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DAUGHTRY 

Dec. 18, Verizon Arena

DAUGHTRY: He's the one.
  • DAUGHTRY: He's the one.

Chris Daughtry has been a much bigger winner than almost all of the real winners of “American Idol.” The fourth-place finisher in the show's 2006 season — Taylor Hicks? The winner? REALLY? — Daughtry struck quickly, his self-titled debut release selling a million copies in five weeks, becoming the fastest-selling rock album in history.

One of the primary complaints about Daughtry that came out of rampant “Idol” over-analysis was that he was too wooden, too serious, almost robotic. Three years later, a mixture of experience and confidence has transformed the North Carolinian into a warm, outgoing rocker who connected early and often with the 5,667 fans who nearly filled the lower bowl of Verizon Arena for his 90-minute Dec. 18 concert

Having six bona fide radio hits guarantees plenty of connection points with the crowd, and Daughtry — the singer/leader and also the rest of the hard-charging band that shares his name in capitals — did a creditable job with them all. “No Surprise,” the power ballad that was the first hit from “Leave This Town,” the second DAUGHTRY album, was a sing-along highlight, as was “Feels Like Tonight,” the predictable encore. “It's Not Over,” a Grammy nominee for Best Rock Song,” was another crowd favorite.

A late-set gem was “Helter Skelter,” the frenetic Beatles rocker released in 1968, making it older than at least 90 percent of the Verizon Arena crowd. Daughtry sang that one, and several others, from the front edge of a ramp that ran deep into the crowd. It was a prominent feature of a clean stage set that included other ramps and clear sight lines from every angle.

Daughtry's earnest vocals — and his guitar strumming during a one-man acoustic set that offered a lower-key respite from the high-energy rockers — were impressive, as was the work of his backing band, put together after the debut album was released. The fireworks that punctuated the show with a few startling blasts, as well as Roman candle-like fire balls as an artistic flourish, likely weren't needed to keep the crowd engaged but did add to the multi-sensory experience.

A big value-add this night was the performance of Theory of a Deadman, the warm-up act that's likely to be a headliner its next time through town. “Not Meant to Be” is a melodic, big-time hit, the poppiest of several popular tunes from the group's 2008 “Scars & Souvenirs” album. Lead singer/guitarist Tyler Connolly is a quintessential front man, pumping up the crowd, providing between-song commentary in his classic “radio” voice and being properly deferential to Daughtry, whose popularity his band might someday rival.

Among “Idol” contestants, only Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have sold more albums than Daughtry. If he continues to connect with crowds like he did at Verizon Arena and if radio programmers continue to give his songs a shot, his band might maintain that status for years to come.

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