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Poor Chris Daughtry can’t catch a break. Thirteen years ago, he went home in fourth place on American Idol — arguably the most shocking elimination in that series’ history. This fall, he returned to the same network, to avenge his defeat and hopefully complete his redemption story arc. But he ended up stalling in second place on The Masked Singer, with his Rottweiler losing out to Wayne Brady’s Fox.
“I'm just not good at winning s***,” Daughtry chuckles. “That's my destiny. I'm a very solid runner-up. I'm so good at being the runner-up.”
Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment after the Masked Singer finale, Chris “The Rottweiler” Daughtry is actually in great spirits — certainly better spirits than he was on that infamous Idol results night — joking that he “just wanted to make it past the top four this time” and stressing that he thinks Brady “did an incredible job” and “absolutely earned” that Golden Mask trophy. There is no shame in Daughtry’s Masked Singer game. However, he does admit, “The only thing that I think is going to bug me the most is I'm going to hear ‘You should’ve won!’ for another 10 years. That's what I've been hearing ever since Idol, and now I'm going to hear it again.”
As someone who’s likely been trying to shake the reality-television stigma — which can be a particular hindrance in the rock world — for over a decade now, Daughtry took a potentially career-killing risk by dressing as a McGruff the Crime Dog lookalike and belting Hall & Oates and Sia songs on a silly costume competition. But he stresses, “I didn't think about that, not even a little bit. I wanted this experience so, so bad, and it felt so exciting to me.”
In fact, Daughtry had longed to be on The Masked Singer ever since he saw a YouTube clip of Ryan Reynolds’s viral Unicorn performance from the Korean version of the series last year. And he says as soon as he learned that The Masked Singer would air in the States, “I was like, ‘Oh my God, absolutely. Get me on that show!’ I just loved the idea of being free and under the veil of anonymity and being able to perform whatever you want, however you want — without any kind of preconceived notions of who you are as an artist. It was that liberating experience that I was so attracted to, and I was elated that they wanted me on the show. I couldn't wait. I hadn't been this excited about an opportunity in a very long time.”
Daughtry, a Comic-Con regular, was “definitely no stranger” to donning crazy costumes. And once he had a chance to pick out his TV character, he was inspired by both his love of comic books and a certain childhood trauma. “I was trying to find something that resonated with me, and very much like how Batman became Batman by facing his fears and becoming the thing he feared the most, I was in a similar situation with the Rottweiler,” he explains. “I was bitten by a Rottweiler when I was about 15, and it made me terrified of that particular breed of dog. So, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I'm going to embody my fear and become what I fear the most.’ Very much like Batman.”
Still, despite all his cosplay experience, Daughtry was in no way prepared for the unique challenges of performing week after week in a giant canine bobblehead. “It was the most difficult, difficult thing I've ever done in regards to performance, because everything you think you know how to do goes right out the window when you're covered up,” he laughs. “Your peripheral vision is shot. You can barely even see through the little screen that you do have. I was missing my marks onstage, like, ‘Where am I? Where's the camera?’ And it was so hot and I was gasping for breath, because it was almost like singing in a paper bag where you're recycling your own air. There was not one performance where by the time I got past the first chorus, I was not dying. Like, ‘How long is a minute and a half? This is ridiculous!’
“So, I just had to Zen out. You can't speak to anyone [backstage], you're not free to just roam around, so I was sitting in this costume observing my own thoughts, meditating, visualizing what I'm going to do out there, hoping I remember the choreography, hoping my voice doesn't take a total dump on me when I'm gasping for breath. It was very challenging — way, more challenging than I ever anticipated — but at the same time, it made it that much more worth it, and that much more gratifying when I got as far as I did.”
Perhaps the even bigger challenge for Daughtry was keeping his identity a mystery — and frankly, he didn’t do a very good job of that. It was pretty much the worst-kept secret in show business. Although this second season of The Masked Singer had promised tougher clues and tighter “military-grade” security, Daughtry’s vocals were so distinctive (this dawg was not pitchy!) that most of his fans guessed it was him on the first episode, or even from the show’s early commercials. Even his former Season 5 American Idol co-stars, Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee, both tweeted that they knew he was the Rottweiler.
“From the first trailer of the series, I was getting texts from friends that I grew up with since high school that were like… well, they weren't even asking me, they were just like, ‘Dude, you're not fooling anybody under that costume.’ And I couldn't say anything,” says Daughtry. “I had to pretend, like: ‘Huh? I don't know what you're talking about! The Masked Singer? What’s that?’ And then when the show started, it was just every episode; even my parents were asking. Even having meet-and-greets and concerts during the time that the show was airing, people were coming up to me with swag with Rottweilers on them [for me to autograph]. I had to keep the strongest poker face I've ever had to keep in my life.”
Daughtry probably had more trouble keeping his secret that any other contestant, because The Masked Singer, like the original Idol series, aired on Fox, so he kept running into former Idol employees on the Fox set. “I did see a few that I remembered from Idol, but I couldn't even say anything or give them any kind of acknowledgement like I knew them, and that was hard for me, because I'm such a people person,” he says. “I just had to keep my mouth shut, because my speaking voice, I've been told, is apparently just as recognizable as my singing voice! There were times when the producer would come in and be like, ‘You need to be quiet! Everybody can hear you outside your trailer!’”
Daughtry is amused when he learns, during the course of this very interview, that original American Idol judge Simon Cowell also once dressed up as a pooch on TV — as pop-singing novelty act Wonder Dog. And he thinks his old Idol crew would be proud of his Masked Singer run. “I hope they look at it fondly and are super-supportive,” Daughtry says. But it was interesting how often Daughtry spoke on The Masked Singer about his confidence issues, considering that, despite his setback on American Idol, he became one of the most successful Idols of all time. So, why did he feel he needed to put on a dog mask to feel more like himself?
“I thought people had an idea of who they thought I was and then who I was on American Idol. I'm a completely different person in general since that show, and I just wanted people to really see the real me and not just peg me as this hard-ass rock guy with no personality,” says Daughtry, who actually once told Yahoo that Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” is one of his favorite songs, and — speaking of poker faces – went viral himself on YouTube in 2009 with a cover of a Lady Gaga hit.
“You know, you hear the rumblings online, and you let certain things get in your head and certain ideas that people may have about you, or may not have about you. And [The Masked Singer] was just an opportunity for me to break outside of that and really perform without the feeling of ‘I need to cater to this group of people,’ or ‘I need to appear this way, because this is how people expect me to be.’ It was my own idea of what people may think of me that I was trying to shake.”
Incidentally, although Daughtry was never in the bottom two on The Masked Singer (hence why he seemed like such a frontrunner), he reveals if he’d ever had to sing in the Instant Smackdown, he would have performed ‘NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye.” But ironically, despite all of his standout pop performances on The Masked Singer, the newly confident Daughtry, whose poppier 2013 album Baptized was polarizing among his old-school fans, says he’s now “in that phase in my life where I'm really itching to get back to the big guitars and bring the rock back,” and he promises that his next album will “definitely be rock.”
The Masked Singer Season 2 may have just ended, but Fox is already claiming that Season 3, which premieres Feb. 2 right after the Super Bowl, will have “the biggest celebrities yet.” And despite not winning the Golden Mask, Daughtry enthusiastically advises any of his fellow rock stars (or former American Idol contestants) considering competing on The Masked Singer: “It was just the most incredible experience, so anyone out there who is thinking about doing it, it's absolutely worth it. It doesn't compare to anything I've ever done before.”
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