- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Taylor Hicks has sold millions of records, won Season 5 of “American Idol” 2006 and went from performing in small venues near his hometown to selling out arenas the world over.

But still, there was a dream.

“I’ve always wanted to be a TV host, and now I’ve got my own show,” Mr. Hicks, 40, told The Washington Times of “State Plate,” a travel show on INSP wherein the crooner tastes each state’s most iconic foods.

“I’m from Alabama and a foodie at heart,” Mr. Hicks said. “‘State Plate’ is such a great food and travel concept because we talk about iconic state foods.”

It’s an enviable place to be in, but then again, Mr. Hicks has been able to write his own ticket since being crowned the fifth season Idol on May 25, 2006. From having helicopters follow his every move that summer to a residency in Las Vegas to appearing as the Teen Angel in a traveling production of “Grease,” Mr. Hicks has diversified his portfolio — especially important for a musician in the sales-unfriendly digital age.

But Mr. Hicks, who will bring his golden voice and Southern timbres to the The Hamilton in the District Nov. 11, has never forgotten his first love.

“In my early teens … I was singing and learning instruments and then writing music,” Mr. Hicks said, years before he became the eldest American Idol at age 29.

“I guess it’s a lot easier when you’re on the ‘older’ side of winning a competition like that as opposed to the younger side,” he said. “You’ve had a lot of time to think about it for it to materialize.”

And materialize it has — a far cry from the awkward teenage years when Mr. Hicks‘ hair began turning gray before he was even 15.

“I was running through a heavy dose of Otis Redding and the Stax on Soul Revue when I was about 16 or 17. If that wasn’t awkward enough, I was also going gray,” he said. “Just kind of a heaping of awkwardness.”

After winning the popular Fox reality show competition — whose other crowned victors included Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Ruben Studdard — Mr. Hicks couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed. However, he was also keen to the knowledge that fame can be as fleeting as it is sudden.

“You have to just handle it all in stride and understand that the business has peaks and valleys,” he said. “I’m very proud to say I’ve been in show business a decade now since” winning the competition. “I just try to work as hard as I can and stay true to who I am as a person and as an entertainer.”

“American Idol” left the airwaves in April after 15 ratings-busting seasons — with final winner Trent Harmon declared the final winner. Mr. Hicks and many of the show’s former champions, runners-up and other memorable participants returned for the bow-out.

“I did some judging in the Denver auditions, which I enjoyed,” Mr. Hicks said of being on the other side of the table from where he started out a decade prior. “We all had a good part in the final season. And the way that America celebrated the final season of ‘Idol’ was exceptional to say the least.”

A benchmark of success for any musician is when master parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic comes calling.

For his 2006 album “Straight Outta Lynwood,” Mr. Yankovic turned Mr. Hicks‘ “Do I Make You Proud” into “Do I Creep You Out,” a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of a stalker singing a love song.

“I loved it. I think it was one of those moments where you kind of made it,” Mr. Hicks said. “Obviously he’s a genius, and when he covers a song of yours is pretty cool. I got him to sign the record.”

Mr. Hicks, who now lives in Nashville, describes his current tour as intimate and “unplugged,” and features songs both from his own discography as well as covers of such artists as Van Morrison and Bob Seger.

“It’s good rock ‘n’ roll,” he said in his cheery-natured way.

Asked if he believes anyone has found his website accidentally while trying to look up superstar Taylor Swift, Mr. Hicks laughs and says, “I’ll take it any which way it comes.”

And being from Alabama, does he root for any particular collegiate football program this time of year?

“I’m going to plead the Fifth on that one,” Mr. Hicks said, offering up another charming laugh.

Taylor Hicks performs at The Hamilton Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 to $43 going to Ticketfly.com.

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