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Suck it up, Cupcake! There’s more coming.

Today TaylorHicksNews joined a community of bloggers whose goal is to write and communicate more in 2011.  Toward that goal, we plan to post at least once per week during the coming year, covering a spectrum of music and entertainment topics of contemporary interest.  It won’t always be easy, but it might be fun, really fun.  Heck, it might occasionally be thought provoking. 

Please help us on this journey as we search for our inner writer.  Use the comment section to tell us when we’ve done well, and when we’re off base.  Criticize, argue, throw in a rare compliment; it’s all good!  We’re looking forward to the challenge and the interaction.

We realize that there may have been times in the past few months when our posts annoyed or bored you, or maybe just plain got on your nerves.  So on the eve of the New Year we’d just like to say…….


Taylor Hicks: The Year in Photographs

As the page turns on 2010, we take a moment to remember a few of the year’s many highlights.

January 5, 2010: The live concert DVD “Whomp at the Warfield” is made available for purchase nationwide.  Filmed at the historic Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, the DVD features several songs from the 2006 debut album “Taylor Hicks”. A bonus interview with the artist includes an exclusive acoustic performance of original songs.  Our review:  The concert builds in energy and enthusiasm to the end; bonus content alone is worth the purchase price.

He made the role his own.  From January through May 2010 Taylor Hicks starred in the national tour of GREASE, the musical.  The Variety review of his performance confirmed that “… to his credit and to the audience’s enjoyment, nobody else could be this Teen Angel, and there’s no point in even trying to compare him to Frankie Avalon.”  (Variety review:  (Photo by AJC/Rodney Ho)

These were the final months of a run that began on Broadway in the summer of 2008 and that led several writers to assert that Taylor Hicks had “fallen off the face of the earth”.  We were heartened to learn that his fall was cushioned by audiences that erupted in cheers upon his stage reveal, and by a rather large sum of money.  ( “Taylor Hicks Is Laughing All the Way to the Bank”)

Taylor worked with other volunteers to install siding and paint at a Habitat for Humanity work site in Birmingham, March 2010.  The musician’s commitment to charitable work continued throughout the year; Hicks’ support of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation gave many children a reason to smile during the 2010 holiday season. (Photo by Susan Clayton)

Taylor Hicks performed the national anthem to open the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, April 11, 2010.  Charles Barkley served as grand marshall, while Randy Owen sang “My Home’s in Alabama”.  Attendance was 50,000+ for the State’s first IndyCar race.  (Photo via  Taylor was also tapped to sing the national anthem at Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA playoffs (May).

The American Idol Finale, May 26, 2010.  Photographed behind the scenes with Kelly Clarkson, Paula Abdul, and Crystal Bowersox, the season 5 winner took the stage to perform “Together, We Are One” with other Idol winners. 

Later in the year Taylor would also work with several Idol finalists including Kimberley Locke, Bo Bice, Ace Young, Blake Lewis, and Jason Castro at various charity and holiday events.

Taylor Hicks and Karl Denson rock the 7th Annual Rocky Mountain Power Jam at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, June 25, 2010.  Several Jam musicians, including Hicks, Denson, Ivan Neville, Eric Krasno, and Adam Deitch will reunite in January 2011 for Jam Cruise 9. (Photo via

A July 25 appearance on Fox & Friends announced the opening of Taylor’s summer 2010 national concert tour in New York City.  A performance at Highline Ballroom later that evening thrilled the crowd, on their feet and dancing to an encore that included a unique and irresistible version of the La Roux hit “Bulletproof”.  (photo by John Felleca

“Back to the Gulf” aired on the CW Network on August 27.  The one hour special paid tribute to Gulf Coast residents and their efforts to recover from the oil spill disaster.  Taylor Hicks performed “What’s Right Is Right” and “Seven Mile Breakdown” from his album, “The Distance”. (Photo by NolaMar)

Taylor also served as Alabama spokesperson for the Gulf Coast; he appeared on MSNBC to discuss the impact of the disaster on his home state, and penned an exclusive editorial on the subject for CNN/Larry King Live, “The Tip of the Oil Iceberg”. 

Robin Roberts, Tuskegee Airman Mitch Higginbotham, and Taylor Hicks at the Life Changing Lives Gala, September 11, 2010.  The Gala benefited Wounded Warrior Project, Susan G. Komen For The Cure (Orange County), and Festival of Children Foundation and was held at the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel, CA.  (Photo by Albert Evangelista

Hicks would perform at other charity events during 2010, notably the Dawn of a Dream Gala to benefit the children’s cancer research fund at the University of Minnesota, and the Big Oak Ranch Gala to benefit children in need.

The summer national tour continued well into the fall.  Here, Taylor Hicks takes the stage for the Eat to the Beat concert series at Epcot Center, October 9, 2010.  The band played to a large and enthusiastic crowd at all six scheduled shows, and a 2011 reprise is anticipated.  (Photo by Louise/4tay)

He appeared as a contestant on “Don’t Forget the Lyrics”, October 12, 2010 with a spot on rendition of Journey’s “Open Arms”.  Other national television appearances during the year included “Celebrity Ghost Stories” on the Biography Channel, “The Spirit of Mississippi”, and “The Hollywood Christmas Parade” on the Hallmark Channel.  Local television and radio appearances accompanied each stop of the GREASE national tour.

Taylor Hicks sang “Gran Torino” in honor, and by request, of Clint Eastwood at the November 14 Museum of Tolerance International Film Festival Gala.  Accompanied by Loren Gold on piano, Taylor added harmonica to his performance of the title song from the 2008 film. Pictured here are Taylor Hicks, Rabbi Marvin Hier, Mike Melvoin (partially hidden), Clint Eastwood, Tom Scott, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and George Lopez.  (Photo via Museum of Tolerance)

WorkPlay Theatre was sold out for the December 9 Taylor Hicks holiday show in Birmingham.  Ticket holders waited outside the venue for hours to ensure a spot close to the stage.  (Photo by MacPolski)

An unexpected guest appearance by American Idol season 2 winner Ruben Studdard thrilled the WorkPlay crowd; Hicks and Studdard were all smiles during a duet performance of “Woman’s Gotta Have It”.  (Photo by MacPolski)

A Broadway tour, national concert tour, television appearances, benefit performances, and a commitment to the Gulf Coast and its people produced a busy and highly successful year for Taylor Hicks. 

We just hope to keep up with all the good news in 2011!  Cheers, and a happy and healthy New Year to us all.

Thank you, ma’am; Taylor Hicks joins the Jam

“Seriously? Are you KIDDING me?!”

Annabel sounded incredulous.  Clearly that first question had an answer that should have been obvious.  Sadly, it wasn’t to me.  So I swallowed hard, asked again, and then very patiently, Annabel explained.

By the time we finished talking, I understood.  Jam Cruise is an event of mythical proportion and significant reputation among those who have attended.  Responses from passengers on last year’s Jam Cruise 8 were eerily similar in both content and unrestrained enthusiasm to the Cruise director’s. 

Why should I book a cabin on Jam Cruise?

Annabel: Jam Cruise is the most exciting and luxurious music festival ANYWHERE.  It’s an opportunity to spend five days with like-minded people of all ages, immersed in music.  There are five venues; three different shows run concurrently.  At any one time, you could be listening to electronic bluegrass, funk, rock, blues or soul.  There is non-stop music from 11:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. the next day, every day of the Cruise.  The Jam Room opens at midnight, and some incredible music is made.  You never know who will appear on any given night, but amazing musicians combine to create a sound that is new and surprising.

On Jam Cruise, every passenger has a backstage pass.  There is unprecedented access to artists with autograph sessions and artist based activities.  Artists mix easily and comfortably with the passengers, and after watching your favorite musician onstage, you could find yourself seated next to him/her at dinner that evening.

JC8 passenger “Joker”: Jam Cruise is basically some of the coolest venues I have ever seen all in one place. The longest walk between any of these was 5 minutes. No line to get in; no buzzkill security at the door. I soon discovered one of the great things about Jam Cruise – it is limited by the number of rooms and beds, not by capacity of the venues. Never once on my adventure did I want to see something go down on the boat and not have dance floor space.

You’re up close and personal with the artists.  To add to the fun and weirdness that is Jam Cruise, I set up a sock puppet making class on deck during some downtime.  After a few female passengers began making puppets, keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth walked by the table.  “Hey Kyle, want to make a sock puppet?”  He paused for a second and thought about it, then without a word came over to the table. “Ok, so how do I do this?” Yes, I taught Kyle Hollingsworth how to make a sock puppet for his daughter.  Only on Jam Cruise!

Why do artists return year after year to Jam Cruise?

Annabel: Artists get to perform with other musicians that they never thought they’d have the opportunity to meet.  Friendships are made.  Bands have formed through bonds forged on Jam Cruise.  Artists have gone on tour together after first meeting on the Cruise.  For example, Grace Potter met Sharon Jones onboard; the two soul artists toured together this fall to rave reviews.

Why do passengers return to Jam Cruise?

Annabel: They come back year after year; it’s like a family reunion.  People come from around the United States and from overseas to share the Cruise experience.  Many sign up for next year’s Cruise while still onboard.

Each year the experience is fresh.  We try to book as many new musicians as possible to complement the returning bands.  New faces for 2011 include Anders Osborne, Stockholm Syndrome, Rhythm Devils, and members of the Grateful Dead, among others.

JC8 passengers: The music alone is enough, but it’s more than the music.  It’s a five day party with friends, and the party starts before you’ve even left the dock.  In 2010 Trombone Shorty played the deck and the horns as passengers boarded the ship.  Everyone was excited; there were smiles everywhere.  Jam Cruisers are a friendly bunch; returning passengers are known as “Repeat Offenders” and they go out of their way to welcome newcomers.

Every year there are two themed nights.  Jam Cruisers love costumes. In 2010 the themes were “Superheros and Villains” and ” Funk N Formal”.  Some of the costumes were amazing.

Several special guests are booked to the Cruise each year.  What is their role?

Annabel: Special guests float between music venues, sitting in with various bands and adding their unique perspective.  Guests are free to create and collaborate.  Many of the guests spend time in the Jam Room.

How was Taylor Hicks recruited to Jam Cruise 9?

Annabel: We saw Taylor perform at the Superjam after Widespread Panic at Red Rocks.  It was FABULOUS; he fit right in the mix.  It was meant to be.  Taylor will be a special guest on Jam Cruise.  In addition to playing music, he has agreed to participate in one of our artist based activities.  He’ll be the host of the Gong Show, where passengers have a chance to showcase their talent.  If the gong strikes, they’re gone!

Jam Cruise 9 departs Ft. Lauderdale January 4, 2011.  At last count, only 10 of 1275 cabins on the MSC Poesia remained available.  Here’s the good news: prebooking for 2012’s Jam Cruise 10 has just begun.  You’re right on time!

For more on Jam Cruise:

Excerpt from Joker’s hilarious Jam Cruise 8 recap reprinted with permission; read more here:

Photo credits:

MSC Poesia: Annabel Lukins and Cloud 9 Adventures

Ivan Neville in the Jam Room/Costumed passenger: Paul McLaren; more quality Jam Cruise 8 photos from Mr. McLaren here:

Keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth & sock puppet: The Joker

Musician Taylor Hicks with Karl Denson and Ron Johnson at 7th Annual Rocky Mountain Power Jam:

Taylor Hicks at WorkPlay: Sweet Home Alabama

Recap and photos provided by Louise/4Tay

Just the word WorkPlay evokes tremors of anticipation amongst the fans of Taylor Hicks.  An institution in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, WorkPlay hosts some of the finest blues talent from near and wide.  The two day event in September, 2009 brought fans from all over the US and Canada and for their time and efforts, a more memorable night of Taylor Hicks’ music hadn’t been seen like this since right after he won American Idol.

Fast forward to 2010.  The announcement comes that Taylor is doing a show at WorkPlay.  It’s a Thursday:  check, don’t care.  It’s right before Christmas: check, I gotta go.  Two days off from work needed:  I’m so there.  And so the conversations heard and seen by many on twitter and the fan boards only reinforced what we knew would be true:  if you can get to WorkPlay, you won’t regret it.  EVER.  You’d miss so much.

The stage is set, so to speak, for a night of who knows what?  An opener?  A special guest or two like the last time? Will one Thursday night in December be able to sell tickets?  NOT to worry.  The opener was a 16 year old cancer survivor whose girlfriend was celebrating her birthday on the biggest night of his young life.  Carson James performed a mix of teenage covers and original tunes accompanying himself very ably on an acoustic guitar.  His band was supportive and very competent.  His fans were teenagers who if we dialed back the clock, we would all be there swooning over Frankie Avalon and the Beatles.

Carson was a little edgy at the end of his set because he then had to intro the man, the local music legend, who had reached out to him and prepared him to make this a night to remember.  He did the introduction of his mentor and as Taylor ambled onto the stage, Carson high fived him and they closed in on an almost embrace.  Superstition was the song and when it was Taylor’s turn to play the harp, no matter how much Carson tried to pry it out of Hicks, Hicks wanted to sing some more with Carson and didn’t bring their moment together on stage to a halt of blues blowing harp.  How generous can one man be to have this youngster on the stage to realize his dream and all he wanted to do was keep on singing the duet with the kid?

Carson left and the stage was set up for Taylor’s band of Leif Bondarenko, Brian Less, Jay Smith, Jeff Lopez and Sam Gunderson.  Having ended a successful summer tour in October at Epcot’s Eat to The Beat Concert Series, Taylor and the band played like they never ended the tour.  The band started to open their set until the other brother from Birmingham came onto the stage.

Ruben Studdard’s voice is indescribable.  All I can say is that hearing him sing Woman’s Got to Have It with Taylor:  velvet’s got nothing on Ruben Studdard.  Smooth and bluesy, he complemented Taylor’s growling and dancing as they advised one another to ‘not walk on shaky ground.’

When Ruben entered the stage, the applause was thunderous.  Another performer we knew from AI.  I say we know him because, like Taylor, we relate to his ‘rags to riches’ story.  He ‘s a veteran, no doubt, but the way we saw both of these men from Birmingham on the Idol stage is nothing like what we got to see on Thursday night.  Their mutual admiration brought the house down.

Before we knew it, Ruben Studdard had come and gone, spreading his honey voice across the arena.  I loved that section of the show and no matter what I remember from that night, the two Idol champs, on stage together made all the effort to be there more than worthwhile.

They say good and sometimes bad things come in three’s.  1.  The amazing Carson James.  Brave, independent and childlike, Carson lit up the stage like no other 16 year old I’ve ever seen.  2.  Ruben Studdard connecting his voice to the fans of Taylor who are not Ruuuuuuben fans, for sure.  In my dream of dreams, I’d like to see the two from the ‘Ham tour together but if that never happens, we all got to see a mini tour of sorts with the incomparable Ruben Studdard.

3.  The 3 encores.  There were 3.  3!  After a 10 minute intermission, the band came back on the stage and revved up the already revved up crowd.  If Taylor was attempting to mash two WorkPlay shows into one this year, he very nearly did it doing 3 encores.  And to see Carson on the stage with Taylor in the encore AND Clay Connor was icing on the already sweet red velvet cake.

Do we need to see Taylor on an extended tour or was this the end of the 2010 phase of the moon for our soul man?  Where will he go from here in between his two scheduled casino dates in February and May?  If WorkPlay was an example of what we can expect, then we need to support him in the career he has chosen for himself and built from scratch.  Taylor tweets that he is headed to Nashville to write with Rascal Flatts.  Well, I say go Taylor Hicks because good things come in threes but if you’re a cat like Taylor, you have nine lives.

Taylor Hicks, American Idol, and the Weather Forecast

During a May 2010 visit to Cleveland’s FOX 8 News Taylor Hicks was invited to deliver the weather report.  His charming take on the forecast was a hit, and Taylor subsequently joked “When you’re a musician, you always have to think of a back-up plan; who knows…”.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Let me say upfront that Taylor Hicks will never be your local weatherman, and later I’ll make clear why that back-up plan is not an option.

On the other hand, I do believe that future American Idol hopefuls should consider a stint as a weatherman before standing in the audition queue.  Let me explain.

1) Learn to manage unreasonable fan/media expectations

We’re rarely satisfied with the weather report.  The accuracy is limited, and the farther into the future the weather is predicted, the less likely the forecast will hold true.  One recent article suggested that we hold the weatherman accountable for his/her reports.  Run a comparison in the newspaper or on TV, says the writer, between the previous week’s forecasts and what actually happened.  Give the weatherman a grade.*

A good start, I think, but go further.  Run that comparison, and then consider the accuracy of forecasters in Cleveland versus those in Birmingham, or in Boston.  No matter that the complexity and uncertainty of the weather patterns in those cities may vary.  It doesn’t really matter whether the comparison is fair or appropriate.  I just want the numbers, and I want to report them over and over again.

In this way the aspiring American Idol contestant will be well prepared for unreasonable fan/media expectations, and for newspaper reports that focus on inapt comparisons of units sold, rather than on artistic merit.

2) Practice and perfect vocal performance skills on television

Here is an opportunity for Idol contestants to practice in front of a camera, to acclimate themselves to the glare of the lights and to deliver a memorable performance to the home television audience.  Don’t speak the weather report – sing, or beatbox, or rap it.

3) Establish your own brand

Shifts in the music industry mean that relatively few artists will be able to sustain a career solely based on album and concert ticket sales.  Many Idol alumni have found opportunities on Broadway (Taylor Hicks and Jordin Sparks among others) and in the movies (Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood).  Use the weather report to brand yourself as a multifaceted entertainer; develop your acting, dancing and/or comedic talents.

The weather report could offer a platform to American Idol candidates who need to refine their entertainment skills while building confidence in front of a camera.  For experienced entertainers, that platform isn’t wide or long enough.

During his 2007 post Idol national concert tour, Taylor Hicks celebrated the fact that he was no longer limited to “two minutes of performance time” or interrupted by television commercials.  Take a good look at the length of the televised weather reports shown above.  Yes.  They’re just about two minutes in length.  The average length of a single Taylor Hicks song, performed live in concert?  Oh, I’d say about six minutes.

On any given concert night, several of the songs performed are presented jam band style as the Taylor Hicks band mixes songs within songs.  That simply does not work when delivering the weather report; mixing rain in Birmingham and snow in Boston would produce slush in Washington, or at least a good deal of confusion.

Finally, Taylor does not have the time to devote to satellite weather maps, not while his fans await a new album, and anticipate appearances on screens both big and small.  So I say, and I’ll say it twice, stick to your day job, Taylor Hicks.  Stick to your day job.

 Taylor Hicks Helps Scott with the Weather, posted with vodpod

*Fiction, Fact and the weatherman