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Kristy Lee Cook Interview: One-Time ‘American Idol’ Contestant Inspired by Love, Heartbreak and Her Horses

Kristy Lee Cook
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Kristy Lee Cook is getting a rare second chance. Typically, when an artist splits with a label, he or she flounders for a few years on an independent label before slipping away from public conscious. Cook is signed to Broken Bow Records (Jason Aldean‘s label) and has released a duet with Randy Houser called ‘Wherever Love Goes.’ The love ballad from her upcoming new album shows her sensitive side, which she says is rare.

Cook tells Taste of Country she’s more of a rocker. “I like to work up a sweat on stage and really perform,” she revealed after explaining how she gets into character for the more emotional songs. She’s got more experience to draw from since now than when she left ‘American Idol’ in 2008 and released ‘Why Wait’ on Sony Nashville. A boyfriend, an engagement and a breakup will do that. The five-plus years between records was good for her, she explains.

If she were to do it all over again, however, Cook might choose a different reality show in 2013. “‘The Voice.’ Oh yeah. I love ‘The Voice,’” the country singer says from her home in Nashville a few weeks before her planned move to Denver to care for her babies (she’ll explain later). “I don’t even watch ‘American Idol.’ I watch ‘The Voice’ when I can. I love it, I think it’s fair,” she elaborates. “It’s off the voice. It doesn’t matter what you look like, and so much of that has a factor in becoming an artist.”

The 29-year-old native Oregonian is a firecracker, and she’s not afraid to vent about the reality show that made her famous. “Like on ‘Idol,’ Simon obviously had his favorite girls that he liked. He’s like ‘Oh, her legs look nice’ and you’re like, ‘Seriously, it’s not about her legs.’”

It’s about the music now more than ever for Cook. And she’s happier than ever.

ToC: Did you and Randy Houser record your parts for ‘Wherever Love Goes’ at the same time?

KLC: Originally, we did. The one for his album we did. Then, the second one we were both on the road … so we weren’t in studio that second time.

Explain what it’s like, because the average fan may not understand how you can have instant chemistry for a duet, but then step outside and you’re just normal friends. How do you turn on that white-hot fire for a love ballad?

It’s just a lot of years of learning how to do that. When I was younger, in studio I would have to take pictures with me to try to make me think of things that made me sad. Like I’d take a picture of my horse to make me sad because I miss him. Something like that.

You kind of learn how to connect, just being older and going through experiences.

Randy is a really good guy, but if he was a jerk, could you have cut that song as effectively?

[laughs] I’ve never thought of it that way, but Randy’s so cool and his voice is just amazing so it made it that much more easy. I’d never thought of singing with a jerk, but I’m sure if he was a jerk, that would make it a little harder to do it live. You’d have to act for sure.

Did you sing this song with a relationship in mind?

I did. I’ve been single for a year now, but previously I was very much in love and that didn’t wind up so well for me. So I did pull from some of that, but mostly I just pulled from the lyrics of the song, of remembering what being in love was like. It may sound weird, but I really love my horses [laughs]. And my dogs. Like I always tell everybody, “Who needs kids? My babies are at home.” They are my babies.

It seems like heartbreak is great for an artist’s career.

It is, and it sucks [laughs]. I really don’t like it. But it has made me write some cool songs.

What can you do musically now that you couldn’t do when you released your first album after ‘American Idol’?

There’s actually a lot, compared to what I was able to do in the beginning. It’s such a big difference to be able to write and record songs that I’ve actually written, where before I wasn’t even a songwriter. Now it went from never writing a song and not really having control over what I was singing to singing stuff — I’ve got maybe five (songwriting) cuts on the album. It’s just so awesome to be able to sing about stuff that you experienced. Like the male-bashing songs. Or the cowgirl country songs. It’s awesome to be able to sing about that kind of stuff.

You said man-bashing songs. Is there more than one on the album?

Yeah, I think so. The album is not finished yet, so I don’t exactly know what’s going on it. But as of cuts that we have now, we have two — one is a definite male-bashing song, one is another one called ‘I Don’t Care’ that will definitely go on the album.

Did stepping away from the Nashville scene provide some time to find perspective?

Yeah. It may not have been beneficial in the long run because anytime you’re out of Nashville for a little bit, there’s so much going on that you’re kind of out of sight, out of mind. So that’s not good. But it was good because I started writing and I started working really hard to get my own record deal, basically doing it without a manager. I had help from Dean Sams of Lonestar, and we were writing a lot.

I would say the break was good, because you grow and mature and you learn from all the experiences. Being released from the first label, obviously it sucked, but it was probably the best thing for me, cause I’m super happy now with where I am.

Next: Top 10 Country 'American Idol' Singers

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