In case you somehow forgot, Chris Daughtry got his start back in 2006 on a little show called American Idol. He stood out from the beginning, when he confidently walked into the audition room to face the judges for the first time and spoke of needing to support his family. Fast-forward a few weeks, and he had proven himself to be the Season 5 frontrunner with performances of Fuel’s “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” and a cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” by Live. But just four weeks out from the grand finale that would crown the winner, he was eliminated (Taylor Hicks was the eventual victor).
As the shocking news was announced, the audience gasped before falling into stunned silence. Daughtry was equally stunned. It was a memorable moment in Idol history, especially because it happened during the height of the show’s popularity (around 30 million viewers tuned in every week that season, which is unheard of these days) — and it had everyone talking about what went wrong for the singer.
But unlike so many reality show castoffs before (and after), it wasn’t the end of Daughtry — it was just the beginning. After turning down an offer to front Fuel, he formed his own band, simply named Daughtry. And it was like a monster had been let out of a cage. The group’s self-titled debut album soared to Number One, selling five million copies and producing seven hit singles, including the Top Five “It’s Not Over” and “Home.” Their second album, Leave This Town, sold 1.5 million and garnered three hits, then Break the Spell and Baptized followed. Daughtry proved unstoppable.
Now, 10 years out from that fateful night on the Idol stage, Chris Daughtry and his namesake band have released a greatest hits album, It’s Not Over…The Hits so Far, and the singer is dabbling in some new mediums (last month he starred in the Fox TV musical The Passion and drew a special variant cover for the Batman #50 comic book).
With American Idol coming to an end this Thursday, Rolling Stone talked to Chris Daughtry about his time on the show, who he thinks is going to win the final season (hint: it’s the rocker) and how the Hulk and Hugh Jackman helped him prepare for the role of Judas.
After you were eliminated on American Idol, did you see a greatest hits album in your future?
Hell no! I was too narrow-minded. I just wanted to be able to play a few regional gigs and pay my bills. I wasn’t thinking national, much less international.
How does it feel to release your “greatest hits” 10 years into your career?
Bizarre. On one side, it’s like, “Oh man, that means we’re done.” Normally when I see a greatest hits album, it’s from, like, the Eagles or something. [Laughs] But it has been 10 years, and it’s a nice intermission before we release our fifth record, which we’re working on now. So, yeah, I felt a little weird about it at first, but now I look at it as, “Hell yeah, we’ve had enough songs for a greatest hits record!” And that doesn’t suck. We even had too many singles to include, which is a nice problem to have.
There are two new songs on the album, “Torches” and “Go Down.” Are they a taste of what fans can expect from your next studio album?
They’re definitely indicative of where we’re headed stylistically. I co-wrote them with Dave Bassett, who I worked with on Break the Spell. He’s a rock dude who has written for Shinedown and has had massive success recently with Elle King and Rachel Platten. “Torches” came about because I went to his house in Malibu, and there was all this dry brush. I said, “If someone flicked a cigarette, you’d be shit out of luck,” and we went down this rabbit hole talking about how quickly fire spreads and all the internet bullying that’s going on and how people can say shit from their computers without getting punched in the face. The lyrics sound current and relevant, and we experimented with incorporating guitars while keeping a pop element. That’s why “Torches” has an organic feel that was missing on our last record, Baptized.
Have you already started working on the next album?
In a way. I wrote about 15 songs when I was writing for the greatest hits record, and we put four or five of those tracks on hold for the next studio album. That’s not to say they were less good than “Torches” or “Go Down.” In fact, we put them aside because they were better. There’s some really incredible stuff that we’re super-pumped about. We’re diving in fresh at the end of the month to see what shakes out and holds up against the material we already have.
Of the songs on the greatest hits collection, which is your favorite to perform live?
Absolutely, hands down, “September.” That’s in my top five favorite songs I’ve ever written. It’s very personal about my childhood and where I grew up, and it always conjures up a lot of memories, including when my dad first listened to it and started crying because he instantly knew what it was about. There are songs you sing over and over again, even emotional ones, that you become numb to. But “September” always has a freshness to it for me.
Do you ever perform songs you did on Idol?
Every now and then I’ve broken out “I Walk the Line” because Ed Kawalczyk from Live is a good friend of mine, and if we’re ever in the same city, he comes to the show and jumps onstage to jam. But typically, no. Still, there’s always at least one person at every show who yells out “Do ‘Wanted Dead or Alive!'” or “‘Hemorrhage (In My Hands)!'” It’s usually some dude who has had way too many.
On that note, are you sad to see the show go or secretly happy to have it moving into the rear-view?
It’s bittersweet. I look back very proudly on my season and the group of people we had and how many went on to actually have music careers. It was one of the most successful seasons as far as artists succeeding after the show. We all got along, and it was a really tight group, so I have very fond memories and am happy to say I was a part of the overall history of the show. So, the fact that it’s going away feels a little weird and I’m nostalgic. It’s going out on a high note, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some other company buys it, repackages it and brings it back with a slightly different name. Whether that happens or not, though, it’s a show that will be remembered for a long time, and that’s super-cool to me.
You’ve been doing some acting, most recently in The Passion. What prompted that move and how do you like it?
Acting is something I wanted to do before I started singing. As a little kid, I was always dressing up and acting out scenes that I saw on TV, mostly superhero stuff. My mom got pissed once because I shredded up my jeans like Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk—and you had this skinny-ass white kid in ripped jeans running around thinking he’s the Hulk. Then music happened. After our fourth album Baptized, though, I was exhausted from music and touring, to be quite honest. I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to pick up a guitar, so I started going on acting auditions. I booked a pilot for Fox called Studio City, but it didn’t get picked up. When I was first approached about The Passion I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to do a musical. I didn’t want to do anything that involved my day job, so to speak, because I wanted people to separate the two. But I’m glad I did it. It was an amazing experience and I’m very proud of it. I tried to channel Hugh Jackman from Les Miserables for my role as Judas. I tried to depict a real struggle and not make it so black and white. I just wish the ratings had been better.
Would you ever consider doing Broadway?
I’ve been asked that a lot. I’m not interested in it, but I never like saying never — because every time I do, I end up doing what I said I’d never do! So, maybe if I don’t say “never,” I’ll never have to go back and say, “Welp, I lied!” But it’s really not something that interests me, at least at this point in my life.
Now, the real question: Who do you think is going to win this season of American Idol?
I don’t want to jinx him, but I feel like Dalton Rapattoni could take this thing. He has a good shot. Then again, La’Porsha Renae is phenomenal. But they’re polar opposites — he’s rock, and she seems like she’d go the gospel route — so they’re not really competing for the same spot in the industry. Either way, they’re both going to be just fine.
You mentored Dalton on the show this season…
And you know I will take 100 percent credit if he wins! I can’t wait to rub it in and go, “See … y’all should have had me coaching everybody!”