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'American Idol' Daughtry credits hard work and new approach with success

Daughtry, from left: Josh Paul (bass), Josh Steely (lead guitar), Chris Daughtry (vocals, guitar), Elvio Fernandes (keyboards) and Brian Craddock (rhythm guitar). Not pictured is drummer Jamal Moore. Chris Daughtry was a season-five finalist on American Idol.
Daughtry, from left: Josh Paul (bass), Josh Steely (lead guitar), Chris Daughtry (vocals, guitar), Elvio Fernandes (keyboards) and Brian Craddock (rhythm guitar). Not pictured is drummer Jamal Moore. Chris Daughtry was a season-five finalist on American Idol.

When you introduce yourself to a prospective pop public by way of network television and then capitalize on your popularity by selling over eight million copies of your debut album, the prospect of altering your sound even a little probably isn't part of the big career picture.

But when Chris Daughtry is calling the shots, shaking the stylistic tree is part of the fun of being a star.

A season-five finalist on American Idol, the North Carolina native formed a band that bore his name with a sound full of pop-friendly riffs, proudly anthemic lyrics and an extra large guitar charge — sort of like Nickelback, only nicer.

And it hit.

Big.

The 2006 debut album Daughtry was an immediate smash that had six singles, led by It's Not Over, scaling the charts over the following year. Three hit follow-up albums proved the Idol alum's popularity was no fluke.

Then Daughtry embraced something all rock stars are taught to avoid: change. For 2013's Baptized album, he fine-tuned his songwriting, scaled back the guitar amp-age and offered a streamlined version of his band's familiar brand of pop crunch.

"I definitely went into this with the mindset of not doing anything we've done before," said Daughtry, who will front his namesake band for a Monday concert at the EKU Center for the Arts.

"I didn't know what that meant at the time. I just knew that if it sounded anything like what I've written before, then it wasn't good enough for this record. I wanted this record to be a complete departure from what we've done in the past.

"I don't really have a set direction when we start these things. A lot of times you can start writing a bunch of songs and take them apart to see which ones feel fresh and new. But you still have to be cognizant of what is working on radio, as well. And heavy guitars right now are just not the favorite there. We had to be aware of that and know what we can get away with, what we can't."

What Daughtry got away with were more melody driven singles like Waiting for Superman and Long Live Rock and Roll that helped retain Daughtry's strong radio presence, making the band one of the most lasting success stories to emerge from American Idol.

"Everybody's paths are different," Daughtry said. "There are certainly still bands out there that get signed the old-fashioned way and then there is the avenue I took, which worked well for me. It doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work well for everybody.

"American Idol is not a guaranteed system of success on anyone's part. You have to put in the work. Luckily, I've always had a strong work ethic. I knew right off the show I had to hit the ground running and start writing and working. I think the combination of people wanting to hear what I had to say and me doing the work to give them the best I could kind of played hand in hand.

"But a lot of times people come off these shows and think there is this built-in success. They wait for it to fall in their lap. I think they're quickly reminded that's not the case."

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