His was the first name out of Simon Cowell's mouth when asked for his favorites at the start of the final 12. The gambling sites had him Tuesday as a near two-to-one favorite. So what happened to rocker Chris Daughtry?
"What went wrong?" Daughtry asked himself Thursday morning (May 11), hours after his shocking elimination (see "Daughtry On Elimination: 'I Wasn't Going To Pretend To Be Happy' "). "I think people just felt I was safe and didn't vote [for me]."
Daughtry's theory is one eliminated contestants often turn to, like Mandisa a month ago (see "Mandisa Defends Outspoken Spirituality, Waits For Ruben's Call"), and it could very well be the case. Several of the "Idol" experts MTV News contacted agreed.
"I think it's the same thing that happened to Constantine," third-season finalist Jon Peter Lewis said. "He lost fans because of his status as the favorite to win. I think his fans must have started voting for others thinking he was safe."
"Some of his fans started to vote for other people, most notably Elliott [Yamin], because they were sure Chris was safe and Elliott was not," added David Bloomberg of FoxesOnIdol.com.
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Shirley Halperin, Teen People's "Idol" correspondent, agreed. "Rock does not win 'Idol,' " she said. "It'll get you close, but as we can clearly see in its dwindling market share the last few years, rock is not nearly as popular as other genres."
Halperin also echoed some of our You Tell Us letters (see " 'American Idol' Recap: Elliott Comes Out Swinging, Katharine Fails To Connect"), saying that Chris may have alienated people by being too indulgent.
"Kind of like Paris Bennett, the two of them had this perceived arrogance, which doesn't always float with the viewers," Halperin said. "Also, in 'Idol's past, the successful candidates seem to be the ones who really play to the viewing audience. Chris kind of did his own thing. He was popular for it, but in the end, his 'thing' wasn't enough to win."
Jacob Clifton, who covers "Idol" for TelevisionWithoutPity.com, has a similar theory about Chris' style, which he was initially criticized for not changing but was later applauded for keeping.
"It's a question of motivation to vote outside your fanbase: Are you going to vote for Chris even though you never vote for Chris?" he asked. "Or, indeed, if you never vote at all? No. But for Elliott and Taylor [Hicks], that's what happened. Chris stayed in his element ... and it was his time to go. His self-defined niche wasn't creative or flexible enough to stick with the weekly themes."
The other way to look at Daughtry's departure is not what he did wrong, but what the other three did right. Katharine McPhee had a bad week, but she's shown diversity all season. And Hicks and Yamin both were exceptional with Elvis songs.
"I thought Chris stopped competing a few shows back, and it really showed on Tuesday night when you compare how Elliott and Taylor came out swinging and Chris just came out singing," explained Andrea Engstrom, a former "Idol" Web site contributor who now participates in an "Idol" office pool. "When the contestants start to treat the show like a variety hour instead of a competition, they go home. I'm not tuning in to watch them sing and dance; I'm tuning in to watch them put it all on the line for their dreams."