Chris Daughtry is not the same performer he was 12 years ago, when he first gained national attention as a hard-rocking contestant on “American Idol.”
He says the biggest change is that he’s learned not to think too much.
“I’m not even close to the same performer I was then, I feel like I’m more at one with the music than ever,” said Daughtry, 37. “I’m not up there thinking about what I should do or how I should look during a song. It’s just me feeling what’s happening.”
As front man for the rock band that bears his name, Daughtry seems to have a feeling for what his audience wants, and then some. With his band, he’s sold more than 8 million albums and 16 million singles, toured the world over, had hit songs and been nominated for Grammy awards. On Wednesday, he and his band will play Portland’s Merrill Auditorium.
Daughtry recently released his fifth studio album, “Cage to Rattle,” praised by some reviewers as his best since his debut recording. While on “American Idol,” he was seen as a hard rocker compared to his competitors. But this latest album, while still rock, is more rootsy than some of his earlier work.
The songs are catchy, easy to stomp your foot to. One of the first tunes released, “Backbone,” is a hopeful song about the power of not giving up:
“Keep pushing up the river/Keep mining for the silver/’Til you’ve struck gold/Gotta weather the storm/’Cause it can’t rain forever, no.”
Daughtry grew up in North Carolina and Virginia in a musical family. His father and grandfather both played country music, but he had no interest in joining them.
He remembers singing along to pop radio stations all the time, by himself. But he didn’t consider himself a singer, he just figured everybody sang along with the radio.
As a teenager, he moved to Virginia, near the college town of Charlottesville, and got interested in the grunge music of the early ’90s. He joined bands and started seeing bands live. Then he picked up a guitar and began writing his own songs.
He auditioned for “American Idol” in Denver, doing a version of The Box Tops’ 1960s hit “The Letter.” He finished fourth on the show during the 2006 season but was still offered a recording deal by RCA.
Daughtry’s self-titled debut was the best-selling album of 2007. His band was also named top new artist of the year by the American Music Awards and Billboard magazine. He’s gone on to be one of the most successful of all the “American Idol” contestants, along with Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
“You have to adapt and evolve to stay alive in this business. Name one Prince record that sounds the same as another, or a Van Halen record,” said Daughtry. “That’s what I try to do. I think it’s about being more comfortable with myself as a performer over time.”
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
WHEN: 8 p.m. Aug. 22
HOW MUCH: $58.50 to $78.50