He rocked his way to the season 7 ''American Idol'' win. But with his new self-titled album, he's facing some much tougher judges: the CD-buying public

By Chris Willman
Updated July 30, 2020 at 01:06 PM EDT

Honoring a time-worn rock & roll tradition, David Cook is trying to coax his drummer out of a prone position. ”Hey, I didn’t make you go out and drink last night!” he ribs the reclining stickman. ”You’re at work, bitch! Don’t lie on the couch and look at me like I just killed your dog.” Soon they are all back at it inside Hollywood’s famed SIR rehearsal studios, where hard-rock bands have long given their chops a workout before hitting the road. This afternoon, the hardest and loudest sounds are coming out of Studio 6, where Cook & Co. are running through songs from the American Idol winner’s forthcoming major-label debut. ”Bar Ba Sol,” the heaviest song from the new album, builds from thick, bottom-end-rattling riffs to screaming solos, and Cook is letting loose the kind of grungy wailing that might make less gifted singers bust a corpuscle. The metalheads down the hall must surely be impressed.

The song ends, and the mood is broken as Stevie Salas, the musical director who helped Cook put this new band together, bursts through the studio door, phone to his ear. ”David, this is my ex-girlfriend,” he announces, ”and she told me to give you a pinch on your cute little ass from one of your cougar fans.” Cook winces. ”I am passing it on verbally without giving you the pinch,” Salas reassures him.

And therein lies, if not a pinch, a rub. Idol hasn’t churned out many rockers before Cook — certainly none who actually won the competition — and the singer is now facing a big challenge: How feasible is it to rock like a mofo while still wooing the mom-and-kiddie crowd that helped him win in the first place?

The self-titled David Cook (due in stores Nov. 18) aims to split that difference. It’s a guitar record, full of gut-busting singing, but also mainstream, melodic, earnest, and anthemic almost to a fault — in other words, what you might have expected from a smolderingly affable Midwesterner who staked his entire Idol career on a Collective Soul cover. ”There was always a dialogue between the A&R guys and David and myself,” says Rob Cavallo, the noted rock producer (Green Day‘s American Idiot, among others) who oversaw Cook’s album. ”We were trying to strike the right balance between something 100 percent true to David as an artist, and at the same time satisfying all the supposed needs or desires of the cougar set, or whatever you want to call it. Or,” he corrects himself, backing up over the C-word, ”I should just say his Idol audience — that’s the best way to say it.”

NEXT PAGE: ”I’d like to see him on the rock charts. I don’t know that it’s gonna go there. I think it’s gonna find its audience on the Hot AC and pop charts.”