03/24/2006 at 12:50 PM EST
Celebrating St. Patrick's Day in his hometown of Cincinnati, Nick Lachey was feeling lucky. "It's always great to come home!" he told a group of screaming female fans at the New Dubliner pub, where he promoted his upcoming album and enjoyed a hero's welcome. "We call him Mr. Cincinnati," says his friend and former 98 Degrees bandmate Justin Jeffre. "He is loved by all in Cincy."
Then it was off to the University of Cincinnati basketball game to cheer on his beloved Bearcats. Relaxed, upbeat and on-his-feet enthusiastic when the Bearcats beat Charlotte, Lachey "is in a really good place," says a source close to the singer. "Of course there were a lot of bumps, but [his new] album really goes through some of that and puts him where he is today."
Four months after the end of his marriage to Jessica Simpson, Lachey has clearly moved on: He's got a new house in Bel Air, a new yellow Lab puppy (Harlan, named after the town where he was born in Kentucky), a string of new romantic possibilities and the still untitled album, due May 23. The highly personal effort "is kind of a journal of the last year of my life," he told New York's Z100 radio station – starting with the confessional first single, "What's Left of Me." The tune was recorded "the day before Thanksgiving, which was basically the day that Jessica told me she wanted to get a divorce," said Lachey, 32, who shot the video (with MTV's Vanessa Minnillo) for the single in L.A. on March 21.