'American Idol' Dropped Kristy Lee Cook A Little Too Soon, She Thinks: 'I Had At Least Another Week In Me'

'I was starting to come out of my shell and sing the songs I felt comfortable with,' the country crooner says of her recent improvement.

Last week, everyone was shocked when Michael Johns left "American Idol" after spending no previous time in the bottom three. This week, bottom-three mainstay Kristy Lee Cook got the boot — and yet it was still kind of surprising.

The Selma, Oregon, 23-year-old has cheated elimination so many times that she seemed unstoppable. And with back-to-back well-received performances (Martina McBride's "Anyway" for "Idol Gives Back" week and "Forever" for Mariah Carey night), it seemed like she might even be the last girl standing. (See what our four soldiers in Iraq had to say about Kristy Lee and the rest of the gang's performances — and what Naomi Judd had to say about David Archuleta's dad — in Newsroom blog.)

But the "Idol" crown wasn't meant for this Cook. We caught up with the country cutie to talk about her patriotic song choice, her horse drama and what Simon thought of her serenade.

Q: When you were put in a group with David Cook on Thursday, did you think you were safe?

A: Actually, I think I was just to the point where Carly and them were like, "Oh, no. They're the safe group over there." And they were saying that they were in the bottom three, and I was telling them that, "You know what? They're going to do something just so off-the-wall that they're going to throw us off, and we're not going to know what's going to happen." So I was just trying to be as relaxed as possible and play it by ear and see what happens.

Q: Did Simon say anything to you after you performed to him on Thursday?

A: Yeah, he did. He said, "Well, you made it awkward for me." And I said, "Well, now you know what it's like to be in front of you all the time," and he just started laughing and it was kind of funny.

Q: Why do you think Simon gave you such a hard time throughout the competition?

A: I believe that he was just being skeptical, because I started out kind of weak. I was struggling the first three weeks, being sick, and recovery took awhile. I think I outlasted what he thought because I got stronger towards the end, and I was getting in the comfort zone of the songs I was used to and had been doing for a while. So I was starting to come out of my shell and sing the songs I felt comfortable with, and he saw that a couple times. And unfortunately, it ended when I had to leave, but I thought my performance was pretty strong this past week. I'm happy I went out on that note.

Q: Did it make it tougher to leave this week after improving so much over the past few weeks?

A: It definitely did. I was kind of upset that I went, because I felt that I was getting stronger. I thought that was my best performance, and it was vocally more than what I've given in the show so far, and I connected emotionally with the song, and so I thought it was my best performance so far. So I was a little upset to go. I thought I had at least another week in me.

Q: Any new word from the guy who bought your horse?

A: You know, I've talked to him a few times, and he doesn't want to sell. He doesn't want to sell him back. He's really attached to him, because he's such a good horse, but the least I could have asked for is a good home, and he got a really good home. I'm happy with that, but it does kind of suck that I won't be able to get him back as my own horse.

Q: Was singing "God Bless the U.S.A." a strategic move?

A: It wasn't, like, a huge thought process for me. The year I was born, [the song] came out again, and my dad was in Vietnam and he absolutely loved that song ... and I love that song. I sang it for a long time, and it just kind of hit me when I saw that, and my sister called me and said, "You should do 'God Bless the U.S.A.' It was done in that year." I was already thinking about it, and I was like, "That's the one." So we kind of just stuck with that one. It was kind of an instant "yes" in my mind.

Q: After all the criticism surrounding your version of the Beatles' "Eight Days a Week," are you proud of the performance?

A: Well, you know, I kind of have mixed feelings on it. A lot of people actually liked it. A lot of people on the stage and in the band loved the version. I thought it was kind of cool and deserved a little bit more praise, because I did make it my own. I made sure to add my own sound to it and stuff and do my own stuff with my voice in the song, but I know the judges have a lot of influence on the viewers. So it would have been different if [Simon] would have said, "That was amazing. I love how you changed it up." It would have been a totally different story, and America would have agreed, you know what I mean? Because even me being a viewer now, it's kind of like, I used to listen to what they would say about Carrie Underwood and stuff, and it does affect the way you think about it. So I try to have a little bit more of an open mind, and now I am not listening. I've been on the show and I'm like, "I know who's good."

Q: After already being in the business prior to the show, did you ever regret putting yourself through the judges' criticism?

A: Actually, it was a great learning experience. And my career was a long time ago, when I was 17, so it was definitely a long time ago, and I needed this push to get my career started going again. Because no one knew who I was before "American Idol," so it was the biggest push I could have ever done to get my career started. All the criticism and everything, it made me a stronger person. To be able to sing in front of that many people and to sing in front of judges who are criticizing you, I think anybody who can sing in front of that and remain a contestant will be able to sing in front of anybody. It's a pretty amazing feeling.

Q: Do you think the fact that a lot of the contestants have previous professional experience this year shows how tough the music industry is?

A: Yeah. You know, I never got to release an album. I got most of the music done for my album, but I never got to release it. ... But I did have the contract, and Carly's had music and David Cook, and Brooke, and they all have CDs. Everybody has some sort of music background, so it's kind of like we weren't discovered before this whole thing, and this is kind of like a second chance. And I believe everybody deserves a second chance. It was a great opportunity for all of us.

Q: What was it like to work with Mariah Carey and Dolly Parton?

A: I definitely learned a lot. They are the sweetest people. I mean, they're huge stars, and for them to remain sweet and caring and supportive of everything we were doing — that's I how I want to be if I become a famous singer. I want to be able to carry that and still be the genuine and humble girl. I don't want to come across as being a diva or something like that. [Laughs.] But they both were just so nice. And they gave you advice, and they both had wonderful things to say to me, and I took that to heart and I will never forget it. That meant a lot to me to hear that from them.

Q: Who do you think will end up in the finals?

A: It's anybody's playing field. You know, with Michael Johns last week, it just goes to show you that people you think will be safe can go at any time. I really don't know. All of them have their own unique talent and tons of talent, and I don't know which one it will be, but I know they will all have great careers.

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