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Singer Chris Daughtry never really worried. He saw his big shot at a music career slip out of his grasp when he was voted off TV’s American Idol by the show’s audience last season — despite initially being considered a frontrunner for the title.

“I didn’t feel like that,” Daughtry, 27. “It was definitely a shock to me at that moment. You’re in a contest and you get to a point where you want to win it. That’s why you got in it. And then when that didn’t happen, it was like, ‘Oh,’ so you have to kind of rethink your game plan a little bit.”

Maybe somewhere inside Daughtry immediately knew that all was not lost. He certainly couldn’t have known how much good losing the way he did on Idol was going to do for his rock ‘n’ roll career. The dust and the outcry over Daughtry losing any chance to win had not even settled before it became clear just how big an impression he had made on the show.

“It took me about two days to get over it,” says the singer. “I was like, you know what, keep going with it and move on. Next thing you know, Clive Davis wanted to meet with me and the rest is history.”

Davis is, of course, is the head of RCA Records and one of music’s legendary record executives. He’s had huge success in signing other Idol winners, including Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, and Fantasia Barrino. He certainly must have recognized that the groundswell of support for Daughtry — and the publicity that surrounded his departure from the competition — made the singer a hot commodity.

Within several months of that defining moment last May, both Daughtry and Davis had already come out smelling like the proverbial rose. Daughtry’s self-titled album debuted at number one on Billboard‘s album chart after its Nov. 21 release and has since topped two million in sales.

Daughtry certainly offers the kind of rags-to-riches story for which American Idol is known. Now living near Greensboro, N.C., he previously played rhythm guitar and sang in bands around the area. But he knew his opportunities to make a name for himself were limited both by where he lived and the fact that he and his wife, Deanna, have a son and daughter of their own, and an adopted son and a daughter from Deanna’s previous marriage.

“It was very difficult to get the exposure that I needed to make it where I was from,” Daughtry says. “I always thought it was a little corny for what I was trying to do. I didn’t think it would cater to the rock community.”

Two years ago, Daughtry auditioned for Rock Star: INXS, but he didn’t make the cut. So he decided to try out for American Idol.

The dozen songs on the Daughtry disc — all but two of which were written or cowritten by Daughtry — find him staking out a melodic mainstream rock sound similar to that of 3 Doors Down, Nickelback, and Creed. He recorded the album with session musicians, but he has now formed a band — also called Daughtry.

“I think the band captures the integrity of the album, but I wanted to make sure that they didn’t feel confined to it and that they were able to kind of do their own thing with it,” says the bandleader. “We kind of just change it up because we don’t want the audience or the fans to see exactly and hear exactly what they heard on the album. I want them to feel like they walked away with something different or even better than the album.”

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