Taylor Hicks will play June 22 Flora-Bama show while home on vacation
(Editor’s note: To those who knew him then, he is just Taylor. But participating in a prank with George Clooney and hanging with Charles Barkley (not to mention winning American Idol in front of 36.4 million viewers) does make one a celebrity by osmosis.)
By Fran Thompson
It has been a dozen years since Taylor Hicks dropped into Las Vegas on a Southwest Airlines chit and auditioned for the show, American Idol, that would ultimately earn him celebrity status.
The only reason Taylor was going to Vegas was to use the airplane voucher he received when a flight he booked out of New Orleans the night before Hurricane Katrina was cancelled.
Although he had thought about auditioning in Memphis, he did not even know that Vegas was a stop on the A.I. try-out tour until his brother, Wes, told him so the night before auditions.
The rest of the story you probably already know.
On May 24, 2006, Taylor won the fifth season of American Idol in front of 36.4 million viewers. It was the year’s third-largest TV audience after the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards. More than 63 million votes were cast in crowning the new winner.
By the time Taylor advanced to the Top 24, Soul Patrol fever had overwhelmed his home state and the country. Then Governor Bob Riley officially proclaimed a Taylor Hicks Day in Alabama.
Nowhere was Taylormania and the Soul Patrol Fan Club more boisterous than right here on Pleasure Island, where Taylor’s grandmother, the late Joni Hicks, was being followed by media throughout the competition. Yes, Taylor was born and raised in Birmingham (Hoover High). But he was already part of the local music scene by the time he showed up on TV.
“I knew at an early age that I wanted to be a singer and a performer. I couldn’t believe I was able to get on during that time period,’’ he said about the show that (look it up) introduced text messaging to the world. “I see people all over the country that tell me they loved it. To be able to say you were part of such an iconic show is a blessing.
“I’ve led an interesting life and I’ve been able to hang around with interesting people, and it’s a result of American Idol,’’ he added.
Taylor and his fans have every right to call his June 22 show at the Flora-Bama (9 p.m. on the deck stage) a homecoming.
“I started thinking when we did that short set there while we were filming the TV show (State Plate) that I’d love to come back and hang for a couple of days and enjoy my old stomping grounds,’’ Taylor said during a phone call from the road hours after appearing on the Jimmy Kimmel show. “You know there’s no other hang like a ‘Bama hang.’’
Taylor’s “‘Bama hang” started when he played there as a duo with his Auburn friend Jon Cook (who is still on the short list of our area’s great guitar players).
Although he still traveled the Southeast with a band chasing gigs, Taylor stayed in his grandmother’s condo at The Beach Club during the summer and, like most of us, spent much of his leisure time at the Flora-Bama regardless of whether he was on the list of that day’s possible-probable acts.
“I don’t want to go back in time, but it will be fun to get back to my roots and play some music in a place that I love,’’ Taylor said. “I’m calling it the ‘Bama Bash, and it’s going to be a rockin’ good time.’’
What millions of viewers saw on A.I., Pleasure Island fans had already experienced. Taylor’s love of performing, especially R&B tunes made famous by heros like Ray Charles and Otis Redding, always came across as genuine. He was a communicator. His stage presence palpable. His twitching stage manor fit. Surely that has not changed.
“I think I’ve taken what I have and made the most of it,’’ he said. “Music is my job, and I love it. I take it seriously. I bet I can count on a few fingers the number of times I’ve had to cancel in the past 13 years. It’s an ode to the way I way I was raised, especially from my grandmom.’’
Self taught, Taylor got swept up in his calling before he was old enough to drive himself to gigs.
“Of course, I have so much more experience now and I’ve learned a lot,’’ he said. “I know less can be more and I can look back and appreciate the arc of my career from being a 20 year old unknown. I’m more versatile, not jut as a musician, but as a performer.’’
Taylor’s now living in Nashville and working on a new album at Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Studio. The album’s first single, “Six Strings and Diamond Rings,” is a collaboration with Robert Randolph and is already climbing the charts. He expects a full album release this fall. It will include co-writes and songs he likes that were penned by other songwriters.
In the midst of recording and playing gigs, he has also been on the road hosting the award-winning INSP original series, State Plate. Now in its third season, the show takes Taylor across the country in search of each state’s most iconic cuisines (crab cakes in Maryland, chili in Texas, potatoes in Idaho).
There is no need to ask Taylor where he thinks he would be if the stars did not align for him when he cashed in the winning A.I. ticket.
But he very easily may have bought into a BBQ restaurant that also features music nightly in a honkey tonk setting (He co-owns Saws Juke Joint & BBQ in Birmingham) anyway.
Joni Hicks, the longtime marketing director at SanRocCay, passed away in 2013, but Taylor still has roots here. His brother Wes and his family. Cook still plays – at the very least – once a week at the Flora-Bama with the Perdido Brothers.
Cashing in that golden ticket has opened up an entire world of amazing opportunities. He’s had a two year residency in Las Vegas, played with everybody from Earth, Wind & Fire, to the The Allman Brothers and Willie Nelson, been on the cover of People Magazine’s Sexiest Singles issue.
He’s toured Asia, written a biography, performed on Broadway (Grease), sang the national anthem at Talladega and Jordan Hare.
Call it luck, fate or serendipity, but don’t lose track of the fact that Taylor had already been singing professionally for a dozen years when he auditioned for A.I.
“I’d been working on it for a long time. It was easy to transform from anonymity to fame,’’ he said. “I had already played in as many roadhouses and honkey tonks as you could imagine.’’
Taylor said he is comfortable living in Nashville. “It’s a good fit for me,’’ he said. “I’ve lived in New York City and Los Angeles. They understand the way I talk here. I can make the rounds and check all kinds of new music and up-and-comers.’’
Taylor’s time on Pleasure Island will include seafood, family, bushwackers, music and laughter. Sound familiar?
“I’ll probably do some fishing. Take a boat and get out on the water,’’ he said. “Really, I’m just going to enjoy being back home for four or five days.’’