Just one week after being named the winner of the seventh season of “American Idol,” 25-year-old David Cook rewrote chart history, with a record-breaking 14 debuts on Billboard’s Hot Digital Songs survey. He also had 11 songs jump onto the Hot 100, the highest number of new entries ever, and the second-highest amount of simultaneous hits since the Beatles in 1964. All that, and his single, “The Time of My Life,” instantly became the highest debuting title of 2008, entering the Hot 100 at No. 3.
When this most recent season of “American Idol” began, Cook wasn’t on anyone’s radar to win the whole thing – including his own. “I like that I ‘snuck up’ on people,” he says. “During those early shows, when there were 24 people, I knew I didn’t have to be one of the best, but I didn’t want to be one of the worst. So it was fun for me because there wasn’t a lot of pressure and I could find my own footing.”
Cook won fans with his unique renditions of songs like Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” He explains, “When I began, I told vocal coach Debra Byrd I wanted the season to be like a set list, so people would feel like they were at one of my concerts.”
Cook’s musical journey began early. He grew up watching his father play guitar. But David’s first instrument of choice was the violin. “I tried that first because there was a girl in the school orchestra I thought was pretty.” When he was in seventh grade, his dad bought him a Fender Stratocaster. “I was bad at it because I never took a lesson. Gradually I got better.”
He was exposed to many different genres of music. “My parents had eclectic record collections. My mom liked Kenny Rogers and my dad was more into Boston, Kansas and Dire Straits. The first cassette tape I ever bought was by Kris Kross. I was into Boyz II Men for a while. When I was 13, someone played me the song ‘Closer’ by Nine Inch Nails and once I got past the audacity of the lyrics, I really enjoyed the song. So I backtracked through rock, which got me to where I am now.”
David formed a band in high school with a friend and appeared in three musicals: “West Side Story,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Music Man.” He also loved sports and played baseball throughout high school. Ultimately his love for music brought his attention back to his band. David enrolled at Central Missouri State, changed the name of the band from Redeye to Axiom to Axium and had some local success.
As he was completing his studies, David had to choose between working as a graphic designer in Kansas City or moving to Tulsa to play rhythm guitar and sing backing vocals for a band called the Midwest Kings. “Of course, I moved to Tulsa,” he says. That’s where he lives today, although home is officially Blue Springs, Missouri. The Cook family relocated there after David was born in Houston on Dec. 20, 1982.
With his friends chipping in financially, David recorded “Analog Heart.” The album sold well regionally and won an URBY award from Urban Tulsa Weekly for Best Independent Album. David was in the early stages of recording a second album when his younger brother Andrew asked him to accompany him to Omaha and lend moral support while he tried out for “American Idol.” David was reluctant, but his brother and mother did their best to persuade him. He recalls, “At the last minute I decided to do it. Andrew and I were in the same group of four for the first audition and he didn’t make the cut. It was very awkward. I turned to him and said, ‘Is this something you want me to do? Because if you don’t, I won’t.’ And his response was, ‘If you don’t, I’ll beat your ass.’ So it’s entirely his and my mother’s fault that this happened to me, and I’m very grateful.”
We all know how the story went from there. Simon, Randy and Paula sent David to Hollywood, where he made it into the top 24. Then he was in the top 12, the top 10, the top five and the top two, all without ever being in the dreaded “bottom three.” Then, on May 21 at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, Ryan Seacrest pronounced David Cook the winner of this season of “American Idol.”
It’s all come with lessons learned, according to Cook. “The whole process has given me a brand-new lease on life in that I am more sure of who I am now that ever before. I’ve learned that when I’m singing live on stage to embrace that moment and if doesn’t work, it’s OK, move on.”