'Idol' winner David Cook finds new creative depths

By Bill Althaus bill.althaus@examiner.net
The Examiner

David Cook, the 2001 Blue Springs South High School graduate who won the seventh season of "American Idol," is releasing his fourth EP today, "The Looking Glass."

It will be available as a CD and as a digital download.

David Cook’s fourth EP, ‘The Looking Glass,’ is out Friday. The ‘American Idol’ winner, who grew up in Blue Springs, says he used time away during the pandemic to tap into a deeper well of creativity.

While he has enjoyed success with his previous four albums and three EPs, this is by his most personal effort, and it came from an unexpected source.

He was watching an episode of "92nd Street Y" that featured actor and comedian Bill Hader, a former cast member of Saturday Night live.

Not only did Hader discus his time on “Saturday Night Live” and the HBO hit “Barry,” he talked about his struggles with anxiety. That struck a chord with Cook, who has also dealt with anxiety issues throughout his life.

“He was talking about his relationship with anxiety and how he navigated it while he was on SNL," Cook said by phone from his home in Nashville. "He referenced that he acknowledged his anxiety almost as if it were a separate entity. I found that interesting."

And that set the tone for one of the three singles from his new EP, the haunting rocker "Reds Turn Blue."

"I really am pleased with the way 'Reds Turn Blue,' came out because it was a bit of an experiment for me,” Cook said. "I had wanted to touch on it for awhile. I felt like it was something that I wanted to put out there and acknowledge it. The song morphed into this letter from my anxiety to myself.”

He wrote it during the COVID quarantine.

"I spent more than a year in my home in Nashville with my wife," he said. "We never ventured more than a mile or so outside our home – no touring or anything like that– a few online concerts from our living room and trips to get groceries and gas. That was pretty much it."

However, he found a silver lining that helped him cope with this world he was living in.

"The creative floodgates opened for me the last year or so," Cook said. "Before, I had written more stream of consciousness - I would write in bursts without really focusing in on each word or phrase and trying to say the things I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say them fully. Having the extra time with this pandemic allowed me to live in the details a little bit more than I had been able to.”

Struggles with anxiety

He was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in 2010, two years after he won "American Idol." He had it all - fans, hits and a budding career as a singer/songwriter.

Yet he struggled to get out of bed.

“I shut off the rest of the world, and now I know that was not the healthiest thing for me to do," Cook said. "The sheer level of everything at that point was difficult. Now, being able to disassociate from it – like Bill Hader talked about – would have been very helpful at that point."

Cook's self-analysis over a 20-minute conversation was insightful and illuminating.

“I’ve always been an over-thinker," he said. "And the 'Idol' thing turned into this massive thing for a kid from Blue Springs who had always dreamed of being a singer/songwriter. Then it turned into something I found difficult to deal with."

"I'd be writing a song, and couldn't quite get the lyrics down and everything would spiral out of control. I'd wonder if the fans watching the show were watching to support me or watching to see me fall."

"Small things would trigger my anxiety and turn into this massive monster."

His anxiety soared during the early phases of “American Idol.”

"Everything certainly got amplified once I was on ‘Idol,’” he said. 

“Then, your brain plays those tricks on you like ‘Are they supporting what you’re doing? Or are they waiting for me to trip and fall.’ Then, you’d have external stimuli like not feeling confident enough in having the lyrics down a particular week. And that would just spiral out of control.”

'My world is just fine'

“Reds Turn Blue” is one of Cook's personal favorites on the new EP, along with "Stranger World," in which he takes a look at 2020 and how it has affected the entire planet.

“I really enjoyed the process on this EP," he said. "This process has allowed my brain to slow down a little bit. It’s something I didn’t even realize I needed. I don’t think people are going to listen to it and feel completely like ‘well, this is different.' The content is a little different. This record has a unique and different stimuli from any record before it.”

In "Make a Move," Cook takes a nostalgic trip back to his college days at the University of Central Missouri, where he continued to hone his craft at bars and any gig he could find.

"That's when I was just starting and taking the chances you take when you’re young," he explained. "You look back and think ‘thank God that worked out because that was really stupid.’ A kid in suburban Kansas City, I was always wanting more than anything to expand my world beyond that."

"But now I realize my world is just fine, even with everything that's happening because of the pandemic. I can look out my window and smile, and be excited about the future.”