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Bo Bice: The Beginning ...

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"Why is Mr. Googly Eyes getting all the love?" ...

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"One of the biggest barriers I'm trying to cross is that barrier of legitimacy." ...

Bo Bice On The Sunset Strip

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MTV News RAW: Bo Bice

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— by Corey Moss

The big-haired blond singer standing center stage next to Bo Bice tonight isn't Carrie Underwood. He isn't nearly as cute.

It's 1 a.m. at the Roxy, and Bice has just been invited onstage by Metal Skool, the hair-metal tribute band that's been rocking Hollywood's Sunset Strip like a hurricane for the past few years.

MTV News RAW: Bo Bice
The bearded 'Bama belter interviews parking meters, shows off his moped and talks about his admiration for Carrie Underwood.

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On TV, Bo is the "rocker," but next to this motley crew of tattooed, leather-clad Whitesnake worshippers, he's "the guy who came in second on 'American Idol,' " as singer Michael Star introduces him.

"We're gonna give him a chance to prove himself, heavy metal-style," guitarist Satchel tells the capacity crowd as he tears into the opening riff of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine."

Bice smiles, grabs the mic and belts out a squeal that would make Axl Rose proud. He tosses his hat and swings his long hair in the air, saluting the room with double metal horns. He kicks in with the vocals just in time, nailing every line. By mid-song, he's racing around the stage, striking poses with the band. The crowd is going nuts.

Now we're in Bo Bice's heaven.

Hours earlier, Bice arrives a few blocks away at Whisky A Go-Go, dressed for a night on the Strip in a khaki cowboy hat, sunglasses, brown Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt, ripped jeans, red flip-flops and a surprising amount of bling. He's shorter and skinnier than he seems on TV, and definitely funnier. It's a goofy kind of humor, but he's quick with it. ("I can't get a penny's worth of advice out of this guy," he says later, trying to interview a parking meter.)

The Whisky is where some of Bice's favorite bands got their start — the Doors chief among them — as well as where, some six months ago, he was recognized for the first time. "He was this big tattooed cat, and he walked up and said, 'Hey, you're Bo Bice,' " the singer recalls in his thick drawl. "I said, 'Dude, are you going to kick my ass?' And he said, 'My wife loves you, man!' "

It's easy to love Bo, and not just because of that charming nickname. (His real name is Harold, by the way.) With all his ma'ams and sirs, he's a consummate Southern gentleman, constantly downplaying his subtle smarts with simple-minded maxims like "You're dog-tootin' right," and "Throw me a bone here."

Bice orders a Heineken ("Thank you, ma'am") and turns his attention to the band, four young teenagers straight out of "The O.C." doing their best Jimmy Eat World impersonation.

"I was about that age when I played my first show," he says, rubbing his beard. But before then, when he was 9, Bice had his first band plotted on a piece of paper. "The name was Militia and, oh my goodness, I had drawn out the album cover and everything," he recalls. "Man, it was so embarrassing."

Photos: Bo Bice On The Sunset Strip

At 13, Bice moved to London — where his father was transferred with Coca-Cola — and started his first real band, Spinning Jenny. He took advantage of the U.K.'s more permissive drinking laws ("You could have what's called a shandy, half lemonade/ half beer," Bo explains), frequenting pubs as a customer and performer though his teens. He later fronted Chrome Slugs and Number 9 before the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and he joined Purge, which became Blue Suede Nickel, Farmer Jennings and eventually his current band, Sugar Money. "I think I've been in a dozen bands, man — none of them with any notoriety, obviously," he says.

At the Whisky, Bice befriends the manager, who treats him to a tour of the venue, beginning with a wall of photos of bands that have performed inside the tiny corner building. "System of a Down used to come and bring like two people," she says.

"I remember playing at bars with two people," Bice replies. "The mosh pit was really hard on those nights. You had to have good aim."

NEXT: "Why is Mr. Googly Eyes getting all the love?"
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