We checked in with singer Taylor Hicks to talk Chicago, American Idol, his upcoming City Winery show, and why Illinois is one of his top states for food.
It’s been more than 10 years since Taylor Hicks won season five of American Idol, and he hasn’t slowed down since. The Alabama native has continued to hone his performance craft—and not just in the way of singing. Since his big win, Hicks has indeed had major success with his music (his self-titled album, Arista, debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and was certified RIAA platinum), but he’s also penned a best-selling autobiography, Heart Full of Soul; was featured on Jimmy Fallon’s Grammy Award-winning album, Blow Your Pants Off; starred as Teen Angel in Broadway’s musical Grease; opened a popular barbecue joint in Alabama; and is the current host of INSP’s State Plate.
He certainly hasn’t abandoned his roots as a musician though. Hicks is currently on tour and will be coming to Chicago for a performance at City Winery on May 18. We caught up with him on the phone to chat about American Idol, his new music, and why Illinois’ “State Plate” was one of the best.
What can fans expect from your upcoming performance in Chicago? TAYLOR HICKS: I’ve had an amazing run of City Wineries this year. It’s a really cool food and music concept. And what I’ve done is I’ve created a really intimate, acoustic show where it’s just a couple of guitars and me. As many bigger venues as I’ve played, this particular tour has been mostly small, intimate venues to try out new music and to give my fans a different look. It has been so band-oriented and big production; this is just the opposite of that and I’ve really enjoyed doing it. It's a very up-close-and-personal show.
How has your music evolved over the years? TH: Well, I think my songwriting has gotten better, and the musicianship. Since we’re speaking about City Winery, I guess I feel like my artistry is kind of like the wine they sell there: It’s getting better over time.
American Idol ended its run on FOX last year. What was it like seeing that come to a close? TH: It was pretty amazing the way that everyone celebrated the show. It was a pretty awesome experience to be on that show at the time, when it was America’s pastime. For me, that's allowed me to be able to say that I’ve worked over a decade in show business.
You’re currently recording your next album. How’s that going? TH: I’m really, really enjoying it. I’m currently in Zac Brown’s studio in Nashville, Southern Ground, recording the album. The music that’s coming out of the studio is very rootsy—it’s kind of a rootsy, country, soul sound. And that’s pretty much who I am in a nutshell, so it’s going really, really great. I like to say if Zac Brown and Jackson Browne had a baby, it would probably be me on this record.
Taylor Hicks with a "state plate."
You’re also the host of State Plate on the INSP network. Tell us about that. TH: I’ve been in television off and on for 10 years, but I also started a barbecue restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama [with] my partners called Saw’s BBQ. [And] the INSP network folks and I got together to discuss a concept where we go around to each state and fill up a plate of food that is iconic to just that state. I have learned more about food and all of these iconic foods than I ever have before, and I think what’s great about it is the show actually takes a lot of concepts from all the great shows around. It’s a little bit of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, it's a little bit of Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs, and it has a touch of Bourdain.
What has been your favorite plate so far? TH: Illinois is definitely up there. From Chicago dogs, to the Italian meat sandwiches, and obviously deep dish pizza. Illinois has got a great array of different kinds of foods and I had a really great time traveling through the state of Illinois and learning about all of these iconic foods.
What are you looking forward to doing or seeing while you’re here? TH: Whenever I travel through the city you can catch me sitting there at Buddy Guy’s Legends a good bit. Chicago has so much to do you obviously can’t cover it in one day, but I definitely like [it]. I carry my harmonica and play a lot of Chicago blues when I come into town. And eat.