Since its premiere in 2002, American Idol has set the stage in reality TV music competitions, becoming a pop-cultural touchstone across the television landscape for almost two decades, leading the way for The Voice, Songland and The Masked Singer. But with becoming a pioneer comes criticism and competition, like with The Voice, which has been touted by fans as a "better show" compared to Idol.
While the former Fox series has produced more stars than The Voice, it still receives its fair share of flak in light of the NBC series' ratings and fan reception — something Idol winner David Cook conveys to PopCulture.com exclusively for our series, PopCulture @ Home, is all part of the business.
"I think when Idol is at its best, it is a platform for the American public to invest in these contestants. So, when they come off the show — these people continue to want to follow them. I think, when these shows are not at their best, is when the focus is on. 'Who's on the judges' panel? What are they saying to each other? Where's the backstage drama?'" Cook said, reiterating how he knows it's a TV show to get people to tune in. "Completely understand that, I don't begrudge it. But I do feel like one of the things that Season 7 benefited from, was a full-throated attempt to let the contestants be the narrative, and let the American public get to know us."
Cook, who went on to win Season 7 in 2008, adds it's a "bummer" not to see that personable side as much in recent years, but acknowledges the evolution. "Although I will say, this new season — this latest season — I did kind of appreciate the at-home format a little bit. Just because I felt like, even if it's a background visual of their home, it's giving the viewing public a little bit of insight into who these people are."
Further sharing how he liked that aspect, he adds he would "love to see" more of them performing at home with the "opportunity to invest in them, as people." One of the ways fans have been able to invest in the contestants has been through the use of social media today, which wasn't prominent in 2008 when Cook was on the show alongside his fellow contestants and runner-up, David Archuleta. When explaining the difference between acquiring fans then and now through the show's voting format, the 37-year-old admits it's "easier now" than it was for the earlier generation of Idol contestants.
"I feel like music in general mirrors the social media space. In that, to follow somebody is extremely easy," he said. "So, it's easy to have somebody listen to you. It's extremely difficult to be heard just because it is so easy to just listen to everything. I think social media is, if you're paying attention to what you're following, great. But you don't necessarily have to and some of these formats, with their algorithms, you're not even seeing the latest posts, or anything that. It's all like, 'Oh, here's a greatest hits of what you missed the last time you logged in, 10 minutes ago.'"
Cook, who rakes in more than 1.1 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, admits he has a "weird relationship" with social media in that he doesn't adhere to it the way some other performers do. "And that's just for my own mental health, really. I still remember — this didn't bother me, I thought it was cute and funny, but the video of the Archie fans, 'He Doesn't Even Shave.' I love that video so much. But if I had to hear that, all day every day for 10 years, I would go nuts."
Reiterating how it's beneficial now because of being able to connect with people and tune in, he suggests how social media is "more necessary now" amid COVID-19 times with so many not being able to go out on the road. "But, social media and I are still sorts of odd bedfellows," he laughed.
For more information on Cook and the latest on his upcoming tour dates, check out his official website. Cook's single, "Reds Turn Blue" is now available at all digital retailers, including iTunes and Amazon, and is available to stream via Spotify. Keep it locked to PopCulture.com for more with the singer-songwriter and all your favorite musicians!