More than a year after being crowned the "American Idol" winner, singer-songwriter David Cook still hasn't had a chance to fully process the experience. But he's sure glad to have been there.
"To be honest, I haven't really stopped a whole lot to be analytical about it," says Cook, who performs with opener Tonic at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, at Borgata.
"I had a great time on the show," he says. " I made a lot of amazing friends with the contestants and the people behind the scenes. I don't know if I would ever want to come back as a contestant, but I welcome the opportunity to come back and say hi."
For Cook, his time since besting the other David - Archuleta - on "Idol's" seventh season finale, has been a whirlwind during which he recorded his self-titled debut for 19 Recordings/RCA Records, and promptly hit the road. Cook has notched 120 shows since the record's November release.
"We've hit our groove, but we're not afraid to experiment and try new things," Cook says.
That includes tinkering with tracks from his first album, a platinum-selling collection of pop-rock tunes produced by Grammy winner Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Kid Rock). The track, "Lie," for example, has morphed from an acoustic guitar lead-in to one on electric guitar, with some a cappella vocals added for good measure.
"To me, it doesn't sound a whole lot like the record, which is cool," he says. "It keeps it fresh for us and for the audience - we have a lot of repeat customers."
Cook's happiness over his breakout success has been tempered by a deep personal loss.
His older brother, Adam, to whom he dedicated his performances during his "Idol" run, died of complications from brain cancer in May at the age of 37. Cook plans to continue to raise funds and awareness about the disease via the annual Race for Hope 5K event in Washington, D.C. He served as grand marshal of the 2009 edition, which was held the day after his brother's passing.
"I've been really fortunate to have something to distract myself, to get to be on stage and do something I love every night," Cook says of the loss. "That's a great coping mechanism. I get the occasional pockets of time and get to deal with it privately."
Cook also has had to learn how to deal with the downside of fame, such as frequent speculation about his love life and career on the blogosphere and in gossip magazines.
"The stuff that's not true - all I can really do is laugh about it," he says. "This whole gig is about picking your battles - those aren't battles worth fighting.
"If everybody hated me, it would be a problem. If everybody loved me, it would be a problem. I like the fact that there's a battle line there. If I did what I had to do to please everybody, I'd probably be a pretty miserable person."
If he had never gotten his chance on "Idol," where does he think he would be today?
"I think I had the tools to get to this point," Cook says. "The path to where I am is paved with a lot of people who are way better than I am who never got the shot. I pursued this long before 'Idol' because I thought I had what it took to do it.
"The other avenues I took never panned out. I try not to dwell on where I would be - I'm just glad where I'm at."
Opening for Cook is Tonic, a post-grunge rock band that is back together after a four-year hiatus. The band is touring behind a greatest hits album, "A Casual Affair: The Best of Tonic," and getting ready to return to the studio.
David Cook with Tonic
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26
WHERE: Event Center, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City
HOW MUCH: Tickets, priced at $39.50 and $45, are available at the Borgata box office or through ComcastTix at 800-298-4500 or www.theborgata.com
WEB SITE: http://www.davidcookofficial.com" target= "_blank">www.davidcookofficial.com
Judging Ellen's chances
Former "American Idol" winner David Cook believes comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, left, stands a good chance of making a winning debut as the fourth judge on the Fox reality competition. DeGeneres is set to replace singer Paula Abdul, right, on the show when "Idol" returns for its ninth season in January.
"She's a huge fan of the show," Cook says of DeGeneres. "She's funny, but she also has opinions. If she can pave her own way and not let Simon (Cowell) walk all over her, she should be fine."
At the same time, Cook says DeGeneres has big shoes to fill in succeeding Abdul, who was part of "Idol's" original lineup of judges with Cowell and Randy Jackson.
"I don't think anyone can replace Paula and don't think anyone can try," he says. "Paula was an integral part of the process for me - and for a lot of people before me. It will be interesting to see. I never really thought about 'Idol' without Paula."