American Idol winner David Cook took time our of recording his sophomore album to visit Ethiopia as part of Idol Gives Back charity special. The rocker dished to us about his trip working with underprivileged girl students, filming his segment for this year's Idol Gives Back, and reflecting back on his own journey on Idol.
Q: What were your first impressions of Ethiopia, and what surprised you most about the country or the people?'
David Cook: I have to say I was completely shocked by this country in an extremely positive way. When you hear Africa, I immediately think impoverished and everything that goes with that. But I came here, and the people here are so amazingly sweet. They are such nice people, very accommodating and get that we are out here trying to help. The
city itself, Addis Ababa, is beautiful - really lush, very green. It definitely has an infrastructure in place. I think it's just a matter that they just need that kind of boost in the right direction.
Q: Is music playing any part of your connection while you are there and do they know who David Cook is?
David: Very few people here know who I am. We had to explain to the little girls who I was and why I was there. But we did get a chance to play some music for them. My guitar player came out here with me, and then they sang for us. It's always cool to see music be this universal language, I guess. But I definitely had to win them over. They didn't quite know what to do with the tall, tattooed white guy, I guess.
Q: As a musician, obviously you want to turn your life experiences into music. Do you think that as awe-inspiring as this trip has been, will it find its way into the new music that you have been writing?
David: It would be really hard to fathom that it wouldn't. I think anybody that isn't completely self-absorbed, it's impossible for them to come to this kind of a situation and not be moved by it and not be changed by it. To really drive home the fact that what these girls are dealing with -- girls that don't get an education here are immensely
more likely to fall into the sex trade or into domestic servitude and then that opens it up to so many other different things. HIV is one of the main killers here. And so, to see that firsthand, I would almost say it's a definite that I am going to bring that back, and it will
find its way into my career path.
Q: David, you said at the beginning that this is something that you always wanted to do. Could you kind of tell us emotionally what went through your mind when you were there as one of the contestants when they did the Idol Gives Back and what did that stir up in you, and how did that kind of make you always go just go further with this.
David: Thank you for that question. I actually remember specifically, on my season when we did Idol Gives Back, that we all snuck up to the balcony and got a chance to watch, from the front of the house, Annie Lennox's performance. It was just her on the piano, and in the background, they were showing images of children, and it just tore me apart. I think to have that kind of visual moment when everything kind of clicks and you realize that my reality is not their reality, it really puts you in a position where you want to help, and so from that point on I was just kind of chomping at the bit to get involved with Idol Gives Back. This couldn't have come at a better time.
Q: Were there particular exchanges with specific girls you met that really drove home on a personal level what donations could bring to them?
David: Sure. Well, I actually got a chance to meet two girls in particular. One was a seven-year-old girl named Magnus. Both of Magnus's parents have passed away, and she has been at the school for seven months. I think, obviously given the circumstances -- not having either one of her parents, she's actually living with her aunt now -
to meet this girl and, forgive me, whatever I say about this girl is not going to come across over the phone as well as it will if you were to ever meet this girl. She is one of the most vibrant, joyous girls that I think I've ever met. The girls at the school genuinely want to learn. They want to have that education. They want to have that opportunity, and that's inspiring to see a seven-year-old girl want to build a better future for herself. I remember being seven years old, and I didn't have that foresight. These girls are wise beyond their years, and both fortunately and unfortunately they've kind of had to be.
Photo: Stuart Ramson/UN Foundation