Billboard caught up with Daughtry to find out why he slipped on the mask and how he found his zen on the show.
You mentioned in your clue packages that this was a very liberating experience that really allowed you to show a new side of yourself and stretch out artistically. Can you describe what you meant by that?
What was so attractive to me was being under this veil of anonymity and being free to perform choreography and doing things I would not typically do as a performer for my own band and how I could freely do that without worrying about being judged, or my band or anyone going, "Dude, what are you doing?" There was this very meditative aspect of being in this costume -- no one knows who you are, you can't talk to anyone, you can't really do anything and you're seeing through this 4-inch-by-4-inch screen in your mask, so you're almost forced to just be with yourself and really be present. It was probably the most present I've ever been in any situation like this. And the fact that you don't know who you're up against or who else is out there or what songs anyone is singing, there's something very liberating about that as well because you're not going, "Oh, I have to change my song now because this person is doing this." Or "I gotta up my game." I'm only competing with myself, and that was really... almost transformative.
What made you decide to do this show? You were obviously on American Idol and you know how these shows go, so you'd think once you do, you might not want to do a second one. Was it your kids, your fans...?
This was such a different animal altogether, no pun intended. I remember years ago seeing this video of Ryan Reynolds as the unicorn on King of Masked Singer in Korea, and I remember seeing that and going, "That looks fun. I would love to do something like that." Fast-forward to last year and my publicist asked if I'd ever heard of The Masked Singer ... so I watched it and said, "I have to do this. This looks like so much fun to me." Of course my kids came into play thinking how cool it would be for them to see their daddy as a dog. They still think it's me, but at the same time -- I have twins -- my son was like, "Daddy, I know that sounds exactly like you and some of the clues even sound like you, but I keep track of your schedule and when you're gone and when you're not and it just doesn't add up." He's a little detective.
Have you been watching with them and smiling?
I actually watched it with Noah last week, because we were in Arizona doing a show and it came on and we were able to watch it, but most of the time it's after their bedtime and they'll catch it the next day.
He's not wrong, you definitely had the coolest costume, with the ripped abs and the gold chain...
I kept asking them to put a shirt on me because it looked too salacious, it felt self-indulgent.
You kept talking about how you wanted to reinvent yourself, so what has happened in your career that made you feel like you needed a reboot?
I felt like I need an experience, something that I'd never done. You tour so much and it’s the day-in and day-out, and I felt like I was in need of some real excitement. And when this opportunity came along, I got more excited than I have in a long time. I didn't look at it on the same parallel as going on Idol, but as something that is going to challenge me in ways I've never been challenged and I'll get to do it without anyone knowing who I am, which was so attractive to me.
It showed with your song choices. You sang a Sia song on the finale and really stretched, without people knowing it, the concept people have of you. Talk about that song and some of the others you did that helped get you out of the hard-rocker persona people put you in.
I specifically stayed away from rock. I wanted to find songs that spoke to me and really challenged a different part of my voice. I didn't want to disguise it and try to sing like a different person, but I wanted to do songs that would not put me in that range that would be too obvious, that higher register. I saved those kinds of songs, like "Alive," toward the end because at that point, it didn't matter. I've always wanted to do a Sia song. I've always been a huge fan of her voice and her songwriting, and that song to me summed up my entire experience because I felt so alive in that costume in such a weird way and so present in a way that I've never really been before onstage. No one was looking at me. They're seeing this... thing, this totem of a character, and they have no idea who's under it. I felt so free to do whatever the song called for. The choreography was so fun, but man, I never realized how hard it was going to be to pull all that off under a weighted suit. I got so winded every performance. I think [OneRepublic's] "Love Runs Out," I just dropped to the floor afterwards because I was completely gassed. It's like singing in a paper bag.
That's what everyone else told me -- it was hard to see, breathe, expand your diaphragm to get air...
We'd practice the choreography in a room, and you'd kind of get a sense of that room, but then when I went out onstage, I had no idea where I was. I was getting lost, landing on all the wrong marks, facing the wrong direction. It took me three or four tries to gain my bearings and figure out where I was. There's no peripheral vision whatsoever, and it's very hard not to get frustrated in that moment and completely forget to have fun. I had to really mediate in that costume before going out and to sit there and be like, "This is fun, this is not serious. Just have fun with it." And I did, and this was the most fun I've had onstage in as many years as I can remember.
Also, not for nothing, but you beat Michelle Williams, Patti LaBelle, Seal...
I know, right? Seal? I mean seriously? It was very surreal, and I found out when everyone else did, because we don't see them unmasked. We don't hear the songs, so I'm watching it and the first time I hear Leopard, I'm like, "Holy sh--, that's Seal!" There was no doubt in my mind. I know his voice all too well and I know Seal and I can't wait to actually get to talk to him about it. And when Patti LaBelle got revealed, I was like, "Are you kidding me?" I felt like she got robbed. It was pretty validating, to be honest.
The funny thing is, some of the guesses the judges had, your name came up, but toward the end they were talking about Jared Leto, Darren Criss, Gavin Rossdale... those are all pretty good guesses and nothing to sneeze at...
Those were definitely the guesses that made me most excited, because I'm fans of those artists and it was pretty flattering to be mistaken for them.
Now that you've done this and proven to people that you're much more than Chris Daughtry the rock guy, are we going to see something different from you, something poppier?
I kind of feel like I've been dabbling in the pop world for a while. I feel like our record Baptized tread that line of pop pretty well, and the last record, Cage to Rattle, was headed more in the rock direction. And I feel like the way I'm headed now, even after this show, is I want guitars to come back. We're in the studio working on new stuff already, and it's pretty rockin'! But it certainly gives me more confidence onstage to do more than what people have seen me do in the past, and it's opened up my world in a way I didn't really expect. It's certainly going to have an influence on my approach to songs and performance.
So by wearing a mask, you can now be more yourself onstage. It's the interesting irony of this show...
All along, the judges said you were one of the strongest vocalists and had a good chance of being in the finals. How did you feel about coming in second place? Not to put too fine a point on it, but you've been on that end of things before on Fox reality singing shows [Daughtry placed fourth on season 5 of American Idol]. Did you think you had a chance to win?
Because I never knew what I was up against I never knew what to expect ever. I only knew what I did and I didn't know if someone just brought the house down right before me and I'm just going out there to pick up sloppy seconds of their applause. It was a shock to me in the sense that I didn't know the competition. My goal was to certainly make it past four. I didn't want to be fourth place again. I was very happy that I made it to the finale. My goal was to get to the finale.
What were your worst guesses as to who the other contestants were?
I'm really bad at guessing, except for Seal was very obvious to me because I recognized his voice so well. I'm not a big sports fan, but I had reason to believe that the really tall Thingamajig was going to be Dennis Rodman, for whatever reason. My keyboard player is a big sports guy, and he was guessing [Victor Oladipo] all along. And I was like, "Nope, I swear to you it's Dennis Rodman!" I'm definitely the Ken Jeong of the guessing game.
Who did you tell you were on the show? And who are you excited to tell now?
Nobody knew except my manager and my wife. But from the very first commercial, I was getting texts from friends I've known since high school and grew up with who weren't even asking me. They were like, "Dude, you're not fooling anybody in that costume." I couldn't say anything, so I was like, "What are you talking about? What's The Masked Singer? Man, he does sound like me, I can't wait to find out who that is!"
Who are you most excited to watch the finale with?
Everyone in my circle -- they all just know. They're not even asking me, they have no doubt in their mind. They know me enough to know the clues and my voice, and my kids have been asking me about it ever since it came out. And like I said, my son keeps track of my schedule so obviously it isn't me. [Laughs] I think I'm going to be most excited to be able to talk about it freely, because I've had to do meet-and-greets at shows where fans have been bringing me swag with dogs on it and asking me about it and I've had to keep a very strong poker face this entire time. It's gonna be nice to just not have to lie.