After graduating from Blue Springs South High School – where he played with his band, Axium – Cook studies graphic design at Central Missouri State University. Upon graduation, he relocates to Tulsa, Okla. "He's the real thing," Jeff Martinson, the owner of the Blank Slate complex of clubs in downtown Tulsa, where Cook bartends and performs, tells the AP. "He's gone out and actually played hundreds of gigs in bars in front of, sometimes, five people."
Cook accompanies his brother Andrew to an audition for the seventh season of American Idol in Omaha, Neb. Saying that he "brings something a little different to the table," the 24-year-old bartender sings Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer." Although judge Simon Cowell says it was "a bit worthy," all three judges send him to Hollywood.
With his ailing brother in the front row, Cook delivers his "most brilliant performance yet" – according to Randy Jackson. Performing a rocked-out rendition of Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby," Cook breaks out of the Idol pack, and his brother Adam, who is undergoing chemotherapy for brain cancer, says he was ''blown away.'' A year later, Cook loses his brother to a brain tumor.
After Jason Castro's elimination, Cook makes the coveted Top Three with 17-year-old wonder David Archuleta and blossoming diva Syesha Mercado. Cook performs Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," with Paula Abdul saying she'd see him in the finals and Cowell declaring him the night's winner.
With Mercado's elimination, all that's left are the Davids: Archuleta and Cook. They battle it out in the American Idol finale. "I get to do the real intimate stuff, I get to do the rock song, and I get to do everything in between," Cook tells USA Today. "I'm stoked." But it's Archuleta whom Cowell declares the evening's winner after his rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine."
With more than 97 million votes cast, Cook is chosen as the seventh American Idol. "I started this season – much to Simon’s chagrin – as the word nerd and I’m absolutely at a loss for words," Cook tells the crowd. "Thank you guys. This is amazing. Thank you."
After Cook asks out American Idol season two alum Kimberly Caldwell during an interview on the TV Guide Network, the two begin dating. "She's a nice break from the chaos," Cook tells PEOPLE. "I think she just gets that this is all nuts." But right before the holidays, the pair calls it quits.
"I got to show some different aspects of who I am as a person," Cook tells PEOPLE of his self-titled debut album. "I just think this record is me," he adds to EW. "I want to try to prove the 56 million people who voted for me right.''
After battling cancer for more than a decade, Cook's brother, Adam, dies the morning before the Race for Hope 5K in Washington, D.C., where the American Idol winner serves as grand marshal and raises $98,000 with his team. "I actually lost my brother yesterday to a brain tumor and couldn't imagine being anywhere else right now," he tells the crowd. The singer cancelled two shows to be by his ailing brother before his death.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): FOX; INF; Getty, inset: INF; Frank Micelotta/Getty; Frank Micelotta/Getty; Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/Landov; Fame; amazon.com; Frazer Harrison/Getty