State Patrol
American Idol’s Taylor Hicks has a full plate with heapin’ helpin’s of television, recording and touring

By Lee Valentine Smith

Alabama-bred pop, rock and blues musician Taylor Hicks first burst into the collective consciousness of pop culture with his show-stopping performances on season five of American Idol. His fans, dubbed the Soul Patrol, were rabid for his weekly appearances during his reign and his career has continued to flourish - with steady recording, touring and even a recent Las Vegas residency.

Now the affable performer and restauranteur is back on television, riding the wave of the food craze with a show called State Plate. The series, currently in production for season two on the family-friendly INSP network, boasts a healthy TV salad of culinary delights, seasoned with interstate tourism and garnished with Hicks’ homegrown charm.

Calling from Manhattan during a break from shooting the New York episode of the show, the laidback and unfailingly polite performer discussed the show, the familiarity of episodic television and his other current projects.

Tell us a little about the format of the show. State Plate seems to be a melting pot of styles.

It is, it takes the best of the food and travel shows that are on television now. We go to the farms like Mike Rowe, we go to the establishments like Diners Drive-Ins and Dives but we always discuss it from a state perspective. And I think that’s really neat from an educational standpoint because there are a lot of iconic state foods.

Right, every state has some specialty item they’re extremely proud of and by the end of this run you’ll have sampled something from all across the country.

You know that’s our goal, to educate and entertain the viewers on iconic foods from every one of the 50 states. So far I’ve found it educational for me and I hope it is for the viewers as well.

You seem to truly enjoy the process.

I really do and when you’re hosting something, you’ve really got to be into it. When I got the concept for this, the idea was brand-new and our goal was to build it, work out the kinks and keep it entertaining for the whole family to enjoy. INSP is just a great network for it.

Food is becoming the new rock ‘n’ roll in a way. Chefs are becoming international rock stars.

Yeah with the food networks and everything it really has taken off and I think it just shows you that Americans really love food, there’s no question about it. And now that the tentacles can be longer to really explore great food, great food venues and culinary ideas from different parts of the country, I think it’s just gotten bigger and bigger.

The Georgia episode of State Plate was part of season one.

That’s right and I co-hosted that episode with [actress and former Brady Bunch star] Maureen McCormick. We kind of did split duty on that one. We did peaches and grits and onions and we went to Savannah for some shrimpin.’ Georgia is such a great state for food. Hopefully that particular episode will be rerun as we gear up for the season two premiere in the fall.

Do you know the airdate for the fall premiere yet?

We don’t yet, but either late, late summer or early fall is probably the target point.

What are some of your top food discoveries so far?

I get educated everywhere I go with this show. One thing I’ve noticed is some of these really iconic foods are held up and cultivated by a really small percent of the population. They’re carrying the torch for some of these foods that we love. So showing the agriculture of this country is kind of a byproduct of the show. The agricultural system and the families that grow these wonderful foods that we often take for granted sometimes, definitely need our upmost respect.

Of all the episodes you’ve completed, which one has turned out to be your personal favorite? Can you pinpoint any one specific moment or state?

Well, we just shot the Alabama episode, so I’m gonna have to say my home state was really a blast. We went to Birmingham and we went to the Gulf Coast area and just enjoyed every minute of it. One thing I love doing about this show is going to all these places that you’ve only heard about, but never had a chance to really see firsthand. Last season we went lobsterin’ in Maine and for an Alabama boy, that was just a lot of fun.

What has been the strangest food you’ve encountered so far?

I would have to say Rocky Mountain oysters. But you know what, I’ll just let you Google that one! [For the uninitiated, it’s a dish made from bull, sheep or pig testicles.]

Since you are also on the road with your band, State Plate must have a rather unorthodox shooting schedule.

It does. We travel a day and then shoot three days and then travel a day and shoot three more days, usually. But when the state is really big like Texas or California then that changes things, but usually we spread each episode out over three days and we just try to cover as much as we can.

While you’ve been busy with the show, have you had any time to concentrate on recording?

Oh yeah. You never want to leave where you started and music has been and will always be with me forever. I’m coming out with a new record in the fall and I’ve been in the studio in Nashville trying to get it finished.

Who’s backing you on this one? Your road band or will you bring in some session guys?

It’s a little bit of both; some of my road band and some of the really great session players that I’ve worked with over the years. And you know, we’re recording it at Zac Brown’s Southern Ground studio.

Sounds like a good time. That building itself is definitely historic and Zac is a big foodie.

Oh yeah, we’ve talked about that. He’s a big foodie we were discussing state foods not too long ago. He’s a great guy with a good studio and he’s just a good buddy.

Since your fans know you primarily from TV and they actively supported and voted for you - does that change the way they interact with you at all? Do they treat you like a part of the family?

Yeah, it is like that, being that Idol was such a juggernaut at the time, and I just love it. It’s a very comfortable feeling when I’m around the fans. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. When you are in their homes for a long time - for over a season of television, luckily for me - you do get that sort of household name recognition. It’s something I will always be indebted to and thankful for; it was just a blessing.

Career-wise, you’ve managed to conquer most media formats at this point.

Well you have to be versatile in this business. You have to keep people interested and I think reinvention is the key. I’ve always wanted to be an entertainer and this show is just a part of it. This is a marathon not a sprint for me. The arc of my career has spanned over a decade so far.

Before season two airs, you’re still working in time to get on the road and tour.

Oh yeah, because I love it. Touring is my lifeblood and I’ve done it for a long time now. I’m always looking forward to traveling and playing music and I’m really looking forward to coming to Georgia on a Saturday night for the City Winery show.

Growing up in Alabama, was Atlanta a big target destination for you as a young musician?

It was and when people ask me about how to get started, I always tell them to pick three cities and really work on those areas and build your audience. For me Atlanta was so great. I played Eddie’s Attic and Smith’s Olde Bar, they were always there for me. Always great audiences and it’s just a great town to get into and work on your chops.

State Plate airs Fridays at 9 on INSP and Taylor Hicks plays Saturday April 8 at City Winery.



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