A decade after 'American Idol,' David Cook gets 'Slick' and 'Kinky'

Ten years ago, David Cook parlayed his commanding voice and amiable stage presence into becoming the first “rocker” to win “American Idol.”

But the Blue Springs-raised musician has hardly remained in his comfort zone, instead continually accepting challenges that take his career in new directions.

Now a Nashville resident, Cook will enjoy the opportunity to come back to Kansas City for the Big Slick Celebrity Weekend on June 1 and 2. This annual fundraiser for the Cancer Center at Children’s Mercy offers him a welcome break from his ridiculously hectic schedule of the last few months.

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The 35-year-old performer, like some other past “Idol” winners, embraced the uncharted territory of Broadway. Cook just finished starring in “Kinky Boots,” the Cyndi Lauper-penned musical. He played Charlie, a desperate shoe factory owner who partners with a drag queen to produce high-heeled footwear.

But the theatrical detour didn’t stop the platinum-selling artist from pursuing his customary passions. He also released “Chromance,” an EP that emphasizes the moodier side to his anthemic guitar-pop. Additionally, he earned the Triumph of Spirit award for his work with ABC2, a nonprofit that benefits research and treatment for brain cancer and brain tumors. (His older brother, Adam, died from the condition in 2009.) Cook has helped raise $1.3 million for the charity.

“I have no interest in being defined by one thing, but if what myself and my fan base have been able to accomplish with ABC2 in the last decade is what I’m most known for, I’d be extremely pleased,” Cook says by phone.

Interviewed this past week, scant hours before the latest “American Idol” winner is crowned, Cook discusses the show that made him a celebrity, his tenure as a struggling KC musician and his return home for the city’s signature charity event.

Q: Any thoughts about the “American Idol” reboot?

A: It’s such a great platform. The more opportunity for the viewing public to invest in these contestants and to hopefully invest in their careers post-“Idol,” the better. But I was shocked to see it end so quick. At least (ABC) picked it up for another season, so hopefully they can expand it more next time. At its best, “Idol” is another avenue, another platform, another chance for talent to be found and embraced.

Do you have a favorite contestant this season?

Every time I give a favorite, they don’t win. I picked a kid to win on Hollywood Week, and he didn’t even make the show. Nobody wants my endorsement, I promise you.

Did the “Idol” experience make you immune to criticism?

Oh, God, no. I still hear it. I still see it. It can affect my mood from time to time. I think going through “Idol” actually helped me with criticism, in the context of it allowed me to try and stay in the head space of using it constructively. There’s got to be some semblance of constructive criticism in criticism, otherwise why would people bother?

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Last year, “American Idol” winner David Cook was one of the pitchers in the Big Slick Celebrity Weekend softball game at Kauffman Stadium. Rich Sugg rsugg@kcstar.com

What’s been your most memorable experience at Big Slick?

I grew up a Royals fan. I worked for the Royals for a while. So to get to step on the field at Kauffman is pretty special. … I played baseball growing up in the Kansas City area, but I’ve never hit a home run in a game. Every year I go to Big Slick, I’m like, “This is the year!” So I’m swinging for the fences this year.

I also – and it sounds real cliché – but I really do enjoy the hospital visits. Every year I’ve been involved, we’ve gone twice. I always try to buddy up with the magician (Blake Vogt). If I hang out with the magician, and they throw some card tricks in there, then I’m cooler by proxy.

What’s the origin of the word “Chromance?”

David Cook's EP "Chromance" was released in February.

It represents the darker shades of love. I didn’t want to write the happy, sappy record about that stuff. Both with the production and song composition — and especially the lyrics — I wanted it to feel darker, sinister, eerie. Me being the graphic arts nerd from college (at University of Central Missouri), I thought of the chromatic key and color wheel. It’s taking those two things and trying to be clever with it.

Back when you were playing around the KC scene, what were some of the local bands you enjoyed watching?

There was a band that we traded some shows with called the Sound and the Fury. I really liked them. I always geeked out on their musicianship more than anything. … I remember Vedera and Flee the Seen. If I saw a band and got to cross paths with them and got to invest in them as people, that was usually helpful in me supporting that act.

Is there a Kansas City sound?

No, but only because Kansas City was so open with most genres of music. You know, Seattle became synonymous with the grunge scene. But Kansas City was always more eclectic. We had the jazz background, of course. But we had Puddle of Mudd and Vedera. But we also had Tech N9ne. Kansas City had a lot of different flavors, musically.

What’s the worst show you ever played here?

We played a citywide battle of the bands in KC. Our first round was at the Grand Emporium. At the time, the back of the stage was butted up against the door at the front of the venue. You would look through this door immediately onto the back of the stage. There was this little alcove cutout in the side of the building that leads to the door.

I remember I was loading my amp, and I stepped in something there and slipped. It was some person who had left a present on the floor: a pretty nice pile of (poop). It was gross. Then immediately after that, these two drunk guys got in a fight in the middle of the street, to the point where the cops got called and they both got tased. So they both lost the fight.

Meanwhile, we’re trying to play our gig. I categorize that just under paying your dues. But what a hell of a due to have to pay.

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For about a month this spring, David Cook starred as shoe factory owner Charlie Price in "Kinky Boots" on Broadway. Matthew Murphy

You don’t strike me as a Broadway guy. How challenging for you was the process of tackling “Kinky Boots?”

It was a different beast, for sure. I’d done theater in high school (at Blue Springs South) and had gone to college on a very small theater scholarship. It always felt like it was fun but never as a career path. But I’d always wanted to try my hand at acting.

“Kinky Boots” and I had been circling each other for years. It never worked out because of the schedule. But it ended up being a blast. They made me shave my beard and cover up my tattoos, which I was a little salty about. Other than that, it was a really cool experience. Worst case scenario, I can say I did Broadway, even if it’s only for five weeks.

Did you have much interaction with Cyndi Lauper?

I had very limited interaction with Cyndi Lauper. My third show was actually the five-year anniversary show, which was unnerving because I didn’t know she was there until halfway through. She came up to me after the show and said, “You did well.” And that was it. I thought it was a weird platitude and wondered if she really liked it. But I was talking to one of the other cast members who said, “No, that means she loved you.” If she didn’t have a critique, it means she loved you.

Does the phrase “You did well” describe your overall career?

I hope so. For me, the idea of success has been this living, breathing thing. I’ve been able to live a very comfortable life and do something that .00001 percent of the artistic community gets to do – which is make a good living doing what you love to do.

David Cook
“American Idol” alum David Cook of Blue Springs clowned around with a Chewbacca mask during the Big Slick celebrity softball game at Kauffman Stadium on Friday. Jennifer Aldrich jaldrich@kcstar.com

Big Slick

David Cook is among the famous guests scheduled for the 2018 Big Slick Celebrity Weekend June 1-2. They will join hometown hosts Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Eric Stonestreet and David Koechner to raise money for the Cancer Center at Children’s Mercy hospital.

Three big events are open to the public:

The celebrity softball game at 5 p.m. Friday at Kauffman Stadium. Anyone with a ticket to the Royals vs. Oakland Athletics game at 7:15 p.m. that night can come early to watch the celebrity game beforehand. If you purchase through royals.com/bigslick, $5 goes to the charity.

The bowling tournament at Pinstripes in the Prairiefire shopping center in Overland Park on June 2 is sold out. But there's a free outdoor block party from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., which includes the celebrity red carpet arrival.

The charity auction at 7 p.m. June 2 at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland is sold out. But, from May 29 through June 2, anyone can bid at bigslickkc.org on some auction items, including a Weird Al concert VIP package, the opportunity to hang out with Rich Eisen at NFL Network and tickets to see late-night hosts Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and James Corden.

Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”