August 09, 2004 12:00 PM

AGE: 27

HOMETOWN: South Fallsburg, N.Y.

LATEST GIG: Headlining his first national tour

•Clive Talkin’: Even before he was anointed the next big thing by Clive Davis, the impresario who discovered Bruce Springsteen and Whitney Houston, DeGraw never lacked for confidence. In 1997 the college dropout turned down a recording deal, hoping to get a better offer. He did—five years later. Signed by Davis’s J Records, he released an acclaimed debut pop-rock CD, Chariot, last year. Davis was struck the first time he saw DeGraw perform: “He was closing his eyes and clearly feeling every lyric. He was the real deal.”

•If you can make it here…

When he moved to Manhattan in ’98, DeGraw worked as a bartender, a bellhop and a dog walker: “Your first thought isn’t ‘I have to go get a gig.’ It is ‘I have to get rent money.'” His dad, John Wayne DeGraw, a rock musician turned prison guard, would scout out clubs, demo tapes in hand. “He would say, ‘My son is the greatest talent in New York City,'” Gavin says. “He got me a couple of gigs like that.”

•Marathon man: DeGraw, on tour virtually nonstop since last fall, has just released an acoustic version of Chariot, recorded in a two-day studio session. “I don’t consider myself a star,” he says, “but I work like one.”

•Fanfare: Still wowed when he meets celebs like his idol Billy Joel and Tom Hanks (his greeting: “Hello, Mr. Tom”), DeGraw has a similar effect on female fans, who have been known to toss underwear onstage. “One pair,” he says, “you could fit a sofa inside of. And they were silver. I wore them back out onstage just for fun.”

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