It’s been more than 13 years since Taylor Hicks came to national attention on “American Idol.” Next week, he’s coming to Winston-Salem to use his celebrity status to help bring awareness to a worthy cause.
Hicks has been busy ever since he won the fifth season of “Idol” in 2006, with tours, a residency in Las Vegas, several albums and side projects including a restaurant, stage plays and an INSP cable network TV series. The silver-haired singer, an Alabama native, is performing Wednesday night at the Larry Vance Hughes ALS Foundation Benefit Concert, being held at the Millennium Center.
The foundation is named after Larry Vance Hughes, a Clemmons resident who died of ALS in 2014. The disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease for the baseball star who was one of the most famous people to have been stricken by it. Other well-known people who have had the disease include astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, playwright Sam Shepard, musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, and actor David Niven. Last week, Kim Shattuck from punk bands The Muffs and the Pandoras, died of complications from ALS. She was only 56.
Hicks’ involvement in the benefit concert came when his golfing buddy Brett Hoge, founder and a board member with the foundation, approached him about it. “He wanted to bring a kind of night of music and a night of fun, but also a night of awareness, to the ALS Foundation he heads up,” Hicks said. “I think it’s one of those diseases that needs a lot of attention.”
Hoge is organizing the concert, which will raise funds that go directly to ALS research. The foundation has raised more than $1 million for that cause since it was founded in 2014. Hicks and Mark Wills, a recent inductee in the Grand Ole Opry, will be performing at the concert, which will also include a live auction and raffle; remarks by Dr. Rick Bedlack, a neurologist and director of the Duke ALS Clinic; and a meet-and-greet session with the two singers for VIP ticket-holders.
Hicks took a few minutes off his busy schedule to answer some questions.]
Q: What inspired you to focus on soul music in your career?
Answer: “My influences range from Willie Nelson into Van Morrison to Marvin Gaye. I was just really a roots artist, and someone who studied a lot of roots music. That’s where the root of my musical tree starts.”
One of his earliest musical influences was Ray Charles, who he first heard when Hicks was about 8 years old. His fondness for Charles led him into listening to more soul music. Though he sang a wide variety of styles on “American Idol,” his proclivity for soul led to his fan base being dubbed “the Soul Patrol,” which he embraced. “At that point in time, any sort of fan base and campaign slogan, that fortunately for me people were attached to, I thought, ‘I’ll take it.’”
Q: Were there any particular challenges that surprised you along the way in your show business career?
Answer: “There’s always peaks and valleys. I think the test is really what happens when you’re in the valley of show business, that’s where the rubber meets the road. ... I’m coming up on 13 years in show business. I’ve had those peaks and valleys, but, ultimately, I’m still in it.”
Q: What do you like most about performing?
Answer: “I think I’m just a natural entertainer, someone who enjoys entertaining people.”
Q: And what’s your least favorite part of being a performer?
Answer: “Heat. I know I’m used to it, but I still haven’t really liked it. ... I can deal with heat, I think it’s the humidity.”
Still, he doesn’t want to complain about his line of work. “Look, at this point in my career, I’m just happy to have any venue, you know? I think everybody should feel the same way in show business.”
Q: When did you start going gray,; did you try to fight it?
Answer: “You know, I was about 16 or 17, that’s when it started happening.” He likes to tell people that it happened when he realized what getting into show business would entail. But the truth is, he was attached to the look by the time he went on “American Idol,” and turned down their attempts to change it. “They tried to get me to dye it on ‘Idol,’ but I didn’t,” he said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Q: What further ambitions do you have in show business?
Answer: “I think reinvention is something I’ve always been interested in; the more people reinvent themselves in show business, the longer their career.”
To that end, he has branched out into acting, joining the cast of the stage musical “Grease” in 2008, and later acting in the play “Shenandoah.” He also acted as host of “State Plate,” a show that looked at “farm to table” cuisines from around the country, which aired on the INSP channel.
Moving forward, he hopes to get more roles in film and television. “I have caught a little bit of an acting bug,” he said. “That’s something I’m definitely interested in to add to the arc of the career.”