He won the whole thing last year, his debut album went platinum and he is in the midst of a spring tour that's drawing packed audiences at colleges and festivals across the country.
But, for some reason, [artist id="3080428"]David Cook[/artist] still couldn't help shake some of those nagging nerves as he prepared to return to the scene of his coronation for the first time since taking the "American Idol" crown last season.
"I'll always get a little tinge of nervousness around the judges," Cook admitted in an e-mail interview with MTV News on Monday, less than two days before he appeared on the show to perform his new single, "Come Back to Me," on the show. "It's now engrained in my DNA, I suppose."
A year after Cook was embroiled in a tightly contested battle with the other David, runner-up [artist id="3080429"]David Archuleta[/artist], the rocker said that despite some butterflies, the reunion with the "Idol" crew also finds him "surprisingly calm, especially given how much I was sweating it out up here a few short months ago. To be able to come back and see everyone, it almost feels like I never left."
Cook was excited to meet the new contestants, who he said had an "amazing level of talent," and, like season-two winner [article id="1607852"]Ruben Studdard[/article] — who visited the show last week — and season-six winner [article id="1608120"]Jordin Sparks[/article], Cook was reluctant to cough up the name of his favorite.
"I think that the talent level is as high as ever," he said, artfully dodging a question about who his pick to win this year was. "What with the new format this season, I really feel that even though we're paring down to the final few contestants, I think the competition is still wide open. It's anyone's game."
He had high praise, however, for [article id="1602350"]new judge Kara DioGuardi[/article], saying she brings her "amazing musical aptitude" to the show, but confessed to still having a wary eye on sometime-nemesis Simon Cowell. "As long as Simon doesn't critique me TOO hard, I'm just amped to see everybody," he joked.
As for any advice he has for the remaining nine contestants on this year's show, Cook said he simply wanted to pass on the same advice he'd been given many times over: "Don't try to be. Just be. You'll be far happier and, in most cases, more successful if you present yourself honestly."
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