Bo Bice proved that American Idol could have a rocker as a finalist, but Chris Daughtry proved that the show could generate a successful rocker outside the context of the show. Of course, it helped that Daughtry was the polar opposite of Bice, a shaggy retro-rocker soaked in the South: bold and bald, he was the picture of a modern rocker, living by the rulebook written by Live and Fuel. These were the qualities that helped make Chris Daughtry the most successful new rock & roll singer of 2006.
Like any American Idol finalist, Daughtry had a long run as an amateur musician. The North Carolina native — born in Roanoke Rapids, he lived in Charlottesville, VA, before establishing himself in the Greensboro area — began singing in local rock bands when he was 16 years old. He continued to play locally after his high-school graduation in 1998, marrying his girlfriend Deanna in 2000, a few months after the January 2000 birth of their son Griffin (he adopted Deanna’s daughter from a previous marriage). Family man he may have been, but Daughtry didn’t let his rock & roll dream die, as he continued to play guitar and sing in a band called Absent Element. He auditioned for Rock Star: INXS in 2005 but was rejected — a rejection that turned out to be rather fortunate since it freed him to audition for the far more popular televised singing competition American Idol.
Daughtry was featured heavily during the show’s seemingly never-ending audition rounds for two reasons: he was telegenic and he capitalized on the rocker promise of Bo Bice and Constantine Maroulis from the previous season. He was bald and handsome, he possessed a terrific smile, and his devotion to his family made for great TV. He sailed through to Hollywood and made it into the final 12, where he was hailed as a standout early on and soon seemed to be a favorite to win. Daughtry mania began to peak in March when his rendition of Fuel’s “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” caused such a sensation that rumors began to fly that Fuel wanted to hire him as their lead singer — something that proved no rumor, as the modern rock group, savoring the new press, practically pleaded for his presence after he was voted off the show. But this was still two long months away — two months where he continued to be one of the top draws in the season, even courting some controversy when he sang Live’s arrangement for Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” This moody reinterpretation was misinterpreted as a Daughtry original, and on the results show he had to clarify where he learned this version. Still, this controversy paled to when he was voted off the show in May: Daughtry was one of the final four and Katharine McPhee just narrowly beat him, a result that visibly shocked the rocker. Daughtry would soon have the last laugh.
After he was kicked off of Idol, he turned down Fuel’s standing offer of replacing their lead singer and set off on his own career, signing with Idol’s 19 Entertainment group and RCA Records in July of 2006. By the time the album materialized in November, it had turned into a project by a band called DAUGHTRY (spelled all in capital letters) — the band featured guitarist Jeremy Brady, guitarist Josh Steely, bassist Josh Paul, and drummer Joey Barnes, but they did not play as a band on the finished album; Brady was replaced after the album’s release by Brian Craddock — a matter of semantics overlooked by most, especially in light of the album’s blockbuster success. Like many hotly anticipated albums of the SoundScan era, it debuted high on the charts but it didn’t drop down quickly: it stayed in the Top Ten for month after month, as did the first single, “It’s Not Over.” This meant that DAUGHTRY was not only a huge hit by Idol standards, it was one of the few hit rock albums — period — in 2006. DAUGHTRY didn’t debut at number one, but it climbed to the top in January 2007 (granted, it only sold about 65,000 copies the week it was at number one, but that’s still an impressive feat) and stayed in the Top Ten well into the new year, as did the single “It’s Not Over.” By February, it was evident that his popularity eclipsed those of his American Idol rivals Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee. – Stephen Thomas Erlewine