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CLARKSON OPENER ADMIRES 'BREAKAWAY'

Graham Colton, ringleader of the opening act supporting Kelly Clarkson on the anticipated "Hazel Eyes Tour," admires the "American Idol" original.

But the frontman of the Graham Colton Band cringes at all of the manufactured Ashlee Simpson and Ryan Cabrera wannabes out there.

"In today's music, people have their own TV shows and are lip-synching or whatever," the 23-year-old singer-songwriter says, phoning from the road between Dallas and Austin, Texas. "Someone like Kelly comes along and her voice is undeniable and puts an end to all of that. That girl can sing her ass off. It's ridiculous how amazingly talented she is."

Colton, who began writing and performing songs in and around the Dallas pubs and coffee houses as a teen, says he feels an affinity for Clarkson, especially after her pop-to-rock transformation with her "Breakaway" CD.

"I've never toured with someone my own age," he says.

The list of huge stadium acts Colton has opened for include Dave Matthews, Maroon 5, Train, John Mayer and now Clarkson.

"There's a lot of parallels with what she's going through as an artist and what I'm going through in my career, but with me it's obviously at a much lesser extent," he explains. "Kelly and I come from similar places and have a similar history. And hopefully, we're both going in similar directions with our careers."

It's that familiar history, Colton insists, that won over Clarkson when she was scouting for her tour this spring.

"From what we understand, Kelly was given a stack of CDs and ours is the only one she liked," he muses. "With the first tour, she was consciously looking for an underground, raw band to open for her."

Clarkson found what she was looking for with the roots-rock sound of GCB. Armed with the CD "Drive," the group—vocalist and guitarist Colton, drummer John Elder, bassist Ryan Tallent, guitarist Aben Eubanks and pianist John Lancaster—has drawn comparisons to artists ranging from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to Oasis.

"We didn't know what to expect when we found out she wanted us to tour with her," Colton says. "The guys in the band all loved that first song on 'Breakaway'—'Since You Were Gone'—but we weren't sure if we were a good fit. But when we got out there, it just worked. We're playing almost the same style set we played opening for Dave Matthews and it still works."

Having toured with Clarkson for months and asked back for a second round of shows this summer, Colton says he has a newfound respect for the morphed "American Idol."

"People admire her as an artist because she doesn't give a shit what people think and she's real," he says. "It comes across in her new album, it came across when she was on 'American Idol,' and it comes across when she's onstage," he says. "That's why a band like ours works as her opening act. She stands by what she believes is right and doesn't care what people may say."

Colton, armed with radio-friendly hits like "Morning Light" and "Cigarette," says he had that same don't-give-a-shit attitude when crafting "Drive" with veteran producer Brendan O'Brien (Bruce Springsteen, Black Crowes and Train).

"We didn't try to reinvent the wheel with this record," he says. "We tried to keep it simple and write simple songs that people can relate to."

As for the future, Colton says he'll take the slow-and-steady road with his music, instead of the manufactured star in a jar approach.

"You can make anybody a star these days with enough money behind it," he says. "We'll do what we have to do in order to stick around and to have longevity. We would rather be a slow-and-steady burn, instead of a flash in the pan."

sam@inweekly.net