The ''American Idol'' season 7 winner talks about his upcoming self-titled debut album, comparisons to runner-up David Archuleta and fourth-place season 5 finalist Chris Daughtry, and handling post-''Idol'' fame

By Chris Willman
Updated August 04, 2020 at 02:37 PM EDT
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It’s after midnight, but the shoot for David Cook‘s first music video, ”Light On,” is just beginning in the middle of a football field at Los Angeles’ Valley College. Director Wayne Isham is bragging on Cook’s personality to his cameraman and other assembled crew members. ”I loved meeting you yesterday,” gushes Isham, who has worked with many of the biggest names in the business over the last 20 years, ”because you’re the nicest guy.” Cook demurs upon hearing that praise, telling everyone, ”Give me 15 minutes and I’m gonna be the biggest a–hole you ever met.”

The man doth protest too much…and too politely, we might add. Over the course of a nearly seven-hour shoot, wearing a T-shirt in unexpectedly chilly weather, Cook proves unflappably affable, all promises of diva fits to the contrary. But do nice guys always finish first? They might on American Idol, as Cook did in winning this past season, but it remains to be seen how the singer will fare in the rock & roll musical realm he’s reentering with his first major-label album, David Cook, which hits stores Nov. 18.

A couple of weeks after the video shoot, we caught some chat time with Cook, and true to form, the singer is proving quite sanguine under pressure, as you’ll see in the conversation that follows.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you ever go online and sample the insane, intense fan scrutiny there?
DAVID COOK: ”There is this one video on YouTube that I’ve gotten into a habit of…well, not a habit, but I’ve [watched] it a couple of times. It’s these early-teen girls watching the finale, and they filmed themselves, and they’re all Archuleta fans, which is fun. My name gets announced [as the winner], and the girls just lose it. It’s painful to watch in that sense, because obviously I don’t want to feel like I’m upsetting anybody. But these girls said something that’s so funny, to me: ”How could they vote for that guy? He doesn’t even shave!” I love that. Because to me that encapsulated everything about people getting into the show. They embraced the littlest things about each person. I find that so interesting, from a sociological level. The things that some people gravitate toward me for are the things that other people just shun. You’ve got to take it with a grain of salt. But I love that everybody cares enough to have an opinion. Loved, hated, but never ignored, I guess is how I look at it.

Sometimes you can read the partisan fan squabbles that are still happening online and wonder if 20 years from now people will still be battling out the Cook-versus-Archie dynamic.
Hopefully, because that means Archie and I are hopefully still doing well! In a sense, it’s fun that that whole rivalry thing got created. If you put me in the same sentence with David Archuleta, I’ll be fine.

NEXT PAGE: ”When Simon said that about Collective Soul, and said, ”You should have sung ”Billie Jean” again or something,” it was a rare moment where I felt justified to try to defend myself.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: On the show’s next-to-last night, in that famous moment when Simon didn’t like the Collective Soul song you chose, some people wondered, since you had been set up as a favorite, is Simon deliberately doing this to set up a backlash against himself, so it won’t seem like such an easy win for you? On the other hand, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and it’s possible that Simon Cowell really just doesn’t like Collective Soul.
DAVID COOK: When Simon said that about Collective Soul, and said, ”You should have sung ‘Billie Jean’ again or something,” it was a rare moment where I felt justified to try to defend myself, just from the stance that I’d already done it, and I didn’t want to do it again. I guess the way I looked at it was, I’d rather fall flat on my face on my own terms. The fact that people responded the way they did is amazing. The [winning by] 12 million votes thing still throws me. I even conceded defeat that night to Archie. I thought he’d done amazingly. I stood on the stage and watched all three of his songs and was in awe. For a kid his age to do what he’s done, my hat’s off to the kid.

I was trying to analyze why even I got unexpectedly caught up in that moment. It was like, ”Yeah! Stick it to the man with your Collective Soul ballad!” Then you step back and think, well, that’s not the most rebellious thing, like doing a punk song or something.
Right, exactly.

But in the context of what was happening, it was a more subtle song than you might have picked, and that in itself could be considered a slightly rebellious act.
That song to me probably has the biggest backstory of any song I did on the show. Because I had that song in my head early, and I kept working on it, and it never felt like it was ready, so I would go with other songs. We got to the finale and I had the option to do it, and I was like, ”Man, I’ve just gotta do it, because if I don’t do it now, I’m gonna regret it the rest of my life.” First off, I love Collective Soul, and I think it’s a great song. It seemed like a fitting way to end my run as a competitor in that show. I knew if I could pull it off the way it was in my head, that win or lose, I was cool with that. And it came off really well. That’s actually one of the two performances that I watched back after the finale. I watched that one and I watched my week 1 performance of ”Happy Together” by the Turtles, just to see the absurd transition. It was night and day, man. I changed more during the four and a half months on that show than I changed the 25 years prior.

Your very first album, which you recorded and released independently, sold a few hundred units online during Idol before it was pulled from distribution. And, of course, it’s been pirated online. But the actual CD must be a real collectors’ item.
Yeah, it’s crazy. My mom pointed it out to me. A copy of it sold for two grand on eBay. That’s about a grand more than I paid to make it.

And you were working on a second indie album when you went into Idol? What happened with that?
I had completed a second one. Neal [Tiemann], my guitar player, produced it. That very first album was intended to be by the band I was in, and by a series of events, I just ended up putting that out solo. But I started working on the second one with more of a clear [solo] intention in mind. By the time I made it on the show, I had these 12 or 13 songs recorded that have never seen the light of day, other than in the live shows. Actually, one of them, ”A Daily AntheM,” did [get re-recorded for] the new record. I’m sure one way or another eventually [the rest of] those songs will be heard.

Making your first major-label album must have seemed like the best and worst of worlds, in a way. As with every Idol winner’s album, a great deal of it is being recorded while you’re not there, because you have to be out on the road with the Idol tour. Did you resent having to go on tour, thinking, ”I should be writing and recording right now”?
I only hated having to change mindsets. I enjoyed touring and I enjoyed recording, and I hated having to rewire my brain between the two. That was tough….But it helped that [producer] Rob Cavallo and I really hit it off. And I was able to bring my guitar player aboard early. Neal has an idea where my head is at musically, so it was nice to have somebody in the studio, when I wasn’t there, who spoke for me and spoke accurately….I’m still kind of in awe of it. To do what we did in this amount of time is no small feat. We essentially put a year’s worth of work into three months.

NEXT PAGE: Cook talks about all those Daughtry comparisons

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about a few of the new songs, starting with the single ”Light On,” one of only two songs you didn’t co-write.
DAVID COOK: ”Light On” is an interesting song. It encompasses almost all of my range. It’s all over the place. That’s Chris Cornell at his finest. It’s got some Zeppelin influence in it; it’s got some ’80s hair-metal influence; it’s got some grunge influence. To me it’s like a rock history lesson put into about a four-minute lecture. It’s fun to play, but it is definitely an intimidating song.

The heaviest song on the album, by far, is ”Bar Ba Sol.” It’s got some almost metal chords.
I’m a big fan of this band Injected, out of Atlanta. We called them up and said, can we have a run at this song and see what happens? What they sent us was a demo version, so we took the idea and ran with it. It’s heavy, but still a strong melody.

Was the title of ”Mr. Sensitive” meant to be ironic in any way?
The song was unintentionally ironic. I had the harmonic riff in my head for five months. In my lyric journal, I had ”Mr. Sincere” written down, and sincere turned into sensitive. I wanted to write about something outside myself and get a little metaphorical. He lives in a village devoid of feeling. They get so afraid of this child who has feelings that they kill him. It kind of took on this Tim Burton-like, twisted vision of James and the Giant Peach for me. But I know people look at me as that sensitive guy.

And ”A Daily AntheM” has to do with your brother [Adam, who is fighting cancer], who people learned about from watching Idol, right?
”A Daily AntheM” is three years old. I didn’t originally write it with the intention of it being about Adam. I just wanted to write something that had a John Lennon, ”War Is Over” quality. Then I was like, oh s—, if you capitalize that letter and that letter and that letter, you’ve capitalized my brother’s name.

You fit in with a style of rock singing that’s popular right now. There’s the singers from Hinder and Nickelback, guys who have a broad range, but not the real clean, Steve Perry-type of singing that was popular in the mainstream in the ’80s. The guys who can sing but have more smoke or rasp in the voice seem to be favored now.
Dumb luck, man. Singing in smoky clubs for 10 years will give you a little bit of a rasp, for sure. When I first started playing in bands, I played it safe and I stayed in my midrange and all that. As I got more into it, I realized I could do more things with my voice. That’s the kind of thing that’s fun for me. I love having the vocal capacities to do something like that, because I realize that it’s a gift and not everybody has it.

Everyone will be making the comparison you’re sick of: Is he gonna have a Daughtry-like career?
Opinions and perceptions, man — I didn’t let it get to me on the show, and I see no reason to let it get to me afterward. I just think this record is me, and if people want to compare it to Daughtry, awesome. He’s sold a ton of records. I just hope someday the coin will flip and somebody will compare somebody else to me.

It must be hard to have perspective on what really happened with the show, even this far out from it now.
It’s strange. I don’t feel inherently that there’s a justification for it. I realize that a lot of people watch the show, and I get the idea of the celebrity aspect of it, I guess. But I still feel like that awkward musician; I think I always will. That’s a huge component of me staying kind of humbled and grounded about the whole thing: I get the flimsiness of it. I get that it could all go away. I mean, fame is fleeting….But I’m at peace. I’ve got guys that I’m playing with that I love to death, and I’m playing music that I think we all really get into, and as long as we’ve got that and a place to play, I’m good.

More David Cook and American Idol:
David Cook visits Idolatry!

David Cook: On the Scene at His ”Light On” Video Shoot

David Archuleta Talks About His Looooooong Liner Notes

Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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