a million copies. It just felt so unreal. It’s kinda hard to grasp sometimes.”
But it’s something Daughtry’s been reaching for for a long time.
A self-confessed “rock dog,” he began singing seriously when he was 16, taking part in high school productions of “The Wiz” and “Peter Pan” and performing at his grandfather’s bar. He led his own bands — including one, Absent Element, that released an album — and unsuccessfully auditioned for CBS’ “Rock Star: INXS” before auditioning for “Idol” in Denver.
He came to the show seasoned with a definite identity, shining particularly on hard-hitting covers of material such as Fuel’s “Hemmorhage (In My Hands)” (he turned down an offer to be Fuel’s new singer after that episode aired), Styx’s “Renegade” and Live’s arrangement of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.”
“I wasn’t a big fan of the show,” says Live singer Ed Kowalczyk, “but I’ve always loved his voice. I always felt Chris had an understanding of the songs he was doing that just pointed to, ‘Wow, this guy really kinda gets it. He’s not just singing; he’s operating on some other level, with a sense of what’s really going on musically there.’ ”
It was, in fact, something of a shock when Daughtry was voted off the show after a pair of Elvis Presley covers. Asked by host Ryan Seacrest if he was surprised, a clearly stunned Daughtry noted, “a little, yeah.” Talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres used the dismissal for comedic effect, asking former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to do something to change the outcome.
But Daughtry, who performed with Live on “Idol’s” Season 5 finale, found a silver lining. Never dissing the show — “It was a fantastic opportunity to get my face out there and show the world what I was able to do,” he says — he got to work quickly on the “Daughtry” album, enjoying a degree of creative freedom while the record company was distracted by the continuing competition.
“I had so much control over it,” Daughtry says. “I played (label president) Clive Davis a few of the songs I’d written before the show and he was very impressed, and that gave me the confidence that he was gonna have my back on it and allow me to really put out the album that I wanted to put out.
“It was just an honor for me to be able to express myself artistically and musically and lyrically. It feels like it’s part of me and I wasn’t just given a bunch of songs to sing. That would’ve felt more like an ‘Idol’ project to me than my own thing.”
And even though the Daughtry band was put together hurriedly after his elimination from the show, he still goes to great lengths to be considered the frontman for a group rather than a solo artist with backing musicians.
“I’ve been in bands since I was a teenager,” he says. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be was to be part of a successful rock band. I was never too keen on being a solo guy.
“And if I won (‘Idol’), that’s what I would’ve been, and I wouldn’t have been able to come out as a band. So I’m glad I didn’t win simply because I was able to form a band and come out that way — and it seems to be working just fine that way.”
Daughtry performs with Nickelback and Staind at 7 p.m. Monday (July 16th) at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $47.50-$55.50. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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