Chris Cornell
Credit: Chris Cornell: Sean Smith/

David Cook’s rousing performance of “Billie Jean” on Tuesday night’s American Idol may have brought him to the front of the season 7 pack, so why are Chris Cornell fans furious? Well, it was Cornell’s version of the song, included on his 2007 solo album Carry On, that Cook covered, and though Ryan Seacrest identified it as such in his introduction, the judges went on to praise Cook for his originality in rearranging the Michael Jackson classic. But here’s the million dollar question: What did Cornell himself think of it? tracked him down and asked him.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you told ahead of time that an Idol contestant was doing your version of “Billie Jean”?
CHRIS CORNELL: No. I had no idea. On my flight back from touring in South Africa, I started receiving messages from my fansite moderator and management [saying] that fans were furious about some American Idol guy who covered my version of “Billie Jean.” It appears the judges had no idea that it was my arrangement and were giving David Cook praise about how brilliant he was in performing the song that way. My fans are very protective and felt David should have volunteered the info [at that point]. Even though he did cover it well, and it was brave of him to try and pull it off.

Were you flattered by the performance?
Very much. It was clear to me [that] he was a big fan as he followed my arrangement down to the T, including the most subtle vocal nuances. I think he did a great job at pulling it off.

Can you tell us a bit about how this cover came to be?
It was a complete reinvention of a song that no one thought would work until they saw me play it in Stockholm acoustically. It received such an enormous reaction that it prompted me to do a studio recording. It ended up on my second solo album, Carry On.

In general, do you find anything disingenuous about Idol contestants doing covers of covers?
This song is a special case, but in general, I don’t think it should be an issue to cover a cover, as long as it’s clear who the creator and/or interpretor of that piece is. I think David’s performance was great and I want to thank all my fans for their dedication!

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