"I just figured I'd go in, sing a song and they'd say I wasn't what they were looking for. I'd go back to Tulsa to work on my record some more," Cook told reporters during a Friday conference call. "Apparently, somebody had another plan."
Apparently indeed. The 25-year-old Blue Spings, MO native won Idol's seventh-season after "97 and a half million" home viewer votes were cast immediately following Tuesday night's live performance broadcast that saw Archuleta and Cook each sing three songs.
Cook defeated Archuleta, a 17-year-old from Murray, UT, by a 56% to 44% home viewer voting margin, or roughly 12 million votes.
"I think that number is actually really misleading," Cook told reporters about his margin of victory. "Obviously within the bubble of Idol, it's hard to kind of get a vibe for what's going on. But I definitely thought [Archuleta] was probably a little bit ahead of me if I'm being honest. I attribute the finale vote discrepancy just to my fans being awesome. I don't really know how else to explain it."
Cook said he fully expected he'd be "taking second" to Archuleta after Idol judge Simon Cowell awarded all three rounds of Tuesday night's performance episode to Archuleta and said the teenager scored a "knockout" victory.
"The thing is you've got to hope for the best and prepare for the best, but expect the worst. That's pretty much how I operated," Cook told reporters. "I made sure I was prepared to win but [Archuleta] did a great job. I've said it the whole time that I definitely thought if you were basing it off of Tuesday, he deserved to win. He came out and did three amazing songs."
While Cook said he's aware of "conspiracy theories" about why he ultimately defeated Archuleta, he added that he hopes it has nothing to do with viewers simply wanting to prove Cowell wrong.
"All I can hope is that it was based on my own merit," he said. "But regardless, I'm happy of where I'm at. Simon's blunt and he's honest and that's why they pay him the money that they pay him. The goal of the season for me was just to try to find some constructive criticism from what he was saying, which sometimes was a little tough. But that's part of the show."
Cook and Archuleta were largely considered to be equals during the more recent weeks of the competition, and the seventh-season champ heaped praise on the runner-up when talking with reporters.
"He handled himself with a lot of grace, and -- more importantly -- he's just an amazing human being," said Cook about Archuleta. "So I was just honored to share the stage with him."
Cook described his current physical and mental state as "moderately rested," and said even before winning the title on Wednesday night he was able to remain calm despite the daunting task of singing several songs.
"They made it very, very easy for us with everything going on," he explained. "I think it's just a matter of focusing on each song at a time and not really worrying about [it]. It's just taking a step back and going one moment at a time."
While Cook conceded that both he and Archuleta had a teleprompter feeding them lyrics during their final seventh-season performances, he added both finalists still had to deliver.
"At the end of the day you can get the words, but it's still not the performance," he said.
Cook's ascension to the Idol thrown began when he was a youth, as he told reporters music was a "little hobby" but he was mostly a "sports nut."
"I did choir and theater and stuff like that in high school," he said. "I started in bands when I was 15-years-old in Kansas City. I was fortunate enough to get to play in and around Kansas City quite a bit and got to travel around the Midwest on occasion."
Upon graduating from college, Cook said his life hit a fork.
"I had a choice of moving to Tulsa and playing music or staying in Kansas City and getting a real job," he explained. "So I moved to Tulsa and joined a band, the Midwest Kings. They needed a guitar player... I wasn't ready to give up on music. I didn't think music was ready to give up on me, so I just made the decision to chase the dream a little bit... I played acoustic gigs a couple times a months, played full-band gigs a couple times a month. Just kind of hoofed it around the Midwest."
Cook said that he thinks his time performing at clubs prepared him for Idol.
"It helped me from a humility standpoint," he said. "You get pretty humble playing shows to five people, and having that experience made the Idol experience sweeter. To go from one extreme to the other, you kind of appreciate the huge crowds and all of that. I definitely think my time in Tulsa was needed in order to have any form of success on this show."
However Cook was a recording artist before he auditioned for Idol, as his debut album "Analog Heart" was released independently in May 2006.
"I spent a good year just playing out and promoting that record as much as I could," he said.
Cook said the album was well-received, and he sold-out of hard copies prior to his Idol audition.
"I had to have the record pulled, obviously for fairness issues because of the show. I got it pulled offline," he explained. "Then somebody -- I have no idea who -- re-posted it on Amazon [during Idol's seventh season]. While all that was going on, I was kind of at a loss. I had talked to Amazon about getting it pulled. There was a bunch of mass confusion about it. I'm extremely appreciative of how well it did. I thought that was crazy that it went No. 1 [in Amazon sales]. But I was kind of a pawn in that whole game."
It's been well-documented that Cook never planned on auditioning for Idol and only accompanied his brother Andrew to last summer's Omaha casting call to lend support.
"The audition process was strange. He really wanted me to audition with him and I was hesitant -- not for any negative stigma associated with the show -- I just didn't see this as my path, for whatever reason," he told reporters. "We were standing in line at 5:30AM in Omaha and it's raining, the sun hasn't come up. A producer comes by and interviews my brother and then turns to me and I'm like, 'I'm not auditioning.' He's like, 'You are now.' Life has a weird way of working it out sometime."
Andrew didn't make it out of Omaha while Cook received a golden ticket to the Hollywood Round, and he again advanced as one of the Top 24 seventh-season finalists.
"There was a definitely a progression for me on this show," he said. "Early on -- I'm talking the third or fourth week in -- our vocal coach really hit home with me on a particular lesson. I think going into this I put up a wall, kind of a protective barrier between me and the audience. Just to kind of protect myself, a little bit of a defense mechanism. [The vocal coach] kind of forced me to break that down. I think it helped in the performances."
In addition, Cook said he was aided by a short article the stage manager hung-up backstage midway through the season that touched upon Frank Sinatra and his process for recording a song.
"Before he sings it, he would read the lyrics and basically try to tune into what the lyrics were saying -- what the song was about -- and then he would go into the music aspect of it and figure out the melodies and all that," said Cook. "For me, that was a really eye-opening article. It made me think, 'Okay, I just need to step back. Before I even try to learn this song I just need to read the lyrics.' That really helped as far as trying to find the vibe... That was probably the biggest lesson I learned throughout the show."
Despite changing how he approached weekly performances, Cook said he pretty much remained the same guy he was before being cast for Idol.
"I didn't really change much of anything, as strange as it is," he said. "I went into this with kind of a different perspective from everybody else. I didn't have any expectations on what the show was going to do for me or what I was going to do for the show. I just went into it as an opportunity to expose myself musically to a large audience. So my confidence level really never wavered."
Cook elaborated that his self-confidence might have been "misinterpreted" as "cocky" or "arrogant" by Cowell earlier in the competition.
"But I think as the season went on, maybe [Cowell] saw the work that I was putting in," he continued. "I think I understood the brevity of what the show encompasses, but I just don't think I chose to get wrapped up in it. I wanted to not just experience the experience but enjoy the experience."
Once he started to hit his stride, Cook quickly became a favorite amongst Idol fans and never found himself among the bottom vote getters.
"I can't believe the level of support that has come out of me doing this crazy TV show," he said. "All I can do is try to embrace it and make all the effort people are putting into supporting me worthwhile. That's going to start with a record, and moving down the road a tour and a lot of success. The sky's the limit right now."
Cook quickly discredited claims that he didn't want to win Idol because it would damage his credibility as an artist.
"Did it cross my mind at any point in the competition? I mean sure, but only as an objective point," he explained. "I don't think I went into this with the idea of you don't want to win. I think that's a huge slap in the face to the 103,000 people who had auditioned this season that really wanted to win. So I definitely went into this to try to win it. As far as having more success by not being the winner, I think that's something that will get played out in the next couple of years."
"I'm not trying to be Daughtry," Cook told reporters. "I'm just trying to put out a solid record. Even if it doesn't do well commercially, as long as I can say that I put out a record that I'm proud of that's the goal right now. If I can do that, hopefully the success will follow."
Cook said there are currently "no plans" for his debut album but hopes to get it released "as soon as possible."
"I think it's going to be a mixture of my writing and hopefully writing with some other people," he said. "The bottom line is I just want to come out of the gate with a solid record. If I can do that I'll be happy. It will probably be a rock record, but I think that's a pretty vague generalization. I just want to make a record that's going to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up."
While he was constantly praised for his various covers during the seventh season -- from Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" to Lionel Richie's "Hello" -- Cook said he feels no "added pressure" when it comes to creating original music.
"I just want to put out a record that's going to be able to standup on its own long I'm after I'm gone. If I can do that, then I'm set," he said. "The covers were great, but I'm ready to get back into the creative process of writing songs and basically bearing my soul on these records. I look forward to it."
In addition, Cook said that he's glad Idol gave him the opportunity to sing musical genres that weren't in his rocker wheelhouse -- and he hopes to continue with that on his album.
"That was the exciting thing for me about the show," he said. "I loved knowing that there were things that I could do that people would never expect that I could do. I'm going to try to recreate that energy within this record. I want this record to have some twists and turns on it. I want people to feel like they got taken on a trip from beginning to end. I've got my work cut out for me, but it should be a lot of fun."
Cook also said he wouldn't be against collaborating with his brother.
"I've left the option open," he said. "I'm kind of leaving it up to him. I know he wants to try to make his own way, so I'll support him in whatever he decides to do."
It's been quite a ride for Cook, which he said is the reason why he was so emotional when it ended Wednesday night.
"There was a lot of intensity in those last few weeks, as far as what was at stake and all the effort that had been put into it," he said. "The crying after I won was like an exhale. This whole experience has been about eight months including auditions. I felt like that whole time I was holding my breath. So to be able to breathe and enjoy the moment was amazing."
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