By Josh Letner
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
In hindsight, David Cook said, going out for a pasta dinner Friday night might have been the undoing of what, up until then, had been a closely guarded secret about the identity of entertainment for the Joplin High School homecoming dance.
Cook, the winner of season seven of “American Idol,” was brought to Joplin by Wal-Mart.
“I was told this was going to be a surprise,” he told students during his performance Saturday night at Memorial Hall. “How many people were surprised?”
A few hands went up.
“I knew we blew it by going to Olive Garden last night,” he said.
Cook, three years after winning “American Idol,” said he is still adapting to his celebrity status.
“I never get used to it, but it is always very flattering,” he said. “I don’t think we could have picked a worse night to go (to Olive Garden), actually. We showed up early, before our reservation.”
Cook said it wasn’t long before he was spotted.
“Two or three soccer teams came up, and I was overwhelmed, but the breadsticks were good,” he said.
Cook played for about 45 minutes, then had to hurry to catch a flight to State College, Pa., where his latest tour officially kicks off. Unofficially, Cook’s latest tour kicked off with an intimate performance for the Joplin students.
Andy Martin, manager of the Wal-Mart store at 15th Street and Range Line Road — one of the businesses destroyed by the May 22 tornado — preceded Cook’s act with the presentation of a $100,000 check to the Bright Futures program. Jerrod Hogan, chairman of the Bright Futures board, said the money will go a long way to help students in Joplin and the surrounding area.
“Joplin Bright Futures is a very successful program,” Hogan said. “We’re helping a lot of kids and helping the community. We’re wanting to share that. We’ve got six other partnering communities right now, and we want to help as many communities as have a need.”
Cook, a native of Blue Springs, said he has followed Joplin’s recovery efforts closely since the tornado. He said he always wanted to help the Joplin community, but he doesn’t deserve the credit for his appearance.
“It was an important thing to me personally. I wanted to do something here,” he said. “I’m really glad that Wal-Mart and the high school and everybody involved really made it happen. We just showed up and plugged our guitars in and played, so the accolades should go to all those people.”
While Cook may not want credit for his visit, JHS Principal Kerry Sachetta said the attention that the school district and the community receive from around the nation serves as a huge morale booster for teachers and students.
“It just makes you feel how much people really care, and how much people want to make sure the kids feel good about what’s going on and getting back to school,” he said.
David Cook won the seventh season of “American Idol” on May 21, 2008, receiving 12 million votes, or 56 percent of the total, to defeat runner-up David Archuleta.