KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- David Cook has to beat out the two other finalists to become the next "American Idol," but the shaggy-haired rocker is already a winner to Kansas City-area fans.
They showed him a lot of hometown love Friday, with crowds of admirers braving wind and drizzle as they packed into the Kansas City Power & Light downtown entertainment district for a free Cook appearance.
Cook, 25, is a native of the Kansas City suburb of Blue Springs who went on to cut his teeth musically in clubs in Oklahoma. He advanced this week to the final three on the hit talent-search TV show. The other finalists are David Archuleta and Syesha Mercado.
The final winner will be announced May 21.
Cook's hometown tour, which included Missouri and Kansas City officials declaring Friday "David Cook Day" in a show of support, started bright and early with TV appearances on Fox, the network that airs "American Idol." Then, later in the morning, he greeted and performed for fans at the Power & Light District.
"What are you guys doing here?" Cook said, teasing the screaming crowd. "Guys, thank you, seriously. ... I don't know what else to say. This is the coolest day of my life."
He gave a shout-out to his brother, Andrew, who was in the audience, and then broke into a couple of songs -- Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" and a rocked-out version of Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby."
The fans sang along loudly and took over the lyrics at times, while Cook strummed his guitar and grinned.
"So do you guys watch the show, seriously?" Cook asked between tunes. "Man, you guys are fantastic."
Many people wore T-shirts with Cook on them and held up signs with such messages as "Vote for David Cook" and "David Cook Rocks."
One young woman's creative, hand-drawn sign read: "KC/DC," in a nod to the logo of rock band AC/DC.
Afterward, Cook walked through the crowd, hugging fans, posing for photos and signing autographs.
"We just started watching the show since he was on it," said Jake Lamb, 10, of the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit.
His mother, Gusti Lamb, let him stay out of school Friday to see Cook. She didn't see any harm in him missing a day of class for the special occasion.
"This is once in a lifetime," the excited mom said, adding that she was proud Cook was from the area and that he has "exceptional talent."
"We want to support him and watch him go all the way," she said.
Later in the day, Cook was planning to appear in a parade and perform a bigger, sold-out concert in Blue Springs. Lamb said she and her children would be at the Blue Springs show, too.
Cook also was scheduled to entertain the crowd at the Kansas City Royals game Friday night.
"How often does 'American Idol' come to your town and you get to see it up close and personal?" said Rachael Hufford, of Kansas City, Kan. "I wasn't missing it for nothing."
Her friend, Anna Bergen, of Leavenworth, Kan., called the whole experience "inspiring."
"You think that this is hard to reach," Bergen said. "But look at David Cook, he made it."
Cook has been described as "the real thing" by friends and band mates who know him from the club scene in Tulsa, Okla., where he took his musical aspirations after getting his graphic design degree from Central Missouri State University two years ago.
During his high school days at Blue Springs South, Cook played with Axium, a band he stuck with while in college.
Cook became familiar with Tulsa's music scene after Axium opened a show for a popular Tulsa-based group, Midwest Kings.
From there, Cook got even more exposure to the music scene in and around Tulsa -- playing a mix of shows in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
Cook mainly played guitar and sang backup vocals with his group, but he stayed working on other projects including a solo album titled "Analog Heart."
The grind obviously paid off, getting Cook to "American Idol" and earning him positive comments from the "Idol" judges, including hard-to-please Simon Cowell, on his takes on such songs as The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby."