American Idol: Taylor Hicks Changed It All…

brent johnson looks at former idol winner taylor hicks and how his unique look and style paved the way for the likes of adam lambert and siobhan magnus …

She has the booming, belting voice. The off-kilter fashion sense. The dramatic stage presence. And last week’s rendition of the Stones’ ‘Paint It, Black’ on American Idol proved it: Siobhan Magnus has the potential to be the female version of Adam Lambert. The judges have even pointed the comparison out.

But that got me thinking: There wouldn’t be a Magnus or a Lambert on Idol without Taylor Hicks.

I’m serious.

Hicks is the most forgotten Idol winner. Even runners-up like Clay, Daughtry and Doolittle have more clout these days. Hicks? His post-Idol resume include a pair of little-bought albums and a cameo stint in the revival of Grease on Broadway (and the world tour).

But Taylor Hicks had grey hair. He looked almost 40. He sounded like Joe Cocker’s stepchild.

In other words, he showed you didn’t have to look or even sound like an Idol to be an Idol. And that’s what Adam Lambert and Siobhan Magnus are showing once again — only this time, with more flair and thrill than Hicks ever had.

That’s not to say watching Hicks wasn’t fun. It was a ball. He was part of Idol’s greatest year: Season 5. The Top 5 was stacked — so much so that future rock star Chris Daughtry finished fourth. Ahead of him: the gawky but endearing Elliott Yamin, the stunning and pretty-voiced Katherine McPhee and Hicks. Among the other contestants were future country stars Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington.

But while McPhee was gorgeous and worthy, Hicks was exciting. He was a total cheeseball, but he danced around the stage with goofy glee and sang with surprising grit in his voice. So what if he called his fans the Soul Patrol? So what if Simon Cowell hated him, comparing him to an annoying wedding singer?

The problem was: Hicks’ performances only worked well in the context of a talent competition. It was intriguing to tune in to see what songs Hicks would sing — to see a white-haired white guy tackle Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living For The City’ with such aplomb. It was intriguing to see if THIS guy could actually win American Idol.

Once he did win and took his Soul Patrol into the real world? Well, there wasn’t much of a patrol anymore. Hicks suddenly seemed kind of one-note. His cheesiness became more apparent. Once he had to hold his own and not stave off the other contestants, he wasn’t as interesting.

But I still like him. I like that he opened up the Idol field to less predictable people. I like that he didn’t care what others thought.

And I like that he was genuine. That’s something Adam Lambert didn’t seem to be: It was always a question whether Lambert’s screeching glam was partly a gimmick.

It’s yet to be seen if Magnus will have the some problem. But so far, she actually appears to be more Hicks-like than Lambert-like. Something tells me she’s just a quirky white person, too.

18 COMMENTS

  1. You are quite correct when you say Season 5 was Idol’s “greatest year.” I believe your statement that once Taylor entered the “real world” as you call it “there wasn’t much of a patrol anymore.” The crowds he drew and has drawn with Grease would tend to disprove your theory. His live concerts continue to draw large crowds, primarily because he is pure entertainment on stage. His latest CD, “The Distance” contains a myriad of musical genres — gospel, country, soul, Latin, etc. — all done flawlessly. If Taylor is so “one note”, why then are so many talented songwriters and musicians lining up to work with him?

    Taylor is real, he doesn’t need all the gimmicks like a Lambert or GaGa. There is nothing “cookie cutter” about his music, and his fans — music lovers who are tired of the same old, same old approach of the current music industry — appreciate that.

  2. I’m guessing it is the current re-airing of idol season five combined with the total absence of stage presence on this season that is causing this current batch of articles about how entertaining Taylor Hicks was on the show. This was due in part to natural charisma, combined with a keen knowledge of what pleases an audience, hard-earned from years playing to audiences in the southeast. The problem was, idol executives are only looking for a contemporary artist to sell records, they are not really interested in promoting any kind of artistic diversity. They want an artist with a very simple format that people can understand and radio will play. For that reason, the musical versatility that helped Hicks decisively win idol is the very thing that works against him in the world of commercial music. The show abandoned any means of support for him as soon as the confetti dropped. “He’s not commercial, so we won’t waste money promoting him”- zap! Self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Somehow in the manufactured world of idol marketing spin, successful touring doesn’t count toward an idol alum’s success factor. Not quite a year after his win, idol producer Nigel Lythgoe went on record in Newsweek magazine, declaring Hicks should not have won because the (vastly more promoted) Daughtry was outselling him. Not once in the article did it mention that Hicks was in the midst of a hugely successful Nationwide tour, selling out theaters such as the Beacon in New York and the Ryman in Nashville. That Newsweek article instituted open season on Taylor Hicks, starting a downward slide of negative media spin that has unfairly damaged Hicks’ reputation, the effects linger to this day.

    Much has been made of Taylor hicks’ Grease stint as an example of what he has been “reduced to”, but the truth is, his appearance in the show caused a big boost in attendance on Broadway, so much so that he was asked to go out on tour nationally, which has turned out to be a very successful and lucrative venture for him. Probably not what he and his fans would prefer in his career path, but when you are virtually thrown out of the music industry before you even get started, you find any ally you can.

    yes, the soul patrol is still out in force whenever Hicks plays live concerts. You will still find him playing to rapturous fans, fewer now certainly, but almost cult-like in their devotion. His live performances demonstrate that basically, what people saw on Idol in terms of his onstage talent was just the tip of the iceberg. I truly hope he can once again find a national showcase to show audiences what he is capable of. As good as he was on the show, he is even better now.

    Search “Taylor Hicks live” on Youtube- and you will find his performances in both small and large venues, actually work BEST outside the context of American Idol.

  3. Nice Article. I had never thought of it like that but you are right Taylor paved the way. If you think he was exciting on AI you are going to have to see him in concert. He is 10 times better than anything you saw him do on Idol. He has been doing Grease but has been doing concert dates too. I was at one several months ago and he was on fire and the place was packed. He may not have had the radio success but I’m sure he’ll be around for a long time.

  4. Taylor Hicks was one of the greatest talents to come out of Idol. It is a shame TPTB did not respect America’s choice. Having a Billboard on the corner of Time Square in NYC is NOT a step down. Before there was radio, TV or American Idol there was Broadway, and being on a national tour of one of the most popular musicals is NOT a slap in the face or a come down.

  5. Taylor established the template, the pattern, for many Idol contestants that followed him. During season 5 he showed himself to be a cunning & brilliant strategist in trumping over other contestants by diverting attention away from them and on himself.

    Taylor shouldn’t be thought of simply as a very popular contestant on a very popular reality show — a contestant whose time has come & gone. Since his Idol days he has metamorphosed into a more subdued & sophisticated persona. His appearance has also evolved to where he is one of the more physically attractive performers out there.

    Today the Idol contestant, Taylor, remains but in a somewhat muted form. The professional Taylor has taken over proving himself to be a man of exceptional musical ability & accomplishments.

  6. In a word…. there is NOTHING like a Taylor Hicks live performance – he is the ultimate musician/entertainer. I cannot wait till he is on tour again. No one has graced the stage of Idol like Taylor did..

  7. In this article you make it sound as though Taylor’s total legacy to AI was that you don’t have to look like an Idol to be an Idol, and Idol contestants should emulate him but since they have more talent and flair they will naturally surpass him.

    You also make it sound as though he was a total flop after Idol and that his post-Idol debut album limped all the way into oblivion. You refer to Adam Lambert as having more flair and thrill than Hicks ever had. Oh really, is this so? Then why am I reading online that Taylor sold considerably more of his debut album than either Lambert or Allen sold of their first albums. Lambert has gone gold but will probably never reach platinum, and I don’t believe Allen has reached gold as yet. Then why should Taylor be considered a failure while they are considered successes? Could it possibly be because Nigel L. slammed Taylor in Newsweek and other publications parroted his words, which eventually ruined his reputation? It takes a long time to recuperate from this type of putdown but Taylor is on his way to full recovery.

  8. Thank you for reminding people of how unique Taylor Hicks is. He is also incredibly talented and crafts his music with integrity, with the ability to genuinely move the listener. As for him being “one note”, I heartily disagree. It sounds as if you have never had the pleasure of seeing him anywhere but the Idols stage. Good music is too important not to share, so I’m sharing with you my assessment of Taylor’s most recent CD, The Distance, as well as a review of two live gigs I was blessed to see. Thank you.

    http://www.writeonnewjersey.com/2009/05/long-train-runnin/

    and

    tp://www.writeonnewjersey.com/2009/10/maybe-you-should-i-did/

  9. Thank you for recognizing that Taylor Hicks is “genuine” and not the stereotype we expect for an Idol.

    If he was “exciting” to watch on Idol, you should see him in concert. I am glad to see that some people who have been there have brought you good examples of Taylor Hicks on stage. May I suggest “Whomp at the Warfield” out now on DVD from the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco during his highly successful tour (No. 27th highest grossing tour of ALL tours that year) in 2007. It is real music. It is genuinely Taylor Hicks.

    And, yes, a five-story billboard in Times Square on Broadway ain’t chopped liver!

  10. Well, thanks for the nod to Taylor, but seriously, One note? Doolittle has more clout? Lambert and Siohban more flair? Looks like that propaganda campaign launched by Lythgoe (because Taylor didn’t sign with 19 management) really influenced a lot of people, even those who liked him in the show were made to have second thoughts. Maybe after Melinda, Adam, and Siohban have headlined tours for 3 years, they’ll be proven to have more clout & flair than Taylor Hicks, but based on this performance, I kinda doubt it.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FU7X6GO2ibQ&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

  11. Hello I wrote this song for Taylor Hicks
    Song for Taylor Hicks

    I want to love you
    I want to love you
    like you never
    been loved before

    I want to hold you
    I want to hold you
    Like you never
    been held before

    together we will sore
    forever more

    I want to love you
    I want to hold you

    together we will sore
    forever more

  12. I really liked the man in your home town band, that appeared on American Idol and would like to see him perform with you

  13. hi, just have to say how much i like taylors music. have been a fan since the first time i saw him om american idol and predicted he would win. hope he comes to vernon or kelowna british columbia canada so me n his fans here can go to see him, would love to see him in person. thankyou.

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