By Sarah Aarthun
Charlotte Observer

One of Tommy DeCarlo's most prized possessions is a tambourine used by deceased Boston lead singer Brad Delp.
Walking into a south Charlotte Home Depot last week, Tommy DeCarlo was greeted with some good-natured ribbing from his former co-workers.

"More cameras, Tommy?"

"Hey, Tommy! You goin' Hollywood on us?"

DeCarlo just smiled sheepishly and shook his head while being followed by a local TV news crew – one of several to visit the Steele Creek store this spring.

Before the cameras started arriving, DeCarlo, 43, was just a normal suburban dad, raising two teenagers with his wife, Annie. Now, he is one of two new lead singers for multiplatinum-selling rock band Boston, which had hits in the '70s and '80s such as "More Than a Feeling."

DeCarlo and his new bandmates will kick off the national leg of their 50-date tour Friday in Minnesota.

"I feel honored to step in," said DeCarlo, who never seems to stop smiling. "I'm a fan. I just feel like I have a better seat on the summer tour."

His journey began in March 2007, shortly after original Boston frontman Brad Delp committed suicide.

DeCarlo wrote a song that he dedicated to Delp and – with the help of his 19-year-old daughter, Talia – posted it on his MySpace page along with other covers of Boston songs.

He e-mailed the band expressing his condolences and offering to sing in an upcoming tribute show. At the end, he linked to his MySpace page.

The first response was a rejection.

But after DeCarlo heard some of the tribute acts had dropped out, he tried again.

This time his message reached Kim Scholz, wife of Boston founder Tom Scholz.

"I must admit that I wasn't expecting too much," Kim Scholz wrote in an e-mail. "However, I was amazed at how much he sounded like Boston (on his recordings). I was only partially through ‘Don't Look Back' when Tom walked in and started listening as well, and we were both surprised at how good he sounded."

DeCarlo also impressed Tom Scholz at the tribute show, and the rest is history.

DeCarlo's Internet-based success is part of an increasing trend in the music industry. Gone are the days of landing recording contracts through demo tapes, talent scouts and in-person auditions.

Now, YouTube makes stars of people like Arnel Pineda, who was discovered on the site by rock band Journey, and Esmee Denters, who was signed to Justin Timberlake's label after he saw her clip.

"The idea of a singer-songwriter or aspiring artist being ‘discovered' at a coffee shop or garage-band show seems antiquated now," Paige Ferrari, an editor for Radar magazine, wrote in an e-mail. "Success stories like Tommy DeCarlo prompt other artists who feel passed over by record labels to pour their best efforts into online promotion."

These days, while DeCarlo prepares to go on a three-month tour, his teenage kids manage his Web presence as dozens of new friend requests on MySpace pour in daily.

DeCarlo's wife and kids are taking his newfound fame in stride. A calendar of the tour – which stops in Greenville, S.C., on Aug. 19 – hangs on the refrigerator in the family's modest Steele Creek home. His PR schedule for the day sits on the kitchen table as he juggles radio interviews, appearances on "Good Morning America" and visits from local media.

"To me, he's just my husband and we live a normal life," Annie DeCarlo said.