‘American Idol’ champ Taylor Hicks touts new single, congratulates Ryan Seacrest on ‘Wheel of Fortune’

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley asks Taylor Hicks about 'Teach Me to Dance' (Part 1)

Former “American Idol” champ Taylor Hicks is back with his first new music in 14 years.

His newest single is called “Teach Me to Dance” off his upcoming album “Porch Swing.”

“Garth Brooks really enjoyed the song — he wanted to record it back in the day and he never cut it,” Hicks told WTOP. “[‘The River’ songwriter] Victoria Shaw and I were writing together, she went downstairs and pulled a CD. … I loved the concept. I could see it being performed at a lot of weddings. I personally think the song rivals ‘I Hope You Dance’ by Lee Ann Womack. I think it could be a career song for me. I’m excited to see where it goes.”

It’s the second single after the title track, which he recently sang on TV on “The Kelly Clarkson Show.”

“Kelly’s been such a sweet person and a big fan over the years, so that was a surreal moment; to be able to go on her show and release that was a blessing,” Hicks said. “Ryan Seacrest was on that show too, so it was kind of like a little bit of an ‘Idol’ reunion. Kudos to him for getting that ‘Wheel of Fortune’ gig, by the way. … I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan tapes four or five ‘Wheel of Fortune’ shows in a day. He’s just that kind of a machine.”

Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1976, Hicks grew up listening to classic soul and rhythm and blues.

“I listened to a lot of Ray Charles growing up, then it split off into Van Morrison,” Hicks said. “The instruments that I was learning were guitar and harmonica. That fit the Bob Seger-Van Morrison mold, then I kind of graduated into a little bit of piano and went into Marvin Gaye, but I would say Ray Charles is the root of my musical tree.”

After attending Auburn University, Hicks briefly moved to Nashville in 2000 before moving back home to Alabama about a year later. He traveled around playing music three or four times a week and released a couple of independent albums before fleeing Hurricane Katrina to audition for Season five of “American Idol” in 2006.

“I was the last taxicab ride out of Katrina,” Hicks said. “I got to West Monroe, Louisiana, and fled the storm, and on the way back, rented a car to Birmingham, then Southwest [Airlines] canceled my flight, flew to Vegas on a whim, got to Vegas at like 12:30 at night, then at 3:30 in the morning ‘Idol’ tryouts happened at the Vegas convention center, so it was kind of by way of Hurricane Katrina that I got into the ‘Idol’ audition line for Las Vegas.”

His audition was a rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” earning a golden ticket to Hollywood by impressing judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, though Simon Cowell remained skeptical as usual.

“You can’t have them all like you,” Hicks said. “Nowadays I think the judges are too easy on the contestants. I don’t know whether you have to be politically correct these days and you have to be nice, but it’s the entertainment business and some people can’t sing. … You need some constructive criticism, and Simon was definitely not on board, but he usually gets on board when you win. … It was better for ratings. Tough love on ‘American Idol’ sold!”

During Hollywood Week, Hicks won over fans by performing Elton John’s “Levon.”

“You want to pick songs that are extremely popular,” Hicks said. “I always picked songs that people could sing and that one was one of them. It was a great one by Elton and I was stoked to move week by week and ultimately win.”

Hicks managed to beat out Bucky Covington, Kellie Pickler, Chris Daughtry, Elliott Yamin and finally Katharine McPhee in the finals to sing his coronation song “Do I Make You Proud?” as confetti fell from the rafters.

“I’m partial to my class, Season 5,” Hicks said. “Winning that show at that time was something that I will always be forever indebted to. ‘Idol’ was a great launching pad for us. For the contestants that I was on the show with, it was a testament to the talent because we’re all still in the business. I’m very blessed to be able to win that show at the time. … The press that was built around the winner and the runner-up was massive in comparison to [today].”

In 2006, Hicks recorded his self-titled album “Taylor Hicks” with songs like “Heaven Knows.”

“Loved it,” Hicks said. “That was kind of really truly my first foray into the album business, from the making of the record all the way to the radio promotions. It was a really exciting and fulfilling journey to be able to, in such a short amount of time, go from the writing of the record to the releasing of the record. … To be able to be on Arista Records and J Records with Clive [Davis] running the show, that was a really, really neat experience.”

In 2009, he self-produced his second album “The Distance,” featuring the song “What’s Right is Right.”

“At that time, I thought it was just important to start my own label and release music — and I think a lot of people do that these days,” Hicks said. “It was just timing. Now, would I be on another label [in the future]? Possibly, but timing wise, starting that was very important.”

Since then, he’s written a memoir called “Heart Full of Soul: An Inspirational Memoir About Finding Your Voice and Finding Your Way,” starred in the Broadway national tour of “Grease” and performed a residency in Las Vegas.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but winning a show like that, you just think, ‘Well, I’m going to be able to just do music, yada yada yada,’ but instead it opened up a lot of doors that I didn’t think would open, from the Broadway show to hosting television,” Hicks said. “For me, wanting to get into all different sides of the business and learning, it was an amazing launch pad, ‘Idol’ was, to be able to go those kinds of avenues if you choose.”

For now, it’s all about promoting the new album “Porch Swing,” which will arrive in the coming months.

“I’m aiming for the fall but probably early spring,” Hicks said. “The music was recorded at Zac Brown’s studio in Nashville. He’s got an old gospel church that’s just a really great space to record music at. I’ve been recording there off and on for about 10 years. … I’ve had the record in the can for a while now. It’s produced. I was just kind of waiting for the right moment in time to start releasing music. It’s just timing. … It can’t stay in the can forever.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley asks Taylor Hicks about 'Porch Swing' (Part 2)

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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