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American Idol

David Cook: 'I Just Think This Record Is Me'

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