Chris Daughtry is famous - hard not to be, what with the "American Idol" thing and the heartthrob thing and Grammy Award nomination thing and the gazillion records sold thing. But he still tries to be a normal guy.
He runs errands when he's home in North Carolina; a favorite pastime is taking his kids to the movies. And it was when he saw "Alvin and the Chipmunks" in the theater with his children that he realized his life had reached the point where weird is the new normal.
"Whoa! Whoa! This chipmunk is oversinging my song," he said with a wince, recalling the dog-whistle octave stylings of Alvin on "Feels Like Tonight" in the film. "There were runs everywhere. I didn't even know what it was until the chorus."
It's been an impressive couple of years for Daughtry, both the man and the band, which includes Josh Steely on lead guitar, Brian Craddock on rhythm guitar, Josh Paul on bass and Joey Barnes on drums. Its self-titled first album sold 4.4 million copies since its release in November 2006, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and 7.1 million digital track downloads.
"Daughtry" sold at least 15,000 copies a week - every week - from its release until May 2008.
The album was a perfect storm of the commercial and the creative that paired Daughtry's gigantic fan base from "American Idol" with the set's instantly winning, "Guitar Hero"-worthy guitar riffs and lyrics. The group's second album, "Leave This Town," is set for release July 14.
But there's one key change to the music: Daughtry - the band - created this album, instead of it being the work of Daughtry the brand.
"So much of the focus of the launch of the first record was on Chris," RCA senior vice president of marketing Aaron Borns said. "But they really are a band. When a band clicks the way they do, they work with such a good energy."
After finishing fourth in the fifth season of "American Idol" in 2006, Daughtry was obligated to complete the summer tour for the program's top 10 finalists. To capitalize on his appearance on the show with an album as soon as possible after the tour ended, it was a frantic rush to write songs, rehearse and record with session musicians. Only then were there auditions for the band members that would make up Daughtry and take those songs from the album on the road.
For "Leave This Town," the album's creation was much more collaborative and inclusive. Case in point: The cover of the first album showed Daughtry alone, front and center, with blurred, anonymous bandmates in the background. On the cover of "Leave This Town," the faces of all of the band's members are clearly seen.
While Daughtry remains the band's primary songwriter, he worked with Steely and Craddock on several tracks, as well as longtime friends of the band like Nickelback's Chad Kroeger and Brian Howes, who co-wrote "Over You" for Daughtry's first album.
The first single, "No Surprise," was first played live on "American Idol" and now stands at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100, with 268,000 digital copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Touring with Nickelback bolstered Daughtry's reputation - besides exposing the band to the established act's audience, it also melded the relationship between Daughtry and Kroeger as songwriters. On "Town," Kroeger and Daughtry wrote numerous tracks, including "No Surprise."
The week of the "American Idol" eighth-season finale in May (Daughtry was rooting for Kris Allen, despite Adam Lambert's more overt rock leanings), the band was in McIlwaine's office at 19 Entertainment in Los Angeles.
Sure, Daughtry gets the lion's share of the attention - that inevitably falls on the lead singer, Borns noted - but Steely revealed that fans have made Web sites dedicated to all of the band's members.
What all of this means is that now that Daughtry has cemented its relationship as a band, touring is a blast. It's where the members became friends and started to develop concepts for songs for the second album. In total, they developed more than 70 tracks for "Leave This Town."
They road-tested some of the contenders during their performances - a smart strategy, given their touring success. According to Billboard Boxscore, as a headliner, Daughtry grossed $1.4 million from 29 shows, selling out 28 of those dates.
This time Daughtry will tour as an established headliner in support of "Town." The band will do 15 shows this summer across the country for fan club members and radio contest winners; at the end of September Daughtry begins a 100-stop North American tour.
Daughtry is active on Twitter - yes, it's actually him, he has an iPhone, and the background of his Twitter page is an old-school Bob Kane "Batman."
Rather sweetly, he engages in a lot of public flirting on Twitter with his wife, Deanna, who has amassed almost 2,500 followers of her own under the name @Mrsdaughtry.
It all goes back to what people find most appealing about Daughtry: that he's a normal guy. That was the compelling backstory that boosted him during "American Idol" - before auditioning for the show, he worked as a service adviser at a Honda dealership.
Once he made it to the final rounds, it became clear he brought something new to the show, as his rock vocals veered away from the usual heavy pop-and-R&B bias. Without Daughtry, there wouldn't have been a David Cook - or, for that matter, a Lambert. *