Courtesy of Dave Hoffenberg
By Dave Hoffenberg
I had the pleasure of interviewing an idol last week, an “American Idol” that is. Season five winner Taylor Hicks is bringing his acoustic show to Rutland on Friday, July 8 at 8 p.m. Center Street transforms into an open-air market with outdoor dining, shopping, children’s activities and more. The “pit” parking lot on the corner of Center and Wales streets transforms into a unique, amphitheater-like concert venue, with great acoustics. The concert is free and open to all. Hicks says of this tour: “I’m doing a small intimate setting and I’ve always loved doing that. It’s kind of a storyteller unplugged.” This show will consist of Hicks on acoustic guitar and Brian Less on piano.
Speaking with Hicks was like talking to an old friend: he is very nice and personable. We share many common interests like the Dead and Company, Phish, and being a foodie. Hicks was enjoying some time back home with his family and friends in Birmingham, Ala. before embarking on his tour. He had been on the road for about four weeks filming his new television show, “State Plate.” The show will premiere this fall on INSP Network. He is currently filming all over the U.S. for it. It’s a travel/food show with eats and music, bringing to it his tour life and ownership of his restaurant, Saw’s BBQ (in Birmingham), that’s been named “Best BBQ” in The New York Times Magazine, GQ, and more. The show highlights popular dishes in various states. Hicks is hosting and said, “It’s a plate of food that has booze, appetizers, desserts, entrees that are all indigenous to their respective states.” He’s filming in Vermont and will be showcasing some food from here, too. He said it’s something he really enjoys doing. He’s been in the restaurant business for about seven years now and said, “If you’re in Alabama, you can’t not be a foodie. I’ve always been around restaurants, so obviously always been around food. I’ve always thrown my hat into the ring, so to speak, in the hosting department. This [“State Plate”] was a really good fit and a great concept that I couldn’t pass up. It’s a wonderful educational way to teach people about foods that are indigenous to their home state. It’s been very educational for me. It’s kind of a Mike Rowe’s ‘Dirty Jobs’ approach from a farm-to-table aspect.”
Hicks does not have a set touring schedule, it just depends on what he has going on. He’s currently in the process of releasing some brand new music and when he does, the touring will be heavy. He said, “For this particular run, it’s kind of a weekend-warrior mentality. I’m shooting the TV show during the week.” It’s been a pretty busy summer so far for Hicks, between the show and the concerts. “I’m very fortunate for that,” Hicks said, adding, “I’m happily single and happily traveling.”
Hicks has been to Vermont before but mostly up in Burlington. He’s looking forward to coming back but not just for the concert. He said, “As I’m standing here in 107 degree humidity, I’m excited to come to Vermont. It’s a great area.” Besides playing music, Hicks is big into the jam-rock music scene especially two of Vermont’s finest: Phish and Grace Potter. He said, “It’s interesting that an Alabama boy can be so influenced by some bands from Vermont. I’m a really big Phish fan and just as much of one for Grace [Potter].”
One thing I’m impressed with about Hicks is that he allows recording of his shows, which is rare these days. He said, “I believe if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. If you feel that you have a good live product, people are going to want to see that. I’m comfortable enough in my own skin as an entertainer that I feel like allowing that message to get out will allow people to really want to come experience it live. I find it’s a great marketing tool.”
Hicks fans are called the “Soul Patrol” and his upbringing shows why. He said, “The base root of my musical tree is Ray Charles. It just branched out from there. It kind of went in all kinds of directions. I studied a lot of Van Morrison and Otis Redding. I think it’s mainly a lot of singer-songwriters with great performing abilities. I submerged myself and tried to learn as much as I could from all of those guys.”
Hicks performs regularly in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace but while in town, gets into all kinds of different scenes. I noticed on Wikipedia that he attended the Evolution 2013 Fighting Game Tournament as a competitor for Super Smash Bros. Melee. Hicks finished, and tied for 257th overall out of 709 players. I let him know that we have a local band, the Super Stash Bros., that mimicked the game with its name, and also that all its posters are plays on the game. He liked that. He spoke of the tournament and said, “A lot of people got a kick out of that. That was very cool. When you’re in Vegas, it’s like the saying: ‘When in Rome…’”
I also noticed that Hicks was parodied by “Weird Al” Yankovic which I told him is quite the honor. He agreed and said, “Obviously that’s a big honor because even if you can get a song in his wheelhouse, it’s just an honor. For him to actually put it on a record, is really cool.” Yankovic parodied Hicks on his 2006 album “Straight Outta Lynwood” on a track called “Do I Creep You Out,” which is set against the melody of Hicks’ “American Idol” finale song, “Do I Make You Proud.” In the music video of the song, an animated Yankovic, dressed as Hicks, is portrayed as the stalker.
Hicks won season five of “American Idol” and signed a recording contract with 19 Recordings Limited/Arista Records, managed by “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller, in May 2006. Hicks’ debut single “Do I Make You Proud” took the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and was subsequently certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Hicks traveled to Las Vegas to audition for the show and Hurricane Katrina was the reason why. He was in New Orleans for a wedding the night before the hurricane hit. He said he had to take a taxi cab 15 hours in constant traffic to West Monroe. He got a flight voucher since his trip home was canceled, so on a whim he flew to Las Vegas. Upon arriving, his brother told him at midnight that the auditions were in two hours. The rest, they say, is history, but the cool part of that history is that Hicks only got the approval of judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul, not Simon Cowell,who said Hicks wouldn’t make it past the third round. I asked Hicks what it was like proving Cowell wrong and he said, “That’s not an easy thing to do but I’m glad that it worked out.”
Obviously, “American Idol” changed his life, so I asked him to put it into one word. He said, “Blessed.” Hicks then added, “I think that my job here on earth is to entertain folks and allow them some room to escape for a while and truly enjoy being entertained. It’s a certain altruism I have and I just enjoy entertaining.”