Cook was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Blue Springs, Missouri. Cook’s interest in music began early in life; he received his first guitar at the age of 2. He began singing in second grade, when his elementary school music teacher gave him a solo in a school choir performance. He proceeded to perform in virtually every Christmas and PTA program. He also participated in choir and drama programs in middle school and high school. At Blue Springs South High School, he performed in musicals, including The Music Man, West Side Story, and Singin’ in the Rain. He earned a theater scholarship to the University of Central Missouri, but he abandoned theater after two semesters, graduating from the school in 2006 with a degree in graphic design. While in college, he was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa. After his college graduation, he relocated to Tulsa to pursue his career in music, telling his family, “I just want to give myself until I’m 26 years old to get a job.”
Cook was the lead singer and guitarist of the band Axium from 1999 until 2006. He formed Axium in his junior year of high school with drummer Bobby Kerr. One of the band’s songs, “Hold,” was picked up by AMC Theatres Movie Tunes and was played before previews on over 20,000 screens nationwide. Axium was also named one of the top 15 independent bands in the country in the “Got Milk?” independent band contest, and it was chosen as the best band in Kansas City in 2004.
In 2006, after the breakup of Axium, Cook relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and joined the regional touring band Midwest Kings, playing guitar, bass, and singing backup vocals. He recorded one EP, Incoherent with Desire to Move On, with the band in 2006. He also worked as a bartender at several Tulsa clubs, including Blank Slate and Rehab Lounge.
Cook released a solo independent album, Analog Heart, in 2006, the year he graduated from the college. It was written from 2004 to 2006, and he designed the artwork as well. The album was chosen as the fourth-best CD released in 2006 by website Music Equals Life. Cook also won the Urban Tulsa Weekly’s “Absolute Best of Tulsa” award for “Best Locally Produced, Independent Album” in 2007. He had completed recording his sophomore album before his appearance on American Idol. Over the weekend of April 18 to April 20, 2008, Analog Heart was listed as the number one album for “Today’s Top MP3 Albums” on Amazon.com. Soon thereafter, the album was removed from Amazon.