Taylor Hicks became a household name in 2006 when he won the fifth season of American Idol, becoming one of the most beloved winners of that iconic TV program. Over 200 million viewers watched the final episode, making it one of the most highly viewed TV events of the decade. After his win, Taylor put out two albums, the eponymously titled Taylor Hicks (Arista Records, 2006) and Early Works (Modern Whomp Records, 2008).
Since American Idol, Hicks has starred as the Teen Angel in both the Broadway and national tour companies of Grease and had an 18-month residency performing at Bally’s and Paris in Las Vegas.
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Hicks credits his Southern roots for inspiring his unique Southern soul/R&B sound. A life-long foodie, Hicks opened Saw’s Juke Joint in Birmingham in 2012 and he currently stars on the INSP show State Plate, which follows Hicks as he travels throughout the country tasting iconic foods from each state.
Taylor Hicks is currently on tour and he can be seen in Washington D.C. on Friday, November 11th at The Hamilton.
Nicole: Your music has been described as Southern Soul, R&B, Country and Blues: What can we expect to hear at The Hamilton?
Taylor: My music is steeped in a lot of different roots and you’ll be able to hear a lot of different styles of music in my show. Through the years I’ve played songs off of my records, songs from American Idol and some really great cover songs like “In the Ghetto” by Elvis. I also love tunes by my favorite musicians like Michael McDonald and Van Morrison. I don’t like to label myself too precisely because you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole and I really enjoy being the square peg!
Tell us about your new show State Plate on INSP?
State Plate is a really wonderful food and travel show. We go into each state with an empty plate and fill it with food that is iconic to that state. It’s like no other food and travel show on TV. We visit farms and restaurants and discuss the origins of these iconic state foods.
What’s your favorite dish so far?
Lobster from Maine!
Do you find it challenging to tour while filming the show?
I love touring. It’s something that is in my blood and always has been. I feel like it’s just about finding the right balance. It’s amazing because I get to tour with the TV show and with my own music as well. I love doing it. I love meeting new people and trying new foods.
Have you learned anything new about the US from the experience?
I’ve learned that agriculture in this country is upheld by a small number of wonderful families. I have gained an appreciation for agriculture and the people that make up that industry.
You opened your own restaurant in Birmingham, Saw’s Juke Joint. What inspired you to open a restaurant? There is this whole food and music and entertainment theme to your work. What connects them?
Food and music are common threads in my life. My palate from music isn’t far from my palate for food – I like it all! When I started performing, prior to Idol it was in clubs and restaurants and road houses all over the South East. Being from Alabama, I’m a huge foodie. I think everyone from Alabama loves food. We are literally in the heart of Dixie. We have a lot of different flavors and styles to choose from. Having that palate and touring as much as I have with music and now hosting this food and travel concept show is just something that I am very thrilled and blessed to be able to do.
What were some of your early musical influences?
Ray Charles was the root of my musical tree, so to speak. From a vocal perspective, I branched out to Van Morrison and Pete Segar once I started teaching myself to play instruments – guitar and harmonica – which ultimately led to writing songs. In Alabama you aren’t far from the Mississippi Delta; you’ve got Southern Gospel and the Cajun influences down in Louisiana. I think a lot of musicians who come out of Alabama draw from these musical influences around them and I’m no different.
At what point did you start writing your own music?
I taught myself how to play guitar and harmonica in my early teens and probably wrote my first song at sixteen…. Right around the time of my first heart break!
You played the Teen Angel in Grease on Broadway and also on the national tour. How did performing for a musical theater audience compare to other types of performing you have done?
Performing in theater means you are performing live in front of an audience night after night and I love that. It gives you a chance to build on and grow with a character. I loved the challenge of taking a role like the Teen Angel and putting my own stamp on it. Theater performers work very hard and I am so respectful of the actors that make up the Broadway arena.
Will we see you onstage again any time soon?
It could be very possible. I would love it!
Why do you think so many former American Idol winners have entered the Broadway sphere? (Kelly Clarkson, The Hamilton Mixtape; Jennifer Hudson, Smash (TV) and The Color Purple; Clay Aiken, Spamalot; Jordin Sparks, In the Heights; Justin Guarini, Wicked and In Transit; Fantasia, The Color Purple and After Midnight)
I think it is a natural progression from being on a live show like American Idol and being able to sing and dance. American Idol is similar to performing in live theater because it is all being done in front of a live audience so you want it to be as error free as possible. And I think that the way a show like American Idol is run is similar to the Broadway stage.
How has your life changed since American Idol?
It’s changed in so many ways. I’m coming up on a decade in show business and I’m very proud of that. Looking at the arc of my career, I have tried to be diverse and in a couple of instances in the last ten years I’ve been able to do that. Having a residency in Vegas was a great experience. It was wonderful to be a part of the historical makeup of artists who have had residencies there. Vegas is a great town for entertainment, there is no doubt about that. When I caught “the big break” on Idol, so to speak, I knew the future would be a marathon and not a sprint. You have to keep reinventing yourself. You can do music every night; that’s a wonderful thing to be able to do, but personally, I want to do it all and have a diverse career.
What do you think the legacy of American Idol will be? It recently wrapped up after 15 years and obviously had a huge impact on American television.
Well, the success of the performers in their respective careers over time will be part of the legacy. The show did so much for American entertainment. There is no question that American Idol paved the way for new reality shows like State Plate. American Idol was kind of the bell cow that has allowed a lot of people to enjoy great television in a real setting.
One peculiar legacy is that American Idol basically taught America how to text message! If you want to talk about a direct effect on everyday life, the show was the first time that large numbers of Americans were using their phones to send text messages. That is just a small piece of the legacy that people haven’t really thought about but it had such a big impact on our everyday lives.
Who are some of the celebrities you have most enjoyed playing with?
I would say performing on harmonica with Willy Nelson was a highlight. A lot of people ask me what all these celebrities are like and you know, a lot of them are what you see is what you get. I loved performing with The Allman Brothers. Playing harmonica is a wonderful skill because it gives you the opportunity to sit in with a lot of bands that you want to play with.
I heard that you once played with Snoop Dogg? How did that come about? That seems like a departure for both of you!
You know, Snoop Dog and I crossed paths and I had never heard harmonica on rap music and I felt like that would be a cool thing so we ended up playing “Gin and Juice” together which is totally out of left field but, it worked!
Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I look forward to seeing you at The Hamilton on November 11th!
It’s been a pleasure and I’m really looking forward to the show!