Like Kellie Pickler and Paris Bennett, rocker Chris Daughtry was closely chronicled from the audition round and was a standout favorite by the start of the finals. With his husky voice and powerful stage presence, he shined not only singing Fuel and Creed songs, but on unexpected tunes like "What a Wonderful World" and Elvis' "Suspicious Minds." The 26-year-old singer from McLeansville, North Carolina, nailed the latter on Tuesday, but he was eliminated the following night in this season's biggest surprise so far (see " 'American Idol' Jaw-Dropper: Chris Daughtry Is Out").

Q: Were you as shocked as the rest of us?

A: I was pretty shocked. I didn't see it coming, not even a little. I'm bummed, I'm disappointed, but I'm trying to see the bigger picture and see that there's going to be bigger opportunities.

Q: Every week we watch the eliminated person struggle to smile through their farewell montage, and you just looked pissed. What was going through your head?

A: I was just being real. I wasn't going to pretend to be happy about it. It was definitely a gut-wrenching moment. It didn't feel good, but I try to look at the positive.

Q: Did it add to your anger how Ryan Seacrest delivered the news?





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A: I thought he was building it up like people thought I was going home and then he would say, "But you can sit down" or "Chris, you're going home ... tomorrow on a private jet to go to your hometown." But that wasn't the case.

Q: Do you think "Idol" fans aren't ready for a rocker to win?

A: It's weird because you have all these people telling you for weeks that this is your thing to win, you're gonna win this thing. And when you have so many people telling you that, you assume this is what America wants. The only thing I can think of is everybody thought I was a shoo-in. Paula said, "We'll see you in the finals." Everybody's like, "He's fine, we need to vote for the person we want in there with him." That was my downfall, in my opinion.

Q: The other time you were in the bottom two was when you slowed it down.

A: And that made me think they weren't happy with me changing my style. But I'm a singer. You can't sing the same song over and over. There's always a time and place to change things up. As long as you're being true to yourself, you're not changing anything other than toning it down a little bit. Some of the biggest rock bands have done softer songs, so I don't regret any of that.

Q: Did you talk with Katharine McPhee afterward?

A: No, we didn't. Everybody was pretty speechless. I didn't know what to say. I had the inclination that she was expecting herself to go. So she was shocked, I was shocked, America was shocked.

Q: What about the judges?

A: Everybody was speechless. Randy was like, "Don't worry about it, man. You're gonna be fine." Paula was crying too much to say anything. And Simon was pretty shocked. He didn't see this coming, and he just wished me luck and totally believes in me.

Q: Ace Young said you guys were very close. Did you talk to him?

A: Absolutely. We became like brothers on the show and probably always will be. He called to check on me and see how I was doing, 'cause obviously he's been through it before. We were roommates and just hit it off, and it's great to get lifelong friends out of this.

Q: How hard has this been on your wife and kids?

A: They've done extremely well. I couldn't ask for a better family. They always made me feel like everything was OK, so they didn't stress me out. It's always great to have that support. You always worry, 'cause you feel helpless. You're not there to help out if someone's having a bad day or something like that. It's tough, but we made it through.

Q: So Fuel have asked you to join them. What are you thinking?

A: There's going to be a flood of opportunities. I can't really talk about them, but there are some lined up and I just have to feel out all the offers and make sure I'm doing the right thing for me. There's a couple [big things]. At this point I have to take everything into consideration. I don't want to make a rash consideration and regret it later. I don't know if I'm in the position to say yes or no to anything, just because of my mindset. I have to think about it long-term and not just right now. I'm a songwriter myself, so to launch my own career would be my dream, selling out stadiums, doing my own thing.

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