Enter the double doors leading to the Blue Springs South High School multipurpose center, and there is the bulletin: Vote for David Cook. Listen carefully, and you’ll pick up the chatter about Cook, one of 16 finalists vying to become the winner of Fox’s “American Idol.”
Enter the double doors leading to the Blue Springs South High School multipurpose center, and there is the bulletin: Vote for David Cook.
Listen carefully, and you’ll pick up the chatter about Cook, one of 16 finalists vying to become the winner of Fox’s “American Idol.”
“David is so awesome. I just know he’s gonna win ‘American Idol.’ “
“David is ridiculously hot.”
“You know, David was actually a student of mine.”
The last statement comes from Room 207, where Susan Cooper, the Blue Springs South drama teacher, stands ready with a remote in hand.
“Don’t believe me? Watch,” she says, punching play.
Onto a projection screen spills a grainy video of a musical she directed in 2001.
“It’s ‘Singing in the Rain,’ and David Cook was my Cosmo Brown,” says Cooper, the mere mention of Cook’s name is enough to lure a few students lingering in the hallway.
Cook, his complexion a smorgasbord of powder and rouge, enters the frame with the command of a four-star general. He bursts into a rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh,” his voice as mesmerizing as a hypnotist. In an acrobatic charade, Cook performs hand stands, clumsy cartwheels and scores of slapstick spills -- without missing a single note.
When he’s done, Cooper hits stop and exhales.
“That’s the David I know and love.”
Cook tried out for Cooper’s first production at the high school, ‘Music Man,’ where he landed a part minus any lines; still, the part required a lot of dancing and singing, something in which Cook excelled.
“Even then he had a presence on-stage,” Cooper said. “He definitely caught my attention.”
Cook was already a veteran of the limelight. He became involved in forensics as a freshman (he would ultimately place in the top 30 at nationals in duo interpretation) and had been singing before crowds since his elementary days.
“He developed a tough skin competing every weekend in forensics tournaments before crowds as mean as Simon is on ‘American Idol,’” Cooper said.
The following year, Cook auditioned for the lead role of Riff in ‘West Side Story.’
Cooper didn’t need to look at anyone else.
“He nailed the audition,” she said.
Even then Cooper said the bad boy rocker image suited him well.
“He was a natural in that role,” she said. “Always will be.”
Cook drew tremendous praise for his performance and the next year -- his senior year -- he auditioned for both productions put on at Blue Springs South, “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Singing in the Rain.”
In “The Taming of the Shrew,” Cook played Petruchio. But it was his portrayal of Cosmo Brown that was the real eye opener.
In attendance at a show one evening was a member of the theater department at Central Missouri State University.
Cook would later earn a theater scholarship to the university.
“I was so incredibly excited for him,” Cooper said. “I was ready for him to make it in New York.”
But after two semesters, Cook abandoned the scholarship and his interest in theater for another performing art -- music.
“I had heard through the grapevine that David had gone up to Omaha for ‘American Idol’ tryouts and had done really well,” Cooper said.
One day last autumn she received a visit from Cook, who told her he had to survive one more cut before he could advance to Hollywood Week.
She gave him her assurance.
“I told him to just get up there and be yourself,” Cooper said. “If you do that, I think you’ll go far.”
Now, Cook is a top 16 finalist.
And Cooper’s confidence in Cook isn’t about to waver.
She said the physical and psychological toil of the show will eventually get the better of other contestants, but not Cook.
“His voice is in shape,” Cooper said, citing one contestant who was voted off when her voice faded to a scratchy whisper. “I think he could sing all night and never tire out.”
Even if he is eliminated, Cooper said the name David Cook won’t disappear like so many other cast-offs on the show.
“This is his big break,” she said.
But in truth, Cook had his big break years ago.
It’s in the boxes of pictures Cooper has stowed away and in the videocassettes of past musicals paused where Cook’s scene ends.
And it’s in the blown-up photograph of Cooper’s first cast at the high school, where an awkward sophomore is tucked toward the back like a champion grape begging to be plucked.
Several Web sites have been set up by Blue Springs South alumni to track David Cook’s “American Idol” success and reminisce about his former days at the high school:
Contact Examiner writer Hugh S. Welsh at firstname.lastname@example.org