He was an underdog all the way, but wound up winning it all last spring on “American Idol” Season 5. Now the 30-year-old Taylor Hicks is charting a new course for himself, with his self-titled major label debut dropping December 12. Lots of touring and promotion are in store for Hicks in 2007, and we recently had the chance to chat with him about the new record, future plans, “American Idol” and his thoughts on the BCS.
Taylor Hicks: OK, fire away. “American Idol” was great.
Bullz-Eye: Cool man. I got to check out the record yesterday and I love it.
TH: Good, I’m glad to hear that.
BE: So, tell me a little bit about the songwriting process. I know that you wrote a couple songs that were on your previous album and a lot of it was kind of like an all-star cast of writers?
TH: Yeah, you know I got to co-write a song and I’ve got a couple of mine on the album. We did some collecting of songs. And the collection process was…I was pretty stubborn. I still am. I’ll always be. You know, I have to connect emotionally with a song, and Ray Charles taught me how to do that. He didn’t write half of his music that he sang, but he definitely connected with it and he kind of laid the groundwork for me. I’ve really relied on instinct with collecting this music. If you can emotionally be attached to it, then you can be able to sell it, too.
BE: So you were very much involved in the selection process?
TH: Yes, I was very stubborn.
BE: That’s good! And you also got to do a song that was intended for Ray Charles that Bryan Adams wrote?
TH: Yeah, it was called “The Right Place.” You know, I was just so honored. As soon as I knew it, man, it was the real deal. It was one of those songs where, you know, the words are sweet and simple. It’s a soulful tune. It’s piano driven. It’s just got that thing, man. It’s just got that soul thing.
BE: Are you pretty blown away that you got to do a track like that?
TH: Yeah, I was very honored. Very flattered.
BE: I’ve noticed that your music has a soul infusion that a lot artists of today lack. It’s kind of a throwback to the likes of Stevie Wonder and Hall & Oates, yet has some modern feel like Maroon 5. Is that something that was conscious or is that just who are?
TH: You know, this is my take on modern soul music. And luckily with a producer like Matt Serletic, and me learning how to be a recording artist, we had a vision to be able to mesh modern soul with old-school soul. And one of the ideas that we had was to record old school, and then add new school.
BE: Right. So who are you main influences?
TH: Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cook, Paul Simon. All the legends. Van Morrison, Bob Seger. Those are people I’ve just studied and still study, and am still learning from.
BE: So what were you doing before “American Idol” with your music career, and did you ever think all this would happen to you?
TH: I’ve been a struggling musician for about 12 to 13 years, trying to make it.
BE: And you’re from Birmingham, right?
TH: Yes, I’m from Birmingham, Alabama.
BE: So you were in cover bands and just kind of did that whole circuit for a number of years?
TH: I was in cover bands, wedding bands. I was a wedding singer, Bar Mitzvah singer, everything you can think. Easter bunny. You know, I’ve been entertaining and trying to entertain for a long time.
BE: (Laughs) Right. And how does your family feel about your newfound fame? What’s it like for you now at family gatherings?
TH: You know, everything is pretty cool, man. We all have a really great work ethic as a family. Fame has definitely changed my surroundings, but it hasn’t changed me as a person. Working towards this goal for 12 to 15 years, it really makes you appreciate all sides of your success as opposed to just being plucked out of a pack of new artists. I’ve been working on my craft for a while.
BE: Where do you think folks like you, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood would be without “American Idol” right now?
TH: I probably would be playing at Steak and Ale doing an acoustic set.
BE: Okay. So nothing would ever keep you from playing music, basically?
TH: No. It is definitely the deal for me.
BE: And by the way, I wrote a blog about “American Idol” last year during the season for a site called Premium Hollywood, and I had you pegged to win it kind of early on.
TH: Oh man! That’s cool! Now that’s an eye for talent!
BE: Yeah, right. (Laughs) I should be doing A&R.
TH: Hey! You know!
BE: But did Simon’s initial dislike of you inspire you to want to win even more?
TH: Of course. That definitely was a driving factor.
BE: I guess I’m not surprised. So what are your plans for touring in ’07 with the release of the record?
TH: My tour starts, I believe, at the end of February. And hopefully we’ll go for 10 years. (Laughs)
BE: Awesome. And are you headlining?
TH: Oh yeah. And honestly it will be theaters and clubs. Being in a hockey arena for three months on the “American Idol” tour made me realize how precious intimate music venues were. So I’m going back there.
BE: Very cool. Are you coming through Nashville at all?
TH: Yeah, I think I am. I think I’m trying to. Like I said, that’s up to the powers that be.
BE: What kind of management team do you have assembled? Is it something you put together or something the label put together for you?
TH: About a week after “American Idol,” I changed management companies to The Firm. They have been stellar in helping me be the artist that I want to be.
BE: What are your favorite three albums of 2006?
TH: Wooo! Man!
BE: We’re doing a piece for Bullz-Eye, a year end kind of thing, and all the writers had to submit theirs, and so we’re asking everyone we interview the same thing.
TH: You know, that’s a tough one for me, man. You know, honestly, I haven’t been able to really sit down and listen to my own album fully. I did like the new Christina Aguilera album and the John Legend stuff, and Ambulance LTD.
BE: Okay. And what about favorite movies of 2006?
TH: No idea.
BE: You probably haven’t had much time to see movies, huh?
TH: Yeah, going to the movies for me would be like …you know, ahh. Let’s see, I did watch “You, Me and Dupree.” That was pretty cool.
BE: What are some other hobbies you have besides music?
TH: I enjoy watching football and watching sports on TV.
BE: And what are your teams?
TH: I like the Baltimore Ravens and the Chicago Bears.
BE: Okay. Teams with good defenses.
TH: Yeah. I come from Alabama.
BE: So are you like an Alabama or Auburn fan?
TH: I’m pleading the fifth.
BE: Yeah, Okay! (Laughs) How do you feel about how the BCS picture shook out the other day?
TH: I thought it was just and the BCS got it right, and the SEC is definitely the toughest conference in college football. And I believe anybody that had the schedule that Florida did this year and had an opportunity to really play some quality opponents should play for the National Championship.
BE: I guess nobody can argue with that.
BE: I mean, I live here in UT country so….
TH: Yeah, I mean it’s true. You know. I come from Alabama, man, you’re in Tennessee…there’s too many good teams in the SEC as opposed to three great teams in some other conferences.
BE: That’s about all I got. Do you want to add anything or plug anything in particular?
TH: Just that the album comes out December 12th and I’m really looking forward to playing the album live on the tour.
BE: Awesome. Hopefully I’ll catch you in Nashville then.
TH: All right man. Take care.
BE: All right Taylor. See you.