In 2006, when salt-and-pepper-pelted soul singer Taylor Hicks won the fifth season of "American Idol," he probably never imagined he'd be popping out of an ice-cream cone, singing "Beauty School Dropout."
Now Hicks is doing just that, playing the Teen Angel — a role made famous by Frankie Avalon in the 1978 film version of "Grease" — in the musical's latest Broadway revival. For his first foray into acting, it's not a bad gig, and Hicks is hoping it will open more doors for him down the line.
"It's a really cool part," he said. "The Teen Angel comes down and tells Frenchy she should put down her teasing comb and go back to high school. I've kind of channeled Elvis, a little Graham Parsons and Liberace, all at the same time, for this role. It was just a perfect fit and a way for me to experience the Broadway stage in a small dose, instead of a full role. I come out in the second act. I pop in from an ice-cream cone, in a blue rhinestone suit, and rock it out for a few minutes."
Hicks said his Teen Angel is like none that has graced the stage before him, because he "Taylor-ized it." To prepare for the role, he claims he "started doing séances to channel Elvis, and he told me that I needed to wear a midnight-blue, rhinestone-studded suit, and that's what happened. Now we're packing the place out. It's sold-out every night, and I get to play a little harmonica, which is cool. I couldn't do that on 'Idol.' That wasn't the year where you could play instruments."
According to Hicks, the "Grease" part wasn't his first offer. Earlier this year, he'd been asked to join the Broadway cast of "Hairspray," a gig he couldn't fit into his schedule. But being part of "Grease" has given him the itch to act again.
"Right now, I'm releasing a new record in the fall — hopefully — so [doing] this allows me to stay in the city, be in front of thousands and thousands of people for the next three months, and it allows me to reinvent myself, as a musician, an entertainer and possibly a Broadway actor," he said. "This is a nice way to get my feet wet in the acting field. Before, I was so entrenched in music — playing clubs and roadhouses when I was a kid — so Broadway was kind of an abstract thought for me. It's not now. It's real, and I enjoyed being directed from a theatrical aspect as opposed to a musical aspect. It's going to be an interesting road for me."
Hicks said that his fans, known as the "Soul Patrol," have been at each performance — so much so that during one of the shows, he looked down and spotted his face tattooed on a woman's body ("It wasn't anywhere revealing," he said).
Hicks' year has been full of ups and downs. It started off on a bad note, as Arista Records revealed they'd dropped Hicks from their roster after just one release. His 2006 self-titled effort has sold 702,000 copies to date, making it the worst-performing of all the "American Idol" champs' albums. But then, Hicks landed the "Grease" gig, and, with a new album to record, he's close to signing with a new label.
"I don't have a name for the album yet, but I do know that it's some of the best music that I've ever written, and from an artistic standpoint, this album, being in my control, has allowed me to really breathe as a songwriter," he said. "As an artist, you kind of understand the times and what your surroundings are and write from them. So there's some political undertones on the album. It's a serious time for us."
Hicks said he's not worried about the future, because he knows he has what it takes to sustain a career in music. "It would be scary if I didn't really believe that I was supposed to do this," he said. "For me, as a kid, I knew I was supposed to entertain and perform for folks. When you have that self-belief and inner-determination, you understand there are peaks and valleys in this business, and you just keep working at it. You show up to work, whether it's 25 people at a Steak & Ale, or Wembley Stadium and there's 500,000 people. If you keep working, and you're good to people, you'll be blessed."
Despite the poor sales, Hicks said he's still proud of his debut album. "As many songs as were thrown at me in the 10 minutes I had to choose them, I kept a good guard up, because I knew my artistic guard would allow people to say that I really took the integrity to keep my art," he said. "I've been working 15 years to make it in this business. I didn't want to not make it anymore. I'm proud of that record. I just wish we would have had more time to record it, but I'm proud of it. That's key."