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LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - 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 says 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. The group's self-titled first album sold 4.4 million copies since its release in November 2006, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and eventually hit No. 1 after nine weeks.
The album was a perfect storm of the commercial and the creative. It paired Daughtry's gigantic fan base from "American Idol" -- on which he was the fifth season's fourth-place finalist in 2006 -- with the set's instantly winning "Guitar Hero"-worthy guitar riffs and lyrics.
The group's second album, "Leave This Town," set for release July 14, gets a leg up from this foundation; it's another record full of songs that make you want to roll down the car windows and bust a vocal cord or two while trying to match Daughtry's gravelly wail. 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.
The first album was created on the run with session musicians, while Daughtry was touring on the annual "American Idol" summer trek.
"Leave This Town," by contrast, was a much more collaborative process that came together in a couple of months, without any deadline pressure from the label.
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," co-written with Kroeger, currently stands at No. 48 on the Hot 100.
"You're looking for something that's obviously going to be radio-friendly," Daughtry's manager Stirling McIlwaine says of the first single. "The second requirement is, 'Will it be a great launching point for the campaign? Will it tell people he's back? Does it have the signature Daughtry sound?' That's the song that raised its hand."
The leading contender for the second single is the ballad "Life After You," a plaintive take on loss that will start being worked to radio in the fall.
And while Daughtry's voice and rock riffs still play center stage to most of the album's tracks, several songs take some creative chances. Daughtry wrote "You Don't Belong" on his own; it's a hard-driving song that wouldn't sound out of place on an Alice in Chains album. And "Tennessee Line," featuring a fiddle and vocals from Vince Gill, fits comfortably in the country-rock crossover space, a la Lady Antebellum.
The band's camaraderie was very much evident in a recent encounter --they finish each other's sentences and mock each other with good-natured snark. Two of them are wearing the same boots, which of course draws jeers from the rest of the band.
Sure, Daughtry gets the lion's share of the attention -- that inevitably falls on the lead singer, Borns notes -- but Steely reveals that fans have made Web sites dedicated to all of the band's members. ("Yeah, like, we're the New Kids on the Block," Paul says.)
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.
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.
In the wake of his appearance on "American Idol," Daughtry's fan base was, according to McIlwaine, 65%-70% female, generally between the ages of 25 and 45. Since he started the band, however, he broadened his exposure through targeted radio play and youth-oriented concert dates.
"We did one of the unofficial balls for the inauguration that was attended by 7,000 juniors and seniors in high school," he says. "I literally felt like I was looking out at a high school dance with no chaperones. Daughtry played an acoustic set -- and the kids were singing every lyric back to him."
Plans for international touring are still in the early stages. The United Kingdom was Daughtry's most significant sales territory outside the United States, where "Daughtry" peaked at No. 13 and has sold 42,000 copies, according to the Official Charts Co.
"The challenge with international is that they always want the U.S. story to be happening," McIlwaine says. "So we've got to simultaneously create the U.S. story and create some windows of time to go international." The label is considering appearances in Australia, South Africa and Europe.
Editing by Dean Gooodman at Reuters