Former ‘Idol’ Hicks happy to be a working musician

Brian Mackey

Remember Taylor Hicks, the season five winner of “American Idol”? You know, the one with the gray hair?

Right, that guy. Because he never achieved the mega-stardom some of his fellow former "Idols" have, you might be tempted to lump him in with the "Where Are They Now?" set, but that would be unfair and — more importantly — just plain wrong.

This is all you need to know: “I probably should find an apartment somewhere, because all of my stuff is still in my parents’ basement from ’05.”

That was Hicks last week, in a telephone interview from his tour bus.

The man has recorded two albums (one went platinum), appeared in a Broadway show and spent most of the last two years on the road. Like he said, he doesn’t even have a permanent address.

During his run on “Idol,” Hicks’ folksy demeanor and against-the-odds age — he was a creaky 28 when he auditioned for the show, near the upper limit — made him a huge national star.

People magazine put him on the cover and dubbed him the “Hottest Bachelor.”

He was even parodied on “Saturday Night Live” (cast member Jason Sudeikis played the harmonica and repeatedly yelled out “Soul Patrol,” imitating Hicks’ shout-out to his fans during “Idol” broadcasts). Hicks took it in stride.

“I tell you what it made me feel like,” he said. “It made me feel like something’s working.”

After his “Idol” victory, Hicks released his first single, “Do I Make You Proud,” which went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart.

That song — to this day Hicks’ biggest hit — was even parodied by “Weird Al” Yankovic in the song “Do I Creep You Out.” Hicks acknowledged using Yankovic’s version of the song during soundchecks.

‘I never take it for granted’

Few stars burn that brightly for too long, and Hicks has not reached the level of some of his fellow “Idol” alums, such as Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Chris Daughtry.

Hicks said he’s grateful to have been a part of the popular culture to the degree he was and is glad to be a working musician. For years before he was on “Idol,” Hicks was gigging, crisscrossing the country with a succession of bands.

“I never take it for granted, because I know what it’s like to struggle,” Hicks said. “You have to stay out there and work it.”

In early 2008, he and Arista Records parted ways. None of his follow-ups to “Do I Make You Proud” were anywhere near as successful as his first hit. “Just to Feel That Way” made it to No. 20 on the adult contemporary charts; “Heaven Knows” made it to No. 19. Neither was a pop hit.

Then, in June 2008, Hicks made his Broadway debut in the role of Teen Angel in “Grease.” He later joined the show on its national tour.

“Being such a hard-core touring musician for such a long time, I never thought in a million years I would star in a Broadway production,” Hicks said. “But it fits the bill for me, because I’m such a visual and a musical performer.”

Being a visual performer is something Hicks said he learned on “American Idol,” particularly since the show didn’t allow performers to use instruments when he competed.

And he’s not the only “Idol” alum to find a place in the theater — Clay Aiken, who was the runner-up on season two of the show, had a role in the Monty Python musical “Spamalot” on Broadway.

Hicks said he approached his role in much the way he approaches his music.

“It’s a blank canvas, and you build on it,” he said. “Being able to build on a character, night in and night out, that’s the way my mode is with music in the first place.”

‘This is my call’

Hicks said that, counting “Grease” and his own concerts, he’s performed more than 500 shows in two years. And after touring with “Grease” for 18 months, three weeks later he was back on the road performing solo concerts.

“This is my call. I could be in the clubs in L.A. and being part of the scene and being seen,” he said. “But there’s no money in that. The money is on the road. Money is taking your art to the people, and I come from a very practical, blue-collar mentality to my work.”

As long as you’re constantly working, Hicks said, you’re hanging in there.

“It will be big and it will be small, but the key is to stay relevant, to stay busy.”

State Journal-Register