Filmed at The Workplay Theater in Birmingham, AL 9-26-09 with Ona Watson.
Song available on Taylor's new album, The Distance.
On sale now! Pick your copy today!
Monday, June 23, 2008
Taylor Hicks in Grease: I Got a Call From My Agent....
Taylor gave a very nice interview to BroadwayWorld.Com recently and talked about everything from his role in Grease to his new album coming out in the Fall.
Frenchy's got a new muse at Grease, and this time around, her guardian angel is a silver-haired crooner with rhinestone wings sewn into the pattern of his midnight blue suit. When a giant ice cream cone descends from the heavens at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, Taylor Hicks emerges to sing "Beauty School Dropout" in his Broadway debut. By now, audiences have gotten used to reality show winners turning up in musicals (Grease alone has four, with leads Max Crumm and Laura Osnes, Step It Up and Dance champ Cody Green and now Hicks, the season five victor on American Idol) and Hicks' loyal fans, known as the Soul Patrol, are avidly cheering him on. Director Kathleen Marshall plays to his strengths by showcasing Hicks' bluesy harmonica playing and brings him back to sing a verse of the title song (and gamely do the hand jive) during the curtain call. In conversation, the Birmingham native is friendly, down to earth and grateful for the opportunities that have come his way since winning Idol just before he turned 30, after years of struggle. Above all, Hicks seems delighted with his summer gig on Broadway.
How are you enjoying your first experience on Broadway?
I love it! I think the part suits me perfectly, and it allows me to get a toe wet on Broadway. It's a great way for me to start exploring the idea of an acting career and learn what Broadway is all about.
How did this opportunity come about?
I was in Birmingham, Alabama, eating a barbecue sandwich and playing golf and writing music for my next album, and my agent called me and asked me if I wanted to do the gig. Basically, I had until I finished my sandwich to decide whether or not I wanted to do it [laughs]. It was a really quick decision, and honestly, I'm having the time of my life. [Broadway] is a wonderful, extremely talented community that deserves all kinds of respect and praise. To go out there and be spot-on every night for eight shows a week—that's live performing at its utmost, and I'm very excited to be a part of it.
Were you familiar with the part, and with Grease?
I knew the Frankie Avalon part from the movie, but I thought I could add a Taylor flavor to it—kind of Taylorize the part, no pun intended. I'm able to play some harmonica, and I like the whole rock-and-roll heaven idea. The rock-and-roll gods have been very good to me, and they're good to me in this part too.
What was it like to work with director Kathleen Marshall?
She is a force to be reckoned with! I was excited when she started directing me. I thought, "This is very similar to producing an album; it's just theatrical." I've been produced musically, but I've never been directed theatrically. It was a really cool first experience. Kathleen was so accommodating and made it easy for me.
She guided Harry Connick Jr. to a Tony nomination, so you were in great hands. What did she say about Teen Angel's function in the show?
She said that my purpose was to lead Frenchy to go back to high school and put down the teasing comb [laughs]. I'm more or less the voice of reason and the voice of reckoning for this young girl.
Were you nervous before your first performance?
I don't think I've ever been so nervous in my whole life! [Laughs.] I've been lucky enough to experience a lot of things—the American Idol stage, singing at the Orange Bowl—but I never would have thought in a million years that I would be as nervous as I was. It's easy to walk out on stage to sing, but when you're coming down 40 feet in an ice cream cone to debut on Broadway, it's a different story.
Did you ever do plays in high school?
I was Santa Claus in the second grade and Santa Claus in the eighth grade. I've always come bearing gifts [laughs]. It was always the jolly jester, the entertainer—they always put me in that kind of role, which is perfect.
Had you seen many musicals?
I saw Rent probably 10 years ago, and growing up, I always went to the Summerfest shows in Birmingham.
When you saw Rent, did you think, "I should do this"?
You know, I was so entrenched then in learning instruments, harmonica and guitar, and writing music that I never really thought about the idea of doing it. But now, having the opportunity to explore a particular part, the idea has come to life.
Your costume is quite different from the all-white suit that was used before. How did that come about?
I just thought about the part and the time period. A rock-and-roll angel in the '50s made me think of the Nudie suits [flamboyant, rhinestone-studded cowboy suits created by Nashville tailor Nudie Cohen] that country-and-western stars like Bob Wills and Porter Wagoner used to wear. I thought: Nudie suit leads to Gram Parsons leads to Teen Angel. And I thought it would be a cool idea to incorporate the angel wings in rhinestones. Martin Pakledinaz, the costume designer for the show, was exceptional in talking with me about the outfit, and his creativity just took off. It's a beautiful suit, and I think it looks great for me and the part I'm playing, especially with the embroidered rhinestone angel wings on the back.
Why do you think so many American Idol alums have come to Broadway?
In a way, the Idol experience is similar to the Broadway experience. We'd do the group numbers every week [on Idol], and the rigorous schedule is very similar to the Broadway schedule. And it's live! You really have to be on your best game every night, but I've lived in a live setting musically since I was 16 or 17 years old. That's where I thrive.
I would think that nothing could be as challenging as surviving a season on American Idol, not to mention actually winning!
It's a gut-check and a soul-check. It definitely teaches you a lot about who you are as a person.
Some Idol alums, such as Clay Aiken, express mixed feelings now about constantly being identified with the show.
It doesn't bother me. Once you become an American Idol, it will always stay with you. You have to work as hard as you can to be as successful as you can—and be glad you're able to perform and grateful you had American Idol to give you that platform.
Is there extra pressure that comes with Idol in terms of who sells the most records?
Yes, there is pressure. But the measuring stick for American Idol winners is everybody's measuring stick. Each of us has our own identity and our own path. For me as a performer, it's about the marathon, not the sprint. I'm in this for the long haul, whether it be Broadway or acting or music. It's using everything I've learned.
You never struck me as a top-40 singer.
You have to be who you are, and find and write great songs. Great music will stand the test of time. It will also cross over—radio will come find a great song. And that's what it's about: playing great music and finding great songs and letting those songs speak for themselves.
You're working on a new record, right?
Yes, I've got a record coming out in the fall. I've written half of it, and I'm going to be recording it while I'm here on Broadway. [Just after Hicks' Broadway.com interview, an announcement came that Vanguard Records, known for jazz, blues and folk recordings, has agreed to distribute the singer's next album, which he will cut on his own label.]
Your fans seem to be turning out to see you in Grease.
The Soul Patrol is definitely invading Broadway!
Is having such fervent fans ever a mixed blessing? How do you make sure that the attention doesn't intrude on your life?
I'm just excited to have fans. For a long time, it was a struggle for me—one night I might play for nobody and the next night I would play for 50 people. It was a grind. For me to be able to catch a break and have the opportunity to perform in front of a lot of people? You never take it for granted. And as long as you don't let [fan attention] be intrusive, it won't be. It's out there and you're aware of it, but I'm a private person by nature. I try to keep as much normalcy as I can in my daily life, in my social life, in my private life.
Are you enjoying living in New York?
I love it. I just spent about four hours in Central Park. When I've come to New York in the past, it's like I leave my hotel room and then I get out of a sedan and then I'm lighting the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and then I'm stuffed into a sedan again and then I'm in Virginia somewhere. It's been nice because I've been able to enjoy the city as opposed to doing a show or doing a press tour. I'm excited about being here because I know [New York] is where it all starts. Being on Broadway is a big honor for me.
I hadn't realized that you wrote a book [Heart Full of Soul, subtitled "an inspirational memoir"]. What message did want to convey?
The importance of self-determination and a deep inner belief that you're going to succeed; not letting anything get in the way of your vision, whether it be music or theater or running a Fortune 500 company. I am the American Dream. In four months, I went from playing at a Steak & Ale to performing for 37 million people! The book also allowed me to connect with fans in my own words and show them the prelude to what they see [now]. People talk about overnight success—it's been a 13-year "overnight success" for me. But I really believe that when people become successful, 99.9% of the time it's because they have dedication and don't see anything but the bull's-eye. That's what I wanted to show in the book. You can overcome things if you're good to people and you work hard.
You're living proof of that, for sure.
I remember standing outside in Las Vegas at American Idol [auditions], and kids were coming up to me asking me where my kid was that was auditioning. If that doesn't make you want to walk away, I don't know what does. But I never walked away. I knew I had a vision, and that was to entertain people—and here I am.
Is Alabama still your home base?
I was in Birmingham for a few weeks visiting my family, but I don't have a permanent residence. I've been living out of four suitcases for about two years. I went down to two suitcases, but I had to fill two more up and move to New York. I toured Asia in December—I went Jakarta, I went to the Philippines. I went out on tour in February of last year and basically stayed out for eight months.
That sounds lonely!
You know, I've always made the people I perform with my family. And it's so interesting—the theatrical experience is very similar to what I see with musicians on the road. [Broadway] really is a family atmosphere, and I'm thankful for that. I love working with the cast of Grease.
Would you like to try a more substantial part in the future?
Yeah, I definitely would. We'll see what happens, but hopefully there's some more stuff in store for me. I'm having a ball.
See Taylor Hicks in Grease at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.