When I first saw David Cook on the seventh season of American Idol — a show he'd wind up winning over Muppet Boy David Archuleta — I thought he looked like a weary door-to-door salesman pushing Hoovers in Boise. I also thought Cook had supremely bad hair, like a reverse mullet or, for that matter, a "skullet."
Let me tell you: I've never been more wrong about a contestant. With a superheroic calm and a growly approach to hits by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, the rocker creamed the competition. The singer-songwriter-guitarist did it with old-school style and grace, never once relying on his brother Adam's brain cancer as a plot point to earn the weepy vote. Ryan Seacrest might have brought it up; Cook never did.
Post-Idol, the 26-year-old has had a smash platinum album (2008's David Cook, produced by Green Day knob-twiddler Rob Cavallo), hot celeb girlfriends (Idol's Kimberly Caldwell) and an even hotter nine-month tour. He has also suffered heartache: On May 3, Adam Cook succumbed to brain cancer. David continues to play with an "AC" on his guitar, which are also the initials of his younger brother, Andrew.
As Cook heads to St. Petersburg to play the Mahaffey Theater Friday — and prepares a new album for release in summer 2010 — we called to compliment him on his unerring composure. We also tried to talk him into trashing a hotel room:
You are one cool dude, Cook. In all my Idol watching, I've never seen a contestant who was so incredibly laid-back. What was your secret?
I think with everything going on in my life — and with Adam being sick — I just didn't care. There were more important things going on, you know? That's no disrespect to the show. I was trying my best, and I enjoyed it, of course. But I just never got too worked up about it.
A.D.D.: As for Ellen DeGeneres' role on Idol, Cook says, "I'm bummed to see Paula go. But Ellen is a knowledgeable fan of the show, plus she's funny, so I'll think she'll do a good job."
Okay, you have the cool part down for a rock star. But I think you should start trashing hotel rooms. No one does that anymore. Why is that?
I think people don't trash hotel rooms because there's a recession going on. (Laughs) The last hotel room I trashed was actually done by my dog.
A.D.D.: Cook's dog is a Scottish terrier. Because Cook obviously wants to give him an identity crisis, he named his pooch Dublin.
If you were going to trash a hotel room in the future, how would you start the mayhem?
I'd probably glue the furniture to the ceiling. You gotta get the Gorilla Glue for that. Then maybe I'd have a good ol'-fashioned food fight.
I had you pegged for tossing a TV off the balcony.
Nah, we're just having some good clean fun, right? We don't want anyone to get hurt.
If you could claim any musician's catalog as your own, whose would it be?
(Immediately) Springsteen. That was easy. I saw him a few weeks ago when he was at Giants Stadium. He did Born to Run in its entirety. He played for three hours. And here I am doing an hour, an hour and a half each night, and I come off the stage and say, "Man, I'm tired!"
Your audiences run the gamut from 14-year-old girls to 44-year-old women, the so-called Cougars for Cook. What's the weirdest gift one of your more mature fans has given you?
An a-- grab.
An a-- grab. We played in St. Louis the other night, and while I was walking to the stage, I got three a-- grabs in a row.
A.D.D.: Cook said the grabs were pretty forceful, but not enough to bruise his tuchus. "I did have a handprint there though," he chuckles.
I've always wanted to ask you about this. When you were in youth-league baseball, did you really serve up a dinger to future St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols?
It's totally true. Absolutely, I was 16, in Missouri, in an American Legion game. I'm on the mound, I throw him a curveball, and it never comes down.
You should have thrown him your out pitch.
(Laughs) I didn't have one! That's the reason I'm in music today. I didn't have an out pitch.