I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Season 5 American Idol winner Taylor Hicks as he was getting ready to embark on his current cross country tour.
Taylor has been keeping busy since he took the crown in 2006. After the Idol tour and release of his debut album, Taylor Hicks, Taylor headlined his own tour, performed on Broadway in Grease and recorded a second album, The Distance on his own label.
Taylor wrapped up his nearly two- year run with Grease at the end of May. Not one to embrace downtime, Taylor immediately began making plans to get back to life as a touring musician.
Our conversation ranged from his experiences performing as “Teen Angel” in the Broadway and Broadway touring company of Grease, (Taylor was able to promote his album in an unusual way, performing his songs for Grease audiences after the curtain call), why Broadway is good for Idol, why he thinks Idol should limit the use of instruments during the competition, his involvement in promoting Gulf shore tourism in the wake of the oil spill, his new charity single, the Season 9 Idols, and more.
We also discussed his plans for more acting roles, a move to Nashville, a new album and the possibility of working some new songs into his tour set.
For Taylor’s upcoming tour dates, check Taylor’s schedule HERE.
Read the interview after the jump…
How did his experience with Grease change him as a performer? “I never had musical theater training, or any kind of acting lessons, being able to hop into a role and doing it more than 500 or so times, really allows you to be even more comfortable on different stages. When we go back to something that’s more or less your forte, it makes it that much easier. I like to tell people, ‘When you jump out of an ice cream cone covered in 17 thousand rhinestones, at 40 feet in the air, everything seems easier after that.’”
On why so many Idol contestants graduate to Broadway, “I had no idea what the Broadway experience was about, ’cause I was such a hard-core musician. It was awesome, I must admit. I really do believe that it’s a great segue-way for people that come off of American Idol—to learn a little bit of acting [along with] the singing. Idol is such a visual show. For me it had to be. I had no other choice. There were no instruments or anything. I had to be as visual as possible, and I think coming off of a television show—something that’s a visual medium, you take the singing, but you’ve also been groomed a little bit in the visual arts of performing because it’s television. I think that’s the reason why Broadway has been good to Idol contestants.
On Idol’s ratings’ decline (instruments are holding the contestants back) and why Idol performers who understand the visual medium do best on Idol, “When people ask me why the decline in the ratings of Idol, I like to tell people– my aunt didn’t have the best stereo system in her television. When I was told that, it made so much sense to me that the more visual that you can be on the show, the better your chances are. People want to be entertained visually on television. I would be a big fan of maybe using–two is plenty with your instruments. If you’re an instrumentalist, you get two plays. I think a lot of the Idol fans want to see people get up there and move and hop off stage and go out into the audience, cameras going back and forth. I think people really want to be stimulated like that. Visually you really have to get out there and do your thing.”
Would he have played instruments on Idol if given the chance? “I would have loved to been able to play guitar and harmonica. But when you’re talking about 2:20 seconds, there’s no time for leading, there’s no time to actually lead with your instrument unless you actually put the lead in there for 20 seconds or something like that.”
Taylor on his experience touring with Grease, and performing his music on the Grease stage post show, “I never thought in a million years that I would star in a Broadway show, especially being from Alabama. It’s something you don’t realize, being a roadhouse musician. But it makes so much sense. There’s the visual aspect every night, there’s the musical aspect. I think Teen Angel for me was a great role to get some chops down. It was the best acting class that I could have ever taken in my whole life. I feel blessed that it was successful, and did good numbers on Broadway. I think in this business you take the deals that are in front of and you structure them in a way that can benefit you the most. I think we did that with the culmination of the record under my own label, and then the 8 shows a week for 18 months. It’s funny, I just got done, and in the last month I’ve had a couple of roles come up, a couple of leads actually come up that have been offered. You’re talking about a kind of cutting edge way to release music. I think it’s a great way to be able to get your music out there.
Is he considering the roles he was offered? “I haven’t really dug into it too much because I’ve been putting this tour together. I’ve spent basically 4 ½ years on the road solid. It’s funny, from a local standpoint, I’ve probably hit almost every city I can imagine in America, and I love doing that because I think ultimately, in the end, that’s where your fan base will be. But, I have been looking at those roles seriously. I’ve also been able to peruse the television and film opportunities. I’m just excited. I was born on TV and it’s smart for me to revisit that.”
So, there’s more acting work in Taylor’s future? “I think so. I think there is that part of me that I really want to exercise, and obviously I put my name in a few hats, and people seem interested in it, I’m excited about it.“
More on Taylor’s Grease experience, “No one had ever given me a role. Obviously, I gave myself one on American Idol. When I sat down with the producers from Grease, they were explaining to me what my role was and what I needed to do, and I just found it fascinating, because I had almost taught myself those particular things on American Idol. The Broadway thing is great, because you get to build on the character each night. It’s almost like a song, for instance. You write the song, and there’s the bones of it—every night you get to work on it. You tweak something to make it better each night. I did that for 2 years with Teen Angel, and I just find that part of it extremely exciting because it was something I involuntarily did when I was on Idol. But this was actually—I was being taught how to do it.”
Is he working on the next album? “I am. I’ve pulled a lot of stuff out of my parent’s basement, and will actually find an apartment somewhere. That place probably will be Nashville. Obviously, I’ve lived there before. I’ve got really great connections in Nashville. When people think of Nashville, they think of country automatically. But, I don’t. I know a lot of my friends Keb Mo’ and Delbert McClinton—people that I was influenced by as musicians live there. I think it’s smart to go there and just let it organically happen for me on the next record.”
Has he started writing? “I’ve started some writing and had some writing sessions. That’s obviously something I hold near and dear to my heart. I’ve got to work this tour out [first].”
Will Taylor be singing anything new on tour? “Possibly, yes. Possibly I might be using a few tunes to get out there. It’s nice—all the band’s on the bus and everybody’s in one place. I wondered if there’d be some people who might want to actually hear the full band at a decent hour, because I know a lot of my one-offs from the Grease show were 11 pm at night. Now, this particular show is at a decent hour. I’m such an organic musician, everything is real. I’ve got a 7-piece band with me—sax, guitar, drums percussion. There’s so many great musicians with me.”
Did Taylor choose local Birmingham and Nashville musicians? “They were. When you’re talking about rehearsal time, stuff like that, you want to make sure that you can get as many of them as close together as possible. I’ve been able to do that on this particular tour. I wasn’t really planning a tour a month after I got off of Grease. But, after a month, I just decided—let’s go out there and see what happens. I think it’s smart for me to go out there and just play some really great live music, hit some cities and kind of get back into the music thing for awhile.”
On Taylor’s charity single, “SOS (Save My Body Save My Soul)” for the SOS Children’s Villages charity and working with songwriter Genevieve Rose, “Genevieve is a super great person, and had an idea for a song. It was one of those feel-good stories that I thought would be awesome to lend my vocals to and make a single for charity. Obviously SOS is one of the longest most successful running charitable organizations in the world. They have a massive presence outside of the US. It was great for SOS and for myself to be able to put that song out there and try to get the word out for that great organization.”
Taylor just filmed a spot for the Alabama Tourism Department. What has it been like watching the oil spill drama unfold on the Gulf Coast? “The environmental repercussions for that are just disastrous. I started being proactive in raising awareness for that early on. I called the tourism department, and I asked if there was anything that I could do to help. Some other people called, and we all got involved and some commercials are being filmed. It’s one of those things that you really just don’t know its affect, because it’s so massive in size. I have a friend that works on the oil rigs down there in the Gulf–it does create jobs, and we’ve gone down there and fished on them. It’s been a symbiotic relationship, between the people of the Gulf Coast and the oil people. We put our trust and faith that they would actually keep those beaches and keep those areas that depend so much on tourism. You have a very small area and there’s such a large importance put on tourism because [they are] the only jobs. Hopefully we can get this thing fixed and the environmental repercussion isn’t as bad as we think. I don’t think there’s been much emphasis up until this point to patrol the governmental organizations that patrol those oil companies. Because I believe that the oil is so important, it’s almost like ‘whatever you can do to get it out of the ground, let’s just do it.’ That’s obviously not the way that we need to let things happen anymore.”
Taylor and Crystal Bowersox have shared a few tweets. What does he think about her music and her future career?, “Crystal has definitely paid her dues. She knows who she is as an artist—what’s going to help, and what’s going to hurt. I think she has [to have] the right songs, and be put in the right place–you have to be smart about where you place her. I want to see her grow as an artist, I know that she will. I’m being careful about what I say here– but I just hope that she’s allowed that artistic expression.”
Taylor and Casey James also tweeted about maybe duetting in the future, “I ran into Casey—we were getting clothes tailored at the same place in LA. I met him, obviously, on the show. He’s just one of those guys–he’s paid his dues—one of those guys who’s a great guitar player, a great singer. I totally dig what he’s doing. I’d say the same thing about Lee—super talented guy, great voice. Maybe I can get with them all at some point, and see them out on the road in these next few weeks.”
Has he been to an Idols Live show since his season? “I have not, but I will.”
Thoughts 0n the current Idols tour, “If you think about it visually, there’s a direct connection between the people who are visually stimulated on television, that also want to be visually stimulated on the Idol tour. There’s a connection there. It’s almost like you’re performing for not only yourself, but you’re performing for those people who are going to come hear you live. That’s what you have to do—visually get that point across to those people on TV so they get up off their couch and come hear you live.”
More on the Season 9 contestants, “I think they’re a great group of folks. The exposure coupled with the talent–I think the sky is the limit. You just have to be willing to work as much as you can to stay in the game.”
Going back to the Season 9 finale, did he have some interesting conversations backstage?, “We did. When I see everybody, I always cut up and laugh and crack jokes. We don’t get to see each other a lot. When we do, it’s always fun.”
Taylor has an idea for Idol producers! “You know what would be kind of coo? To have all 10 winners do a show. Either a show, or actually a season, where have to go before a judge and pick songs. I think it might be kinda cool to put everyone who has won on a season at some point and see how well we could do against each other.”
Any interesting writing collaborations? Dream collaborations? “I’ll tell you what was so great about the finale. I heard this knock on the door. It was Michael MacDonald. He wanted to come in and sit down. I heard this other knock and it was Barry Gibb. Barry Gibb and Michael MacDonald all sitting on the same couch in my trailer. I thought that was one of the most surreal moments that I‘ve had since I was on [the show]. It was just so nice to be able to tell those two great musicians how much they meant to me as an artist. A collaboration with those guys would be kind of cool.”
On the tour and the future, “For me, I have to keep building. I know how this business is. Especially when you’re talking about your own live show—you really have to build your live show, you really have to build your live audience. In the long haul, those are the people who really set you up musically in life and it’s so important to me. When I go back into these small venues—the music is going to be great. I’m just super-excited to get back out and really create some great live music.”