Idol winner Hicks puts his all into latest album

dima gavrysh/associated press


Taylor Hicks’ self-titled solo debut hit stores yesterday.

Kicking back on a couch with a cup of tea, Taylor Hicks looks as comfortable backstage at the Tonight Show as he might in his own home. When Jay Leno pops into Hicks’ dressing room to say hello, the grey-haired soul singer is unfazed — a moment that reflects just how much American Idol has changed the 30-year-old’s life.

A year ago, Hicks was a struggling musician unknown to those outside the small Southern clubs where he performed. Today, he is a bona fide TV star and major-label recording artist whose self-titled solo debut hit stores yesterday.

"It’s mind-blowing," he said recently. "This is what happens when you catch a break. I’m very thankful and very gracious for what the show has done for me."

As a teenager in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., Hicks knew music would be his career. He never even considered another option. The eldest of three boys, he taught himself to play harmonica, then guitar. Next he tried his hand at songwriting and set out to perform "anywhere I could."

Along the way, he released two independent albums, In Your Time and Under The Radar. After nearly 10 years on the road, his music — and the opportunities it brought him — was improving, and his brother urged him to audition for Idol.

"My dad told me that I might as well buy a lottery ticket," Hicks said.

But the guy most considered a longshot with his mature look, Michael McDonald-pipes and curious dancing style soon became the odds-on favourite. More than 63 million votes were cast to determine the contest, and the majority of people chose Hicks over Katherine McPhee, shifting his music career into warp speed.

He spent the summer touring the country with his fellow Idol finalists. When the concert wrapped in September, he began his tutelage with legendary music mogul Clive Davis to craft an album that would be a fitting follow to his star-making Idol turn.

It was an "intimidating" experience, he said, describing himself as "stubborn about my artistry and my creative integrity." But he’s happy with the result. The album’s 12 tracks are "a great representation of me as an artist," he said.

"He’s a modern soul man," Davis said. "But we have stretched him a little. He’s getting in touch with other aspects of music and his versatility."

The album sounds like "modern whomp music," Hicks said. "It’s like funk, soul, jazz, blues, a little bit of hip-hop beats and rhythms. It’s Taylor Hicks’ modern take on soul music."

Making the album gave him a chance to learn the recording side of the music business. Producer Matt Serletic said Hicks brought his live-show energy into the studio, the classic mark of a soul man.

"He has a similar approach to soul singers of the past. They just throw themselves at the song," Serletic said. "It informs where the record needs to go."

Latest From ...