After getting booted from American Idol during Season 5, Chris Daughtry knew that his musical career had received a major push nonetheless.
"The show got me in front of a huge audience," says the bald rocker. "The main thing was getting my voice heard by more than just 15 people in a bar."
He soon signed with 19 Entertainment and RCA Records, which holds contracts with fellow Idol alumni, including Kelly Clarkson and Bo Bice. Then he formed a band he named after himself. Not long after the debut CD Daughtry was released in 2006, the singer-songwriter from North Carolina struck gold, then platinum again and again. The album, boasting expertly crafted pieces of pop-rock radio candy, has sold more than 4 million copies. Its popularity has been strong for two years.
"I don't think you ever really know how an album will do," says Daughtry, whose band opens for Bon Jovi at Washington's Verizon Center tonight. "We had the fans from Idol, but that's only going to take you so far. But extreme radio play helped transcend the Idol fans. [There] was obviously more to the music than what you expect from American Idol."
As a contestant on the show, Daughtry stood out with his earnest, decidedly humorless approach to post-grunge pop-rock. It's a style he had been nurturing well before appearing on American Idol. Daughtry, 28, was inspired in high school by bands such as Bush, Live and Stone Temple Pilots, and later by the riotous hip-hop of Public Enemy and House of Pain.
"You could feel the honesty in the music then," says Daughtry, who last week was at a tour stop in Milwaukee. "It was raw, real music. It was something about it that sucked you in."
While still in high school, he formed a band called Cadence that went nowhere. He joined another group, Absent Element, soon after graduation. That also fizzled.
When he didn't make the cut for Rock Star: INXS, a CBS singing contest, Daughtry auditioned in Denver for the enormously more popular Idol. Early during his stint on the show, Daughtry sang an inspired version of a Fuel song and was offered the spot as the band's lead singer after he was voted off. Instead, he decided to form the band Daughtry.
"I've never been a solo act," the singer says. "It never seemed real to me to just have a backing band."
But the group Daughtry - which includes guitarist Josh Steely, guitarist Brian Craddock, bassist Josh Paul and drummer Joey Barnes - is still very much about the music of its lead singer and namesake. He wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album, including the power hits "It's Not Over" and "Over You." The tunes are underscored by loud, guitar-anchored arrangements overseen by Howard Benson, perhaps best known for his work with My Chemical Romance.
The CD follows the template set by the bands Daughtry admired in high school. But his songs feature stronger hooks, buttressed by his rough-around-the-edges style.
For the next album, which the band is writing, Daughtry plans to share more of the spotlight with the other members as he pushes the music in different directions. No release date has been set.
"You're always going to run into people at the label wanting a guaranteed hit," Daughtry says with a chuckle. "But you want to feel creative. It's about finding that balance without sacrificing who you are. How we're going to do that, I don't know."
See Daughtry with Bon Jovi at the Verizon Center at 7:30 tonight. The arena is at 601 F St. N.W. in Washington. Tickets are $49.50-$132.50 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-7328 or going to ticketmaster.com.