'American Idol' winners DeWyze, Cook play suburbs as show winds down

  • Mount Prospect's Lee DeWyze looks back on his "American Idol" days and forward to new music as he performs this weekend in the suburbs.

    Mount Prospect's Lee DeWyze looks back on his "American Idol" days and forward to new music as he performs this weekend in the suburbs.

  • Past "American Idol" winner David Cook plays a March 16 show at SPACE in Evanston.

    Past "American Idol" winner David Cook plays a March 16 show at SPACE in Evanston.

  • Mount Prospect's Lee DeWyze plays Q Bar in Glendale Heights this weekend.

    Mount Prospect's Lee DeWyze plays Q Bar in Glendale Heights this weekend.

  • Mount Prospect's Lee DeWyze looks back on his "American Idol" days and forward to new music as he performs this weekend in the suburbs.

    Mount Prospect's Lee DeWyze looks back on his "American Idol" days and forward to new music as he performs this weekend in the suburbs.

 
By Selena Fragassi
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 2/17/2016 11:52 AM

It's hard to believe but the end is finally near for "American Idol." The popular singing competition will have its swan song this spring, wrapping up a farewell season after a 15-year journey that saw it become one of the most successful franchises in television history and the trailblazer for the reality TV juggernaut we know today.

Though it has been relentlessly copied and parodied, not to mention once having its own theme park, at the heart of "American Idol" was a musical iteration of the American dream, turning former balladeers and buskers into Billboard gold and launching the careers of stars like Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert and Mount Prospect's own Lee DeWyze, who has been ruminating about the ending recently -- even as he looks forward to new music and a show this weekend in the suburbs.

 

"I don't think 'Idol' is leaving because it has to but because it wants to, but I do think it's leaving at the right time," DeWyze admits.

When the show debuted, there were few places to discover new music beyond radio and cable stations MTV and VH1, he rationalizes. Now, with the advent of YouTube, Spotify and Pandora, there are a number of new entry points that make "Idol's" influence less effective. Ratings have plummeted in the past couple of years, which many speculate forced the decision, but it's still a sad reality for Season 7 winner David Cook.

"To think that 'Idol' would go on forever might have been a little shortsighted or naive, but the overall feeling for me is I'm sad to see the platform go," Cook says. "The term 'golden ticket' gets thrown around a lot but it was that. 'Idol' afforded me that chance, and I'd like to see it still offered to a lot of other talented people."

Both DeWyze and Cook have upcoming shows in the Chicagoland area (Feb. 20 at Q Bar in Glendale Heights for DeWyze and March 16 at SPACE for Cook) as does DeWyze's runner-up Crystal Bowersox (Feb. 26 at the Arcada and March 1 at SPACE), proving Cook's point that the opportunity has been unparalleled for the active past participants -- even if the look of success has changed over the years.

In the case of DeWyze and Cook, they have gone from breaking digital records, world tours and "Saturday Night Live" appearances to being shuffled around in the record label pen, dropped from their "Idol" contracts with RCA to now finding independent freedom. For Cook that has meant starting his own label (which most recently released his album "Digital Vein" in 2015) and moving to Nashville where he has steadily been penning songs for country stars. "I think I have my feet under me more," Cook says. "Even looking back at it now it's enough to make your head spin."

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For DeWyze, who signed to Shanachie Records for his just-released "Oil & Water" record, he says he's finally where he wants to be. "Saying that they let me do what I want would be an understatement. I'm finally working in my own studio on my own songs with people who are so on board that I got what I wanted to done," he says, calling "Oil & Water" the best album of his career. "If anyone wants to know what Lee DeWyze is about just play this record. Even I enjoy listening to it, which never happens."

The album's clear standout is the song "Stone," which recently debuted on Yahoo! Music. "If I died tomorrow and they could only play one song of mine I would want it to be that," DeWyze declares. The lush, cinematic track is "almost spiritual," he says, with layered vocal harmonies and a mountainous buildup of trumpet and violin that bears all the hallmarks of DeWyze's early foundation of Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens.

Writing a song like "Stone" became an emotional exercise for DeWyze who says, in the simplest terms, "it's about having your time and place in the life you are given and knowing the mark you left on life."

DeWyze says he's always had the drive to make an impact as a musician -- even before "Idol." At 16, he signed his first recording contract and had airplay on WXRT. And though he now lives in L.A. and is married to an actress (Jonna Walsh, whom he met filming one of his music videos), there's a part of DeWyze that still thinks he is living in a dream of coming home to Mount Prospect one day with a parade of cheering people screaming his name.

"It's hard to believe that really happened," DeWyze says of the memorable "Idol" hometown visit, which he calls his favorite memory on the show. "It always sticks in my head and I will never forget that feeling. … So many things had to happen to get me where I am today and I'm really happy with the way it all went."

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