It’s a warm afternoon in late July, almost one month into the American Idols Live! Tour 2008, and David Cook is seated diagonally across from me at a rectangular folding table in the backstage area of Newark, New Jersey’s newly built Prudential Center, just hours before show time. Next to him is the fellow Idol contestant with the poetic Australian accent, Michael Johns. “What is… What is…?” Cook asks me in a curious tone following his introduction, a finger pointed at the tattoo on my inner right forearm (my own remix of The Beatles’ Revolver album cover). “The Beatles,” I say, holding up my arm. “Revolver.” Both Cook and Johns respond nearly in unison.
“Wow!” Johns exclaims as Cook lets out a “That is cool!”
“That is the first tattoo I’ve actually liked,” Johns continues while receiving mocking glares from Cook, who has a couple tattoos himself, although they seem to remain hidden.
Cook’s tattoos may not be prominent, but the fact that he’s one of the most talented up-and-coming musicians we’ve had in decades, absolutely is. It may take some people time to realize it, having the Idol label following him everywhere he goes, but bear in mind that by the week following his win, Cook had 11 songs residing in Billboard’s Hot 100—a feat no artist had accomplished since the Beatles in 1964. It’s not just his handsome exterior or throaty, versatile and powerful Paul Rogers- like voice that makes him remarkable and drew Idolviewers in, but the fact that there are layers of unadulterated emotion and fearlessness behind it. Every facet of him is genuine. Throughout the competition Cook never failed to do anything on his own terms—including winning.
“I started this season, much to Simon’s chagrin, as ‘the wordener,’” Cook said during the show’s finale as he pulled himself together, still with tears in his eyes. “And I am absolutely at a loss for words right now. Thank you. You guys, this is; this is amazing, thank you.”
On May 21, 2008, America decided, just as I had, that the 26-year-old Texas native with the confounding roar was the frontrunner of Idol’s seventh run, beating the adorable 17-year-old David “Archie” Archuleta by a staggering 12 million votes. It was a landslide, just like this year’s presidential election, and perhaps just as good for the shape of contemporary music as Barack Obama is for the shape of the country. After announcing Cook’s victory, host Ryan Seacrest let everyone know that Cook was “brought to us, by his brother,” Andrew Cook.
Turning to see his mother, Beth Foraker, and Andrew standing beside him onstage, Cook hugged Foraker, and then his younger brother, rubbing his head as he looked him in the eye and lifted the microphone to his mouth once again with a grin. “This is all your fault!”
“David is my best friend and to see him win American Idol, I could not have been prouder,” Andrew, who seems to share his brother’s authentic and candid nature, humbly tells me months later via email. Though currently studying Elementary Education at the University of Central Missouri, he is also a singer, and elaborates for me on how he accidentally became responsible for America’s newest Idol. “I saw my path as being just a regular college student, getting a degree and working a regular nine-to-five, but when I decided to try out for Idol, I was telling myself that something big is going to happen in my life.”