American Idol winner David Cook doesn’t remember where he was or what he was doing when he first found out he’d broken a Billboard record in 2008.
“Knowing how stupid and ridiculous the schedule was at that time, I was probably working,” he said, laughing.
Fresh off his seventh-season Idol victory, Cook set a new record for debut entries on the Billboard Hot 100 in the Nielsen Era by landing 11 songs on the list. The previous record was six, set by Miley Cyrus in 2006. Pre-Nielsen SoundScan data, the record was 14, set by The Beatles in 1964.
“Those are the surreal things I think I’ve made a conscience effort not to internalize,” Cook said. “I don’t know how you internalize that and it doesn’t reshape you.”
Cook, who spoke to Oklahoma Gazette ahead of his Sept. 6 concert at Tower Theatre, 425 NW 23rd St., had been playing in bar bands for a decade before finding fame on American Idol, and he said the experience gave him a sense of perspective that helped him process stardom.
“I was fortunate enough playing in Kansas City and Oklahoma for so long that I realized the industry itself is kind of cyclical,” he said. “It’s not a straight path. It’s a lot of ups and downs. So I’ve tried to appreciate the ups and maybe not try to internalize them so much.”
He has since relocated to Nashville, but Cook said his time in Oklahoma helped make him the musician he is today.
“I really felt like I found myself musically in Tulsa,” he said. “I felt like I learned how to play music in Kansas City but found myself in Tulsa, so I give Tulsa and really Oklahoma a lot of credit for shaping me as a musician and shaping me as a performer. … Some of my best friends are still in Oklahoma.”
Following his American Idol win, Cook released a self-titled album in 2008, followed by This Loud Morning in 2011 and Digital Vein in 2015. Though Cook is famously the first American Idol winner to regularly play guitar on the show, his latest single, “Gimme Heartbreak,” released in June, features synthesizers and drum machines and is influenced by electronic acts.
“I definitely played around with more cinematic pop elements on this stuff,” Cook said of his upcoming EP. “I really felt like Digital Vein was a great bookend for that period of my career, and I wanted this to feel different. … I found a lot of inspiration in stuff like Nine Inch Nails and Massive Attack and even into stuff like Halsey’s first record Badlands and Aurora. … I’ve been a Nine Inch Nails fan for forever, so it was exciting to really explore that landscape a little bit more.”
Cook said he was originally opposed to the EP’s shorter format but, like incorporating elements of electronic music, reconsidering the extended-play record has given him a new burst of creative energy.
“It’s just kind of a change in philosophy really,” he said. “I’ve historically been kind of averse to EPs. I’ve loved having a full-length record to have that much space for the narrative. It wasn’t until I was talking to another musician buddy of mine last year and they [said], ‘Name your favorite author and they’ve probably written a short story.’ It kind of got me excited about the format and we were off to the races.”
In addition to “Gimme Heartbreak,” the forthcoming EP will include a cover of Phil Collins’ Grammy-winning examination of homelessness, “Another Day in Paradise.”
“I’ve loved that song for a million different reasons,” Cook said, “not least of which, I feel like the narrative of the song and the story behind it kind of resonate with everything right now, so it felt like a good and timely cover.”
Rolling Stone said Cook’s covers of songs such as “Billie Jean” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” “redefined what an Idol could (or even should) be.” Cook said he approaches cover songs from “one of two paths.”
“Either it’s a song that I love and can internalize and I don’t want to screw with it,” Cook said. “[Or] I’ll occasionally get an idea to rework something, but, again, it comes down to being able to internalize it and get excited about it. If you can do that, it makes it a little easier to go onstage and sell it.”
Live, Cook said, he and his backing band “ask a lot of our audience” but put as much energy into their performance as they expect in return.
“We try really hard to make each of our shows unique to that night and that crowd,” he said. “Typically, when we go play a song on TV, they’ll say, ‘All right; your song’s four minutes but you’ve got two and a half,’ so you’ve got to cut a minute and a half of your song and make it work. We try to make sure the audience gets more than what they paid for.”
American Idol moves to ABC for its upcoming season following the end of its 15-season run in April 2016. Cook, who returned to the show to perform and sometimes served as a mentor for contestants on previous seasons, recently posted a video online encouraging people to try out for the singing competition. He said he isn’t sure what role, if any, he might have on the new show.
“The lines of communication are always open,” he said. “I think they’re still trying to really figure out exactly what it’s going to be. Historically, my experience with Idol was that some of the best ideas were done at the 11th hour.”
7:30 p.m. Sept. 6
425 NW 23rd St.
Print headline: Idol talk, David Cook continues to move forward following his success on American Idol.