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'Idol' backstage Q&A: David Cook

”It’s crazy how things turn out,” the humble season 7 winner told EW.com backstage after the finale. In this interview, the singer talks about the secrets behind his surprise victory

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David Cook
Michael Becker

How did David Cook beat presumptive front-runner David Archuleta to pull off one of the most dramatic American Idol upsets ever? Was it the Missouri native’s rock-star swagger? The unconventional song choices and arrangements? His seemingly unflappable disposition? Three hours, dozens of interviews, and hundreds of hand-shakes after his live coronation, Cook (who rated his fatigue factor at 94 on a scale of 1 to 10) sat down with EW.com to discuss his keys to victory.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much sleep did you get last night?
DAVID COOK: I got a good night’s sleep, not a full night, but five hours, which is pretty much par for the course with this show.

Take us back to Tuesday’s show: Did you feel Simon was being exceptionally harsh?
No. You gotta have a thick skin to do this, so I just kind of took it as a challenge, which I welcomed. Plus, the fact that he was saying those things means that he’s invested himself enough in who I am as an artist to want to give me his opinion. As for his apology tonight, it was appreciated, but I don’t know that it was needed. I never really felt disrespected.

What about the judges’ consensus that the night — and competition — belonged to Archuleta? Had you also resigned yourself to the notion that you’d be the runner-up?
It never really felt like a competition to me. Tuesday was all about having fun, just enjoying the moment and being able to share the stage with someone I respect and admire. Nothing more. But basing it off of the judges’ comments from Tuesday, yeah, I went into tonight thinking Archie was gonna win. It’s crazy how things turn out.

Did you want to win?
Absolutely. I think to be in this competition and not want to win is just a slap in the face to everybody that auditioned. Did I fall into it? Yes, but I never went into this thinking, I wanna take fifth or 10th place. I think that’s very disrespectful.

But were there moments when you tried not to invest yourself too much and maybe disconnect a bit from the competitive aspect?
What I cared about was being able to walk off the stage and know that I did what I could. Past that, I can only care about things I can control, which, with this show, isn’t much. I can’t control who votes for who, what the judges say, whether I get the right lighting or the right spot in the show lineup. It’s all a crapshoot and you just gotta ride with it. That’s how the season was for me — I just kind of stepped back and let it play out.

Did you vote last night?
I did not, but I voted three times this season and each one was for Archuleta.

As you progressed in the competition, was there a strategy?
Yes and no. I had one, in that I wanted to show America who I was gonna be as an artist once this was over, and I feel like I succeeded. I don’t feel I compromised who I was at any point. But, I don’t know, to be yourself isn’t really a strategy, I just did it.

What about with your song choices?
If you look at my song choices throughout the season and put them in order, it’s like a set list. That’s the vibe that I wanted and the theory I went with, and it seems to have worked out.

NEXT PAGE: ”Maturity? You guys don’t see me when the cameras are off.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was there a piece of advice you’ve gotten that’s carried you through this whole experience?
DAVID COOK: ”Whether you’re pleasing or pissing everybody off, you’re doing something wrong.” I have no idea who said that to me, but I’ve had it for a while. It means you gotta take the good and the bad. Everybody’s gonna have an opinion and not everyone’s gonna like you, but as long as somebody likes you….

You’ve copped to a theater-geek background. Did that make the boxing stunt and all those Ford commercials any easier to execute?
It didn’t hurt! I’ve never been one to take myself too seriously. The boxing thing, I gotta admit, going into this week, I thought, It’s gonna be goofy. But it was actually a lot of fun and it seemed to go over pretty well, judging from the response we got.

Back to music, give us your top five favorite bands.
Our Lady Peace, Big Wreck, 8Stops7, Jimmy Eat World, and Foo Fighters.

Have any musicians gotten in touch?
I got to talk to Raine Maida from Our Lady Peace, which was one of the highlights of this whole experience. He was just a really down-to-earth, genuine guy, very appreciative that I sang ”Innocent” on the show. And I actually got a chance to talk to Ed Roland, the singer from Collective Soul today, and he also had nothing but nice things to say. That’s the badge of honor for me — to have the people who wrote these songs complimenting you and thanking you, it’s amazing.

Speaking of writing, when it comes time to record your debut album, will you be writing your own songs?
Absolutely. I have to be involved. Whether it’s me writing by myself or with other people, I definitely want to have my hand in the creative process. That’s part of why I got into music in the first place.

Who would you die to tour with?
Anybody right now! [Laughs] Umm…the reunited Led Zeppelin. Or any version of Zeppelin, like Let’s Zeppelin, a cover band in the Oklahoma area.

Through this whole experience, what have you learned about television?
That it stops for nobody. [Laughs] Television is a weird thing. One of the things that was really tough for me to grasp was how people can really invest themselves in you as a person, based off of what they see in an hour or two. Why do they cry when somebody gets sent home? Because these are relationships that were created long ago. It’s interesting….

One of the things that viewers have noticed about you is your confidence and maturity.
Maturity? You guys don’t see me when the cameras are off. I’m a goof and a nerd. The confidence comes in knowing what I can do and what I can’t, what works for me and what doesn’t. I never tried to fake it. It’s been a process, but my family and my friends have kept me really grounded, and that’s probably where it comes from.

So, Mr. Bartender, what will you be drinking later to celebrate?
Iced coffee. I’m probably going to take it easy tonight: We’ve got a long day tomorrow that starts at 4:30 in the morning.

Really, could tonight have been any better?
Tonight was a trip. I got to play with ZZ Top and introduce Bryan Adams and George Michael. And to have it all topped off by me winning American Idol?! It’s pretty absurd.

More American Idol finale:
David Cook’s Idol journey
David Archuleta’s Idol journey
David Archuleta’s Idol backstage Q&A
The Idol finale: A photo album