Taylor Hicks is all about the music. About the emotion from which the music arises. For the 2006 winner of Fox TV’s wildly popular “American Idol,” a bit of a current version of the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour,” everything else in Hicks’ life is little more than fluff. He doesn't seem taken with himself, nor does he spend much time thinking about his newfound fame. It also appears that he doesn't suffer fools well, and dismisses the hoopla surrounding the American Idol hysteria. He doesn't knock it, but for him, it was a means to an end, not the "Big Deal."
The “old soul” soul singer, who will appear at the Maryland Theater in Hagerstown on Friday, July 6, was born Taylor Reuben Hicks on October 7, 1976. A child of the deep south—his birthplace is Birmingham, Alabama—he grew up listening to rhythm and blues, soul, deep southern gospel. From an early age, he knew what he wanted to be “when he grew up.”
“Ya know,” he told this reporter, “I had a vision a long time ago, of trying to bring soul music back, and I’ve carried through with that vision.”
Indeed he has. His followers, strictly dedicated to their man, call themselves the “Soul Patrol.” This title started amongst his internet fans, and then Hicks himself encouraged it as the movement grew with each week he remained on the 2006 American Idol run. Every performance, as he moved nearer to the crowning of the new Idol, would end with an upraised fist roiling around in the air, and in a loud, proud, heavily-accented, southern–tinged voice, he would chant through a lopsided smile, “Soul Patrol! Soul Patrol! Soul Patrol!!”
The crowds went nuts every time. He sold himself from the first moment he opened his mouth, and crowds are still going nuts. He has been solo touring the United States for the last year. With a voice that evokes images of Michael McDonald, or Bob Dylan, or even Van Morrison, being compared to other artists isn’t something that sits well with Hicks. When asked who he would compare himself to, he impatiently replied, “Taylor Hicks.”
But this is the crux of who this young man is. In many ways old beyond his 30 years, the silver-haired entertainer evokes a being who has somehow seen, and deeply understands, a world in which he’s never lived, an era that had just ended about the time he was born. This is part of his appeal, a definite piece to the intriguing puzzle which is Taylor Hicks.
Hicks is addicted to soul ... soul music, soul in his music, soul as a way of movement to his music. Soul is his overriding lifestyle, and music has brought him through some hard times. It seems, in some ways, to have become his best friend. He gets into the music, he breathes in the music, he challenges himself to become the music—and little else matters to him.
So it is no surprise that when he was asked about his new book, on sale July 10 and titled "Heart Full of Soul,” he explained, “It’s about beating the odds, and finding your own voice. Those things ... can happen with heart and determination. I feel like I’m a good example ... and I wanted to share that....”
His book promises to explain a young man who, on stage, is open and energetic, almost frenetic, yet, one-on-one, he’s shy, introverted, a bit difficult to draw out. His parents had a rocky marriage and early on, they divorced. He “went in whatever direction was necessary to avoid the fallout,” and, as he put it, realized “life was going to be up to me.”
Hicks puts everything he is, and everything he has, into his performance, as if all that could ever mean anything depends on how he expresses himself. He promises his audiences “high-impact soul aerobics,” and lets people know him through his art. Any effort to understand who he is off the stage is nearly impossible without watching him perform on the stage.
When it was suggested that he is “unique” in his style, he replied with passion, “Everybody is. Everybody is!”
Asked his thoughts about the entertainment industry’s need to categorize an artist, their rigid determination to put each performer into a defined niche, Taylor’s voice gained even more animation.
“That’s something that could be said to be a fault of our society nowadays, that we try to pigeonhole, try to categorize things too much, you know? ... Doesn’t leave much in the way of individuality.... Radio, for example, is a great example of society trying to pigeonhole or categorize in that way. There’s not much in the way of individuality nowadays on modern radio. It’s hard, these genres of music ... I wish we could get back to the old days of where an artist is an artist.”
It’s important to remember that these words were spoken by a 30-year old. That many of us would believe he hasn’t lived long enough to talk about “the old days.” That many older than he would believe he couldn’t have enough life experience to say anything specific about “our society nowadays.”
It’s even more important to see that Taylor Hicks, winner of the ’06 season of American Idol, product of a broken marriage and self-directed adolescence, a man sure enough of himself after gaining national recognition to stand up to the national recording industry and refuse to allow his music to be categorized ... this young man truly is an old soul.