David Cook won "American Idol" back in 2008, when the musical star-creating juggernaut provided a fan base of millions for the top 12 finalists.
Perhaps as a result, when Cook looks out from the stage on his almost continual tours, he sees ... well, just about everybody.
"My management was telling me that there was a research study on the age demographic and our demographic was actually like 18 to 60-plus," Cook says in a phone call from Fort Wayne, Ind., during a pause on the current leg of his tour, which started in October and will run through December. "We do get all kinds of fans."
Recently he saw "this ridiculously tall guy in the crowd," whose face was visible because he towered above everyone else. The man "was singing all the words to the songs, so I thought that was awesome," says Cook, sounding delighted, and, it must be noted, modestly surprised.
Cook, who turns 29 this month, hopes to see the usual wide variety of folks when he and his band take the stage at 8 tonight in Rapids Theatre in Niagara Falls, when they will treat fans to "a mix of the last record and the new one." That would be tunes from his self-titled debut commercial album, released in 2008, which featured the platinum-selling "Light On" and "Time of My Life," and from his new album, "This Loud Morning." The hottest tune on the new album is "Fade Into Me," which was featured on an episode of "So You Think You Can Dance" and has gotten close to a million and a half hits since it was posted on his official YouTube channel Nov. 1.
The "Fade Into Me" video features a mix of concert footage filmed in Columbus, St. Louis and Tulsa, and gritty urban vignettes shot in St. Louis. The tune starts with languid acoustic guitar setting off Cook's slightly husky soft-rock vocals, then picks up tempo and intensity.
Cook's band includes three guitars, bass and drums. "My bass player and my rhythm guitar player are both guys I've known for a long time," Cook says. "I met them when I was doing the do-it-yourself approach with my band in K.C. and later in Tulsa," before he attended an "American Idol" audition to support his younger brother, who didn't go too far. "They are great guys and I'm really happy to have them out. My drummer and lead guitar player are guys we found through the audition process in Los Angeles."
In addition to his original tunes, Cook says, "We try to do one cover a night, to keep it fun not only for the audience but for us as a band. We have a Zeppelin cover, we do 'Rock and Roll,' we do Nine Inch Nails, 'The Hand that Feeds,' we do Billy Joel's 'Movin Out (Anthony's Song),' we do 'Stockholm Syndrome' by Muse."
A highlight of each concert is the soaring, romantic tune "Declaration," which was written in three cities -- surprisingly, one of them Buffalo, where Cook came to work with Johnny Rzeznik, a co-writer of the song with Cook and Gregg Wattenberg.
"We started 'Declaration' in Buffalo and we finished it maybe two months later in L.A.," Cook says. "I think we did a little work on it in New York, too. That song was a process." His experience with Rzeznik was excellent, Cook says: "He's good people."
But his time spent in Buffalo was all work and no performing. When he visited again in March 2009 to do a concert at the Seneca Niagara Casino, he still didn't get to Niagara Falls -- "honestly, I haven't seen it, we never had a chance," he says ruefully -- but hopes to make a visit on this trip.
Cook has always enjoyed traveling, and the allure of the touring lifestyle has not dulled. "I love to travel; it's something I've always enjoyed and the fact that I get to do it for a living is cake," he says.
He also enjoys interacting with fans, especially those who share with him the effect of his music.
"My favorite things about all this is when a fan will come up to me and tell me that my song helped them through their parents' divorce or something, and even though that song had nothing to do with that [situation], it's awesome that they got that out of the song," he says, sounding slightly amazed.
"I mean, I could have written that song about a ... a cherry turnover!" He laughs for an instant, then continues on: "And I think that's the amazing thing about music -- it isn't an opinionated medium, it is open to interpretation. Embracing that really helps me a lot.
"I think musically I couldn't do this if I wasn't getting something out of it emotionally," he says. "Writing for me is very therapeutic, but I also try to write ambiguously enough so I get what I need out of it but somebody else could listen to that song and get something out of it for themselves. That's always the goal that I have in mind.
"I don't purposely go into a writing session thinking, 'OK, what can I talk about that everybody will understand?' I don't necessarily think on that plane. Part of it is that I just think, 'Look, everybody goes through certain experiences, love and loss and things like that,' and especially with this new record, that's where I pulled a lot of inspiration from, and getting that audience feedback has been validating, not necessarily for myself, but for the record."
Cook did not get a chance to watch much of the 2009 or 2010 seasons of "Idol," he says, "purely because of being out on the road. But this last year I was in one spot because we are working on a new record, so I got a chance to watch. I thought it was a great year; I thought the talent was really eclectic. And the proof is in the pudding -- now you are starting to see all these records come out from the season, and they're all good records. I got to work with James Durbin, I [co-wrote] a track on his new record, a song called 'Screaming.' I think a lot of talent has come out of the season, and you can't go wrong with Steven Tyler. The trend continues!"
But the days of top-rated TV weekly sink-or-swim competitions are over for Cook. Now he's relaxed into a routine that allows him to enjoy his concerts and share the experience with his fans.
"If you come out and watch our show, there's no pretense," he says. "You're going to see a band on stage enjoying what they do, and really working hard to make sure that you guys enjoy it, too. That's just what our vibe is about. There's no production. We go on stage and we make noise, we crack jokes and we have a good time, and those are the kinds of shows I love to play."
WHEN: 8 p.m. today
WHERE: Rapids Theatre, 1711 Main St., Niagara Falls
TICKETS: $25 box office, Record Theater, Terrapin Station, Ticketmaster
FOR INFO: 205-8925, www.rapidstheatre.com.