Just a couple of weeks ago, CMT (Country Music Television) celebrated the 5th anniversary of CMT Hot 20 with a special look back at some of the most memorable moments. Hosted by Cody Alan and Katie Cook, the popular weekly series features music video spotlights, celebrity news and interviews. With that in mind, and knowing she’s always got a few irons in the fire, I thought it might be fun to flip the script on my pal Katie Cook and pose 20 questions to her for the latest edition of my recurring celebrity interview feature, Rapid Fire 20 Q.
JONATHAN PINKERTON: First off, congrats on CMT Hot 20’s fifth anniversary. The special anniversary episode featured a look back at some of the show’s more memorable moments. Is there a favorite moment from the show that’s not included in the special?
KATIE COOK: Well I guess if I could have included every single Dolly Parton moment that I have ever had, I would! I think this episode turned out great and people can still see clips at cmt.com
JP: Of course you’ve been with CMT since 2001, having previously hosted CMT Most Wanted Live back in the day. In the tradition of countdown shows, can you tell me your personal Top 5 CMT moments thus far?
KATIE COOK: It’s hard to pick just five, but the first time I met Dolly Parton was life changing. We spent the day filming MWL Star together in the CMT studios. She was everything I wanted her to be and more. Interviewing George Clooney in LA for the Tomorrowland press junket was really cool. He is a such a charmer and very funny. I have been on Willie Nelson‘s bus a few times and that is always a “pinch me” moment. Riding on the Bobsled with Tyler Farr in Jamaica was pretty unforgettable, and quite terrifying! And finally interviewing Shania Twain in Montreaux Switzerland was magical. That is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I am dreaming of the day I get to go back.
JP: I had a feeling Dolly might make your Top 5. I’m convinced if she were to run for President, she’d win. Everybody loves Dolly! OK, so is there a bucket list of folks you have yet to chat up?
KATIE COOK: I have interviewed just about everyone (living) in country music I think. Outside of country, I would love to interview Oprah Winfrey; I honestly think she has done more to elevate humanity than just about any politician. Elon Musk would be a fascinating interview. I was lucky enough to work with President Obama before, but would love to chat with him post-presidency.
JP: As I mentioned above, you share host duties on CMT Hot 20 with Cody Alan. What’s he like to work with?
KATIE COOK: Cody is fantastic. He is so professional and quick witted. He puts me at ease when we work together because I know he can handle anything that comes our way. Plus he is just so handsome and charming. He and his Trey make a gorgeous couple and I am thrilled about their recent engagement.
JP: Back to Most Wanted Live for a minute. It was basically CMT’s version of sister network MTV’s TRL. I’ve heard that a reboot of TRL is in the works. Any chance a new Most Wanted Live might be coming down the pike as well? If so, would you be up for hosting it?
KATIE COOK: I would certainly be up for hosting anything at CMT, but I think Hot 20 pretty well covers what MWL used to with live performances, news, interviews and fun games.
JP: In addition to CMT celebrating Hot 20’s anniversary, CMT recently debuted the sixth (and apparently) final season of Nashville. You’ve played a character very similar, ok….basically yourself, as a TV presenter and interviewer in previous seasons. Any chance we get to see you on the show during the series’ final year?
KATIE COOK: I would love to be on Nashville again! It would be my third time, and since it is the last season, would be very special for me. Getting to play myself was not only and honor but made it much easier.
JP: Over the years, thanks to your ease of conversation and fun personality, you’ve become become synonymous with Nashville’s country music scene, but your history with music goes much deeper. For those who don’t know, your Dad is British-born singer, songwriter and producer, Roger Cook. Among his most notable penned tunes, the iconic I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing. As a young girl in England, did you realize your Dad was quite the big deal, having written songs for everyone from Cliff Richard to The Hollies?
KATIE COOK: Honestly, not really. I saw people wanting his autograph and getting very excited to meet him, but he is very humble and never really talked about his fame or career around us. He kept his awards mostly out of view and never had his records in the house. I was much older before i realized all he had accomplished.
JP: Your family made the move to Nashville when you are still very young. It was then that your Dad switching gears a bit, writing tunes for country superstars like Crystal Gayle, George Strait and Don Williams. Instead of staying in Nashville and getting what would seem to be an automatic jump on a country career, after high school, you returned to England. According to my research, it was while back in England, you began singing professionally, including providing background vocals for Australian pop star Dannii Minogue (Kylie’s little sister) on Be Careful, an album track included on her 1993 sophomore effort. Any good Dannii stories, or was it just a studio gig?
KATIE COOK: You really do your research! I was actually trying to get a record deal of my own at the time. I went into the studio with my producer/cousin, Neil Davidge, and we cut Be Careful. My understanding is, when it was pitched to the table, they liked the song and gave it to Danni but had no use for me as an artist at the time. For whatever reason they keep my vocal in the track behind hers so I get credit on her record. One of my first lessons about the biz. It stung at the time, but I guess the universe always has a plan!
JP: Ironically, it was while back in England that your own country music took off when you formed Reno, a pop/country trio. (You better believe I’ll be linking to Reno’s Whole World video right here) Tell me about Reno and your return to Nashville.
KATIE COOK: I had always wanted to be in a band with my brother, Jason Cook. He stayed in London after high school and I had an itch to move back to be closer to family there. I had a musical writing partner in Nashville named Marko Coomer, who was up for the possibility of relocating for a few years, and we had an opportunity to work with an old family friend, power manager Harry Barter. After a couple years in England, Marko started a solo career and a couple members of the band, including Jason, and I started Reno. Reno eventually caught the ear of Mike Curb back in Nashville and we were offered a record deal. We recorded the album in London, but spent most of time in the states promoting it. This ended up really taking a toll on the guys who were separated from their families back in England for long periods of time. The band broke up and I decided to stay in Nashville at that point and pursue my solo career. Then the CMT job came along and sidetracked all that!
JP: Do you remember what that first CMT audition was like?
KATIE COOK: I was pretty clueless really. I was still so focused on my music career, so I didn’t have a lot emotionally invested in the audition which probably proved to be a good thing. I assumed I was a real long shot for the job so I can’t say I was even nervous. They thought I did really well and were interested in me, if I was willing to change my image…a lot. I had more of an artist image then with flaming red hair and was rocking a nose ring and lip ring. After a few weeks they convinced me to give it another audition and I tried toning down my image and it all clicked. I still didn’t expect to be there very long, but here we are over 15 years later. Now I just wear my nose ring on my days off, lol.
JP: Before being paired with Cody, you worked with former CMT host Lance Smith who now co-hosts Titans Blitz, a Tennessee Titans chat show alongside former Titans running back, Eddie George. What’s your favorite memory of your years sharing the mic with Lance?
KATIE COOK: I just adore Lance; he is truly a gifted host. One of my favorite memories was our first CMA red carpet together in 2001. We could not have been more green, and looking back on it I doubt we were very smooth. It was a really exciting, and somewhat scary time for us both I think. We were kind of making it up as we went along but I guess it worked! He was always passionate about football, so I think he has his dream job now!
JP: Over the years, you’ve hosted a handful of shows, a multitude of specials and are Nashville’s go-to Red Carpet correspondent. What’s the most exciting aspect of taking to the red carpet during awards season?
KATIE COOK: The most exciting aspect of red carpets is just the unpredictability of it. You never know who you will talk to or what will come out of their mouth. If it’s a show like the Grammys, the people watching is off the charts; everyone trying to outdo one another. The all genre red carpets are fun because I could be talking to Blake Shelton one minute and Gene Simmons the next. It keeps me on my toes for sure.
JP: As I said in my intro, in addition to your work at CMT, you’ve always been involved in a number of other creative projects. One of my personal favorites is your Alienated paintings. I know I love mine! How did that come about and what’s going on with them?
KATIE COOK: Thanks for asking about the Alienated project! I really do it just for fun, but hope to have enough one day to start selling them for charity. I also love to give them as gifts. I find retro paintings in antique and thrift stores and then add characters to them. Mostly U.F.O.s and aliens, but also some cryptozoology stuff. I try to make whatever I am adding really fit in with the original style of the painting like it was there all along. Adam, my husband, came up with the name Alienated for the project and I think it’s perfect! Whenever I am not happy with how a piece turned out I just donate it back to Goodwill. I would love to be a fly on the wall when a shopper picks up the painting then realizes the extra elements! I giggle just thinking about that.
JP: Something else I know you’re passionate about is your writing. Specifically, your series of children’s books chronicling the adventures of Little Big Benny, a young boy with a penchant for astronomy. How did the idea to write about Little Big Benny and his friends come about?
KATIE COOK: It hit me out of nowhere really. My band, Reno, was crisscrossing the country on a radio promotion tour and I had my first laptop. I was itching to do some creative writing to pass the time. I wish i could tell you exactly how the idea popped into my head, but all I really remember was Benny’s face coming into my mind and I could see his thoughts and his curiosity. Then the other little characters started to pour
into my head. It just wrote itself in so many ways. Every time I opened the laptop to write, the ideas flooded in like a giant download and i couldn’t type fast enough. My original idea was for it to be an animated series or movie, but I eventually turned it into a book series. It is still my goal to see it animated and I plan on spending a lot of time working toward that this year.
JP: What’s been the most satisfying aspect of publishing the Little Big Benny books?
KATIE COOK: The most satisfying part of writing and releasing Little Big Benny is when I get feedback from kids who have read it. When a kid begs me to write the fourth book, I know I have done something right. When a parent thanks me for writing something that their child enjoyed so much, I get a feeling of satisfaction that almost nothing else gives me. Writing the Benny books makes me feel complete, so I know there are more in my future.
JP: You debuted the character in Little Big Benny: The Boy Who Didn’t Know He Was The Universe. Then came Little Big Benny: Double Stick Karma, and later, in 2012, the third installment, Little Big Benny: The Wicked Itch. It’s been a while since readers have heard from Benny. What’s next for him?
KATIE COOK: I actually had to stop myself from diving into books four, five, and six. I really need to take the time to promote the ones I have already written. This is the part that is hard for me because all I want to do is keep creating the story. It’s hard to put the breaks on and go into business mode with it, but I know that is what I have to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty of ideas though. Without giving too much away, Benny might start to suspect he is indeed being monitored by the Aliens. They came dangerously close to revealing themselves before, and I want to have more fun with that. I see a rescue dog in Benny’s future, and this dog will be more than just a fluffy companion. Things will continue to heat up between Benny and Lora Lee, which will inevitably lead to more jealousy from Leo, who will be back to his old ways despite his time at Castle Hill! There will also be some major discoveries in our own solar system.
JP: Benny isn’t the only one facing new adventures in the future. As you alluded earlier, you’re newly married, having rang out the old year and brought in the new one by marrying Adam Shoenfeld, guitarist for Tim McGraw. How excited are you to begin this next chapter of your life with Adam?
KATIE COOK: It’s wonderful on so many levels; he just makes my life better in every way possible. Everything I ever wanted in a partner; he is that and more. He is so supportive of everything I do and I could not be more proud of all his talent. He has a huge heart and never ceases to amaze me with how generous he is to everyone around him. Our three children get along great and our family feels complete. I can’t wait to see what the future holds now that I have the perfect guy to grow old with.
JP: It’s a second chance at marriage for both of you. How do you and Adam hope to balance his life on the road touring with Tim, your life on the road chasing the next big interview and your newly blended family?
KATIE COOK: We have three children between us, who are all so unique and talented in their own right. Luckily they get along really well so that makes our life much easier. We also have a great co-parenting relationship with both our exes, so scheduling is easy. We are blessed with amazing parents that help when needed too, so the kids are always cared for by family. We just take it all one week at a time and cover each other’s butts. My schedule is different every week, but Adam’s tour schedule is set pretty far in advance so that helps. It’s exciting and a little chaotic at times, but we would get bored if it were any other way.
JP: Speaking of blending, you and Adam are also blending your musical talents as you record songs for your own duet project, SunKat. I’ve heard the debut single, That Was the Night, and I love it. What else can we expect from SunKat in the coming months?
KATIE COOK: We are busy writing and recording and are pretty close to having a full length album done. We hope to start debuting music later this year and playing live. Although our schedules make it hard to carve out time, it’s always easy when we sit down to write or record for SunKat. It just flows really easily for us, and we are hoping that’s a good sign!! We are just doing it for the pure love of it.
JP: Dang. Twenty questions goes quickly when I’m chatting with a friend. OK, one last question. The 60th Annual Grammy Awards were just last weekend. Of course you were there. What was your favorite Grammy moment this year?
KATIE COOK: The Grammys were really fun this year. It was in NY for the 60th anniversary, and the weather was surprisingly mild, which was a huge relief. My favorite moment was getting to break the news to Little Big Town that they had won for Country Group or Duo performance for Better Man. They were elated and it made for a great tv moment! The people-watching is always great on the Grammy carpet; Heidi Klum and Lady Ga Ga did not disappoint. I am not entirely sure Heidi is from this planet; how can anyone be that perfect? I also had fun catching up with Reba and asking her about her new role as KFC‘s Colonel Sanders; and Midland had me rolling on the floor laughing. I swear those guys need their own television show! I love L.A. but I have to say NYC did the Grammy’s up right this year!
If you’ve enjoyed this latest installment of my recurring celebrity interview feature, Rapid Fire 20 Q, check out previous conversations. You can catch Katie Cook and her co-host, Cody Alan each Saturday and Sunday morning at 9/8c on CMT’s Hot 20 and you can always scope out Katie’s latest news on katiecook.com and via her official Twitter.
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