Daughtry frontman and namesake Chris Daughtry might not have won the 2006 edition of “American Idol,” but he’s certainly won the hearts of music fans, who have made his band’s debut album the best-selling record of the year to date, according to Neilsen SoundScan.

With some 2.6 million copies of its eponymous debut sold at press time, and a string of sold-out concerts in the last year, Daughtry has won respect that matters – from the record- and ticket-buying public. His is the first Pollstar cover to feature an “American Idol” contestant.

“Oh, wow…that’s sweet!” a raspy-voiced Daughtry said when told the news. He was nursing his first sore throat of his latest tour when Pollstar caught up with him. It would have been understandable if the newly minted superstar had postponed another telephone chat with a reporter, but he soldiered on with grace, like an old pro.

“I didn’t really work my way into the business until I got onto the show,” Daughtry said. “I was playing in bars where nobody came to see me. It felt like I was spinning my wheels. It wasn’t like anybody was helping me get into the business or anything like that.

“It was a matter of almost 10 years of nothing happening and getting frustrated, and deciding to try to get on a TV show and get your voice heard. That’s basically what happened. I started when I was 16 and ever since, I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

Pulling together a band comprising Brian Craddock and Josh Steeley on guitars, bassist Josh Paul and drummer Joey Barnes, he went straight out on the road playing 200- to 500-seat venues and selling them out. The band recorded its hit album, which debuted at No. 3 on SoundScan’s album chart when it was released in late November.

Daughtry remains solidly in the Top 10 after 25 weeks, and has two singles – “It’s Not Over” and “Home” – taking Hot AC and Active Rock radio charts by storm.

His post-AI career has soundly eclipsed those of other finalists and even a couple of winners, considering that without the exposure from the show, Daughtry might likely still be performing for beer money in Arkansas roadhouses – though obviously not because of a lack of talent.

Manager Sterling McIlwaine of 19 Entertainment doesn’t mince words when talking about the failures of record companies to find and develop talent like Daughtry’s.

“He was just playing bars around Greensboro a year and a half ago,” McIlwaine told Pollstar. “He had no idea what the future had in store for him. I’m not sure that the business, as it is now, would have signed him had he gotten in front of A&R people before he came on the show. That’s the irony of the whole thing.”

Daughtry had other options, but found his calling as an artist early.


“When I was in high school I definitely toyed around with the idea of being a comic artist or an actor. I starting messing around with music and I enjoyed singing, but it wasn’t something I felt I was good enough to do professionally,” Daughtry said. “But when I saw Live in ’97 for the first time, it kind of enforced what I wanted. I decided it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So I kind of kept plugging away at it.”

That’s an apt way to describe how Daughtry, McIlwaine and CAA agent Jeff Frasco are plotting the band’s future – working its way up through the smaller venues first, rather than taking what might seem like an obvious leap to major markets.

“We didn’t want to bypass any stage of developing the live show,” McIlwaine explained. “We did 60 shows in 500- to 700-seaters. He really connected with the audience. It would have been so easy to go and jump into the big venues and take the checks and whatever. We really wanted to build his touring career in, if you will, a legitimate way.

“We’ll go from there to the fairs this summer. We’ll do a co-headline this fall. But were not just interested in selling as many tickets as possible. We could if we wanted to, and that’s a good feeling. But we’re opting for career.”

McIlwaine was hired by 19 Entertainment and “Idol” mastermind Simon Fuller as Daughtry’s manager during the show’s run.

“We were also in contact with Jeff Frasco during the show and management decided to pick me up,” Daughtry said of his team. “We haven’t got any gripes about them. We wanted to stick with them. We had a choice, but they were doing such a good job with us we don’t really want to go elsewhere.”

And while superstardom emanating from a television talent show – albeit a monster like “American Idol” – is the exception rather than the rule for most emerging artists, McIlwaine doesn’t discount its new, however untraditional, role in artist development.

“It is what it is. It’s a pop culture juggernaut for sure. … It’s not the ‘good old-fashioned way’ to some people,” McIlwaine acknowledged.

“I don’t necessarily agree because in 2007 I don’t think there is a ‘good old-fashioned way’ anymore. There’s YouTube and community based content that’s coming out on the Internet.

“This is just another aspect of that. There’s a real community component to it that is very substantial. The producers don’t choose, the judges don’t choose. The people choose. Chris deserves every bit of this. He’s a superstar.”