Getting from his show at Paris Las Vegas, Taylor Hicks landed in Atlanta to interview at local radio and television stations, and open a new venue, Westside Cultural Arts Center, the brainchild of Dr. James Chappuis. As the stretch limo arrived, fans, young and old, greeted the 37-year-old soul singer as he made his way through the crowd, signed autographs, posed for photos, and talked at length with an avid fan confined to a wheelchair. That’s Taylor Hicks: a real nice guy who we would like to call our friend. With the local group, Mr. Love Blues Review, Taylor brought down the house with his vocal renditions, screaming guitar, and soulful harmonica, not to mention the duet with Sandra Hall. The opening was so successful that the Westside Cultural Art Center will host “Taylor Hicks Blues Night” featuring local R&B bands and occasional appearances by Taylor whose home is just down the road in Birmingham, Alabama.
From his early beginnings as a struggling artist, Taylor has come a long way in the past eight years. After receiving a free flight voucher from Southwest Airlines as New Orleans evacuated from Hurricane Katrina, he flew to Las Vegas, landed in the middle of the night and, at his brother’s encouragement, stood in line that morning with 12,000 aspiring singers to audition for American Idol. Who would have thought that several months later, he would win the title that has changed his life forever?
His debut single “Do I Make You Proud” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, followed by a deal with Random House to write his autobiography. Next stop was Broadway for an 18-month tour playing “Teen Angel” in Grease, and concert performances whenever his schedule permitted. With his growing fanbase known as the “Soul Patrol,” he released his second album, The Distance, and music videos for hit songs, “Seven Mile Breakdown” and “What’s Right is Right.” In 2012, he became the first American Idol winner to sign a residency in Las Vegas, first at Bally’s and then at Paris Las Vegas at the Napoléon Lounge until the end of 2013. He loves playing his “roadhouse music” in Las Vegas, living in the hotel, and hopes for a contract extension to perform in one of Caesar’s 200 properties worldwide. When not in Vegas performing or in Birmingham with family, the singer is recording an album with a soulful country flare in Nashville. Stay tuned for the release.
Another side of Taylor Hicks reveals a home-made cooking chef. “When you’re from Alabama, you’re a foodie,” says Taylor, who learned how to cook “Southern” from his grandmother who was always in the kitchen making something. Two of his recipes, baked oysters with Tasso cream and jalapeno poppers stuffed with BBQ, are published in the best-selling book, Recipes Across America. His cooking secret is “patience, take your time, be creative, and experiment.” If you don’t want to cook, then visit his restaurant, Saw’s Juke Joint in Birmingham for live music, grandma’s fried chicken (none better according to Taylor), BBQ, and sweet tea. Every now and then he stops by to play a few songs with the band, and enjoy fine southern food… y’all can’t find in Las Vegas.
It’s the holiday season, and everyone gets a little sentimental. When asked about his most memorable Christmas growing up in Birmingham, the gray-haired artist stepped back and thought for a while, then said, “One Christmas when I was a kid, I woke up, looked out the window, and the grass was covered with snow for the first time.” When he opened his presents, to his disbelief, Santa had brought him a Red Ryder BB gun just like Ralphie’s in the movie, A Christmas Story. That was a Christmas to remember, and what would make Taylor as excited this Christmas? Maybe Santa Caesar will bring him a contract extension at Paris Las Vegas.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY TERRY CHECK