The former American Idol champ returns to Bally’s with his arsenal of roadhouse-style blues and soul intact
By John Katsilometes
Deep into his summerlong run at Indigo at Bally’s, one of Taylor Hicks’ new friends in the Las Vegas entertainment community offered a suggestion: Make Indigo a real roadhouse saloon. Stack some hay bales around the room. Sprinkle crushed peanut shells across the floor. You know, for the authenticity of it all. “We’re not going to have peanuts on the floor, at least not yet,” Hicks says, “and you can subtract the roadhouse brawls.”
The Indigo is once again the haunt to find Hicks in Las Vegas as the season five champion of American Idol started his latest headlining gig Oct. 17 and plays through Nov. 12 and again Dec. 3-16. Additional dates in a yearlong contract with Caesars Entertainment are to be announced. Hicks is the only American Idol champ performing a residency in Las Vegas, and his 2006 victory was remarkable for those he topped en route to the title: Chris Daughtry, Katharine McPhee, Bucky Covington and Kellie Pickler were all contestants the season Hicks was crowned.
Still playing off the series’ popularity, the 36-year-old Hicks performed at Harrah’s in Reno, Nev., over the summer and also made a memorable appearance in Tampa, Fla., at the Republican National Convention, singing “Takin’ It to the Streets” just before Clint Eastwood’s unforgettable empty-chair conversation with an imaginary President Obama. He’s played all across the country, but Hicks has been eager to return to Bally’s. “I love the atmosphere in Vegas,” he says.
Hicks has taken to Las Vegas with uncommon ease. The principal reason is that Las Vegas is a city brimming with great live entertainment, a quality Hicks deeply appreciates. “I’m pretty nostalgic about the history of Las Vegas, when it comes to entertainment, the Rat Pack and Elvis and all of the great entertainers who have played Vegas over the years,” says Hicks, who is particularly fond of Elvis Presley, given the King’s Southern roots (Hicks hails from Birmingham, Ala.). “There’s a great entertainment community in Vegas and some great live entertainment, in my opinion, and it’s important to keep that nostalgia going.”
Boosted by his robust, five-piece Soul Patrol backing band, he blends originals with covers that are alternately bone-rattling and heartfelt. In the mix are Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” a version of “That’s Life” (closely associated with Frank Sinatra) and Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City,” which was a highlight from his run on Idol. Hicks also soars through two Presley classics, “In the Ghetto” and the show-closing “Viva Las Vegas.” A moving moment is the soldier’s ballad, “19,” a Hicks original.
There will be some tweaking to the show that ran for eight weeks over the summer at Bally’s. He talks of expanding the room’s video presentation (a highlight in the summer run was a fired-up taped intro by Stephen Colbert). A new album, to be released next year, is also in the offing.
“We’re going to be playing some new material and using some new musical ideas, especially now that a new record is on the horizon,” he says. “We’ve got some new original material for the record, and new covers we’re working with.”
Hicks is intrigued by the raw energy that emanates from Indigo. “We could do a live record from the Indigo,” he says. “I do like that idea.” Such a recording might be helped by strategic static—in the form of crushed peanuts.