While still surprised by his early exit from "American Idol," Chris Daughtry said Thursday his fourth-place finish might be better than winning the show's grand prize.

"I'm in a better position for myself — knowing that I'm going to be able to do what I wanted to do as an artist," Daughtry, 26, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

While many observers billed Daughtry as the favorite to win "Idol," the raw-voiced rocker was voted off the show a few weeks before its finale. Southern soul singer Taylor Hicks took the competition's top award — a $1 million recording contract.

But earlier this week, RCA Records announced Daughtry had signed to work alongside music mogul Clive Davis, with plans to produce a record by the end of the year. While Hicks and other performers will also record with Davis, Daughtry indicated he has the freedom to pursue his own style. He said fans should expect songs laced with "solid rock."

"This won't be a pop album," he said.

Over the past six weeks, Daughtry has been writing new songs and collaborating with some major artists, including Ed Kowalczyk of Live and Fuel's Carl Bell. He also plans to collaborate with Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger and other major artists, Daughtry said.

"The fact that they respect me as an artist and my writing is just exciting for me," Daughtry said. "It's also good to have a sounding board for your own material, at least to make you feel good about your ideas."

Daughtry, of McLeansville, turned down an offer to join Fuel full-time as the band's lead singer. He now has plans to form his own band and could tap members of his former group, Absent Element, he said.

Meanwhile, Daughtry has just started a three-month "American Idol" tour. On that stage, Daughtry will continue to cover some classic rock songs, including Styx's "Renegade" and Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive." In perhaps a sign of things to come, he has also collaborated with "Idol" third-place finisher Elliott Yamin on a Nickelback tune.

Daughtry said he will start working in the studio near the end of the "Idol" tour in September.

"It's going to be a great project," Daughtry said. "I'm really happy how. I can't wait to get into the studio and start knocking it out."