Season 5 “American Idol” winner-turned-Vegas entertainer Taylor Hicks is one busy guy. On a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles to play this Sunday’s fourth annual “Salute to the Stars” Oscar party, the Soul Patroller took in an “Idol” taping and starred in a funny skit on “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson”… but he also took the time to visit Yahoo Music, where he colorfully dished about everything from his famous silver hair to his equally famous purple velvet jacket.
And the interview was pure gold. Here are the highlights:
1. He was never an Idol to dye for. The Silver Fox admitted that when he was on “Idol,” when he was 29 years old, he was encouraged many times to color his prematurely gray locks. “[Celebrity hairdresser] Dean Banowetz did our hair on the show, and he was always trying to get me to dye it. And I never did,” Taylor laughed. But, being a financially savvy entrepreneur who recently landed on Forbes’s Top 10 “American Idol” Earners list (ranking above Jennifer Hudson and Kellie Pickler!), Taylor of course added: “Maybe there’s a Just for Men’s sponsorship in there for me somewhere…”
2. He’s happy to be “Idol’s” oldest winner ever. “I know that they said that I looked the oldest!” Taylor, now age 37, chuckled. “But I was very fortunate to catch a break late in my twenties. I think that [teen ‘Idol’ winners] Scotty [McCreery] and Jordin [Sparks] have done an amazing job of keeping focused on their careers, but I can only imagine now, looking back, what it would have been like if I had been 19 and won ‘American Idol.’ I would probably be somewhat of a crossbreed between Johnny Manziel and Miley Cyrus! I was glad it happened later than earlier.” And again, thinking entrepreneurially, he added: “Looking back on it, I think I probably should have written a how-to book. ‘How to Look 50 and Win “American Idol.”‘” (In the meantime, voracious readers can pick up his autobiography, “Heart Full of Soul.”)
3. That plush purple blazer isn’t in his closet anymore. It’s behind glass! The most famous item in Taylor’s old “Idol” wardrobe is now on display at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. So what if Taylor wants to wear it again? “I think I can borrow it,” he said. “I’ve thought about breaking it out on ‘Idol’ at some point, when I show back up, just for watercooler buzz. But I haven’t found that perfect moment yet.” However, that jacket may need to be taken in, since Taylor is considerably slimmer now than he was on “Idol” in 2006. “Yes, luckily, it might have to need some tailoring. That looked like a big purple parachute or something in that glass case,” Taylor laughed.
4. He doesn’t mind being the butt of a joke. Taylor was thrilled when Jason Sudeikis impersonated him on “Saturday Night Live,” and honored when Weird Al Yankovic recorded a parody of his Season 5 coronation song. (Taylor is actually the only Idol to ever get the Weird Al treatment.) “I never thought in a million years that ‘Do I Make You Proud?’ would become ‘Do I Creep You Out?’ by Weird Al Yankovic,” Hicks grinned. Incidentally, Taylor’s been known to perform Al’s version at his soundchecks.
5. He doesn’t mind having haters. Let’s face it, Taylor has been a polarizing figure ever since his “Idol” days, and not everyone who pokes fun at him is as kind or well-meaning as Sudeikis or Yankovic. But Taylor said with a shrug: “I appreciate that. It’s fuel to the fire. That’s the way you have to look at it. You can’t listen to everything. You can hear everything, but you can’t listen to everything. If people say in this business that they don’t read their press, then they’re lying to you. Obviously, I do know there has been a little bit of a [negative] slant, but it just fueled me to work and tour and reinvent myself even further in this business, so I use that to my advantage.”
6. Back on Season 5, “Idol’s” highest-rated season, he was basically playing the Super Bowl every week. “I’m very blessed that I was able to have that platform,” he stressed. “I didn’t realize how big that particular season was until I went though a couple of seasons after and realized that my season was doing Super Bowl numbers! That’s something Super Bowl quarterbacks get to experience once a year, once in their lifetime, but I was able to experience it every Wednesday and Thursday night.”
7. He still has faith in “American Idol.” The series will likely never come close to the mega-ratings it racked up regularly in Season 5, but Taylor has followed every season since then, and he believes the show is now on the upswing. “I was very excited to hear people talk to me about ‘Idol’ a lot and say that this year kind of reinvigorated their interest,” he said. “It’s not the Negative Nancy thing anymore, you know: ‘It’s on the way out, it’s no good, I don’t like the judges.’ This season it seems like: ‘I like the judges, I like the contestants, nobody’s clamoring for airtime.’ I think there’s a unilateral focus on the show and really trying to create a star in this business.”
8. He needs his beauty rest. Back in his “Idol” and RCA Records days, Taylor developed a reputation for being “difficult,” which he admitted was not entirely undeserved. But he revealed that sleep deprivation was largely to blame. “I think if I had better sleeping habits, I probably would have been less difficult,” he said. “I would [advise current ‘Idol’ contestants] to sleep as much as you can, and don’t be grumpy. When you get off a show like that, it doesn’t stop, the world doesn’t stop, you are moving and grooving. People want your attention. But I would say take some time, breathe, get some sleep, recharge your batteries, and then focus on what songs fit you the best.”
9. Now Taylor sleeps in a hotel. Actually, he lives in a hotel. Taylor is currently playing a successful Vegas residency at the Paris casino (he’s played about 150 shows at various Caesar’s venues in Sin City), and that’s where he lays his silver head every night. “Hotel living, it has its ups and downs,” he said. “It’s somewhat of a suite — it’s not the Barry Manilow suite in the old Hilton Las Vegas. But it’s accommodating, and I’m very lucky to press the elevator button, go down into the showroom, and play every night.”
10. He’s finally about to release an album, after a five-year recording break. Playing Vegas and touring have kept Taylor busy, and he’s “not really as singles-driven as the marketplace is dictating right now,” he admitted. “But I’ve waited for the right time, I’ve waited for the right people, I’ve waited for the right music.” And playing all those shows has helped him hone his sound. “I’ve done a lot of market research when I tour, and a very soulful country record is the next step for me. It’s always better to release the right music than to release the wrong music, so you have to be 110 percent sure. It’s kind of like dating, to a certain degree.”
11. Speaking of dating, Taylor has a weird romantic analogy to describe his sound. When asked to elaborate on the direction of his next album, which will be out this spring, Taylor said: “It’s roots music. You can’t put a square peg in a round hole; that’s what they’ve always told me, about me. But as far as the genre goes, it’s a very soulful country sound. I would say, like, if Zac Brown and Jackson Browne had a baby, it would be me.”