Chris Cornell says he’s surprised but flattered that “American Idol” contestant David Cook performed a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” last week on the show, in what was nearly a note-for-note version of Cornell’s own interpretation.
Interest has since spiked in the Cornell cover, a drastically stripped-down take on the song that appeared on his 2007 solo album “Carry On.” The track is currently No. 12 on iTunes’ Top Alternative chart.
The former Soundgarden frontman told Billboard he was returning from a trip to South Africa when the show aired last Tuesday, and by the time he got home to Paris, he was flooded by emails from fans unsure about what was going on.
“This is something where they know I came up with this arrangement and reinvented the song,” he said. “I stuck my neck out being a guy that comes from the indie rock world doing a Michael Jackson song. You can clearly see that the judges are giving this guy credit for it on national television. My fans were like, ‘Wait a minute! That’s Chris Cornell’s moment.”’
“Don’t get me wrong. He sang it great,” Cornell continued. “But it was literally a note-for-note take on what I came up with. At the end of the day, it’s all good. It’s a good thing for me. There was a moment when I was sitting there writing this new arrangement thinking, ‘Is this a good idea or a bad idea?’ Watching the response from the judges was really gratifying. They were signing off on it right there. It was something that worked. It was an idea that went over huge. When I play it live on tour, it brings the house down every time.”
Despite the fact that “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest introduced Cook’s performance as “Chris Cornell’s version of ‘Billie Jean’,” Cornell is concerned that viewers remain confused.
“There’s a certain amount of credit given to an ‘approach’ to something and the presentation of something,” he said. “In a situation where they’re just strictly doing someone else’s song, if it’s not something that’s completely recognizable, it can be mistaken. But this is a little bit of an unusual situation, because mine is such a dramatic departure.”
In other news, Cornell is working on his next solo album with superstar producer Timbaland, but declined to reveal further details other than to say, “it’s going fantastic.”