Taylor Hicks was born on October 7, 1976, in Birmingham, Alabama. He recorded two albums and struggled to establish himself in the music business before his big break on the fifth season of American Idol. Three weeks after Hicks's triumphant win, his first single, "Do I Make You Proud," debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles. In 2006, Hicks released a self-titled album that debuted at No. 2 charts and went platinum.
Singer, songwriter and musician. Taylor Hicks was born on October 7, 1976 in Birmingham, Alabama. Hicks' parents, Brad and Pamela, divorced when he was 8 years old, and he was raised by his father and stepmother Linda. Shortly after his parents' divorce, Hicks discovered Ray Charles' music on the radio. Charles' woe-filled voice helped him cope with the divorce. While his friends began listening to contemporary rock bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana, Hicks continued to prefer the retro soul sounds of Charles, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. Hicks remembers that his friends did not understand his childhood music tastes, "but their parents did."
Drawn to performance from a very young age, Taylor Hicks would follow his father to the office where he worked as a dentist and offer to sing and dance for anyone who would listen. "He thought he was the white Michael Jackson," his father recalls. Gifted with perfect pitch, Hicks taught himself blues harmonica and guitar at the age of 16 by playing off different sounds he heard throughout the day. "I would find, like, the key that an airplane flying overhead was in or the sound of a running car," he remembers. He then embarked on a surreptitious music career, sneaking out at night to perform at local bars. His father and stepmother discovered his secret performances when they went out to a Mexican restaurant late one night when Hicks was supposed to be at home. Onstage they saw a lanky, longhaired teenager wailing on the harmonica. His father recalls staring in disbelief before calmly pronouncing, "Well, there's Taylor."
Standing 6-foot 1-inch by the time he entered Hoover High School, Hicks was a tri-sport varsity athlete in baseball, basketball and soccer. Hicks also developed prematurely gray hair in high school. Many people suggested that he simply dye his hair to hide the gray, but Hicks refused. "What you see is what you get," he said. In 1995, Hicks graduated from high school and enrolled at Auburn University to study journalism and business. He spent three years at Auburn and almost completed his degree before ultimately deciding to drop out to pursue a music career.
After dropping out of college, Hicks spent a decade struggling to make it as a musician. He played briefly in a band called Passing Through before quitting to strike it out on his own. He traveled around the southeastern United States, playing small shows in clubs and bars, and trying to land a record deal. Hicks self-produced two albums during this period, In Your Time (1997) and Under the Radar (2005), but a big break eluded him, and he failed to make ends meet with the pocket change he earned from his music. Hicks took on a series of odd jobs to sustain himself, including a brief stint playing the Easter Bunny at a shopping mall.
Hicks' path to stardom was born out of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hicks was in New Orleans for a friend's wedding the night before the hurricane, and he received a free airplane voucher when his flight home was canceled. On an impulse, he used the voucher to fly to Las Vegas, where the Fox reality series American Idol was auditioning for its fifth season. A relatively old contestant with even older taste in music, the gray-haired and slightly pudgy bar singer was an improbable candidate for a show dominated by pop-singing teenagers. However, Hicks' gray hair, soulful style and complete indifference to the judges' criticism distinguished him from the other contestants and earned him a large and fanatic fan base. Calling themselves the "Soul Patrol," Hicks fans organized online and clogged the phone lines during voting hours. The pandemonium over Hicks' American Idol run reached fever pitch when Alabama governor Bob Riley officially proclaimed May 16, 2006 "Taylor Hicks Day." One week later, Hicks defeated runner-up Katharine McPhee to become the fifth American Idol.
Hicks quickly converted his American Idol triumph into commercial success. Three weeks after the season finale, Hicks' first single, "Do I Make You Proud," debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles. In December 2006, Hicks released a self-titled album that debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts and was certified platinum. For a recent Idol winner, Hicks has garnered unprecedented respect from music industry veterans. He has performed with such diverse and legendary stars as Willie Nelson, The Allman Brothers, Jackson Browne, and Snoop Dogg. Record producer Matt Serletic credits Hicks' respect to the decade he spent performing in bars before making it big. He said, "Taylor really knows who he is as an artist. There is an earnestness to how he approaches singing and music you can't manufacture. He's sweated it out in bars to earn that."
Despite the fame, Hicks continues to pay homage to his musical roots. In 2008, he released Early Works, a compilation of his pre-Idol music, and a year later he released The Distance on his own independent record label Modern Whomp. He has also published a memoir, Heart Full of Soul: An Inspirational Memoir About Finding Your Voice and Finding Your Way (2007).
Country Boy at Heart
After several years in the national spotlight, Hicks claims he is still the same fun-loving, sweet tea-drinking Alabama boy he's always been. Asked in an interview how American Idol changed his life, Hicks quipped back, "N/A." Nevertheless, Hicks says he wouldn't trade the fame or the decade of struggling to get there. "I'm glad this happened right now because all of the work and time I've put in have kept me levelheaded," he said after his Idol victory. "I've dreamed about this, and now I am able to put some of those ideas into action."
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