Sorry to toot my own horn here, but BEEP BEEP! I have to gloat and say I've got a pretty good track record when it comes to predicting American Idol winners. OK, I admit I was never all that into the rather personality-less Carrie Underwood (after Constantine's inexplicable season 4 elimination in favor of Votefortheworst.com posterboy Scotty "The Body" Savol, I became a "Boter," i.e., a full-fledged member of runner-up rocker Bo Bice's Bice Squad). But Kelly, Ruben, and Fantasia were all early faves of mine. However, I am especially proud of being a Taylor Hicks supporter from the instant he reared his silver head, back when many viewers (and, come to think of it, Simon Cowell) were still writing him off as a bar-band novelty act no better than, say, Bruce Willis's "Bruno" alter-ego or Blues Brothers stand-in Jim Belushi.
Oh, how very wrong they were. I could tell right away that Taylor was the real deal. While theater-schooled contestants like the prettily polished yet vaguely unlikable Katharine McPhee seemed to be on this show just to be "famous"--like, they could be just as happy singing on Broadway, striking a pose on America's Next Top Model, or getting a recurring role on Veronica Mars, just as long as they somehow got their name in lights--Taylor was clearly in it for the MUSIC, man.
From the moment his harmonica-bleating appearance on the show caused the search term "Joe Cocker" to spike about 3,289 percent in the Yahoo! Buzz Index (the result of Simon Cowell comparing him to the raspy, spasmodic classic rocker), I knew that Taylor (despite, or perhaps because of, all his drunk-dad-at-the-wedding charm) had something special. And when he crooned his favorite tune of the past 10 years, "Trouble" by obscure folkie Ray Lamontagne--and, defying all logic, didn't end up in the bottom three that week after such a leftfield song choice--I became convinced that he had the competition sewn up.
No one really believed me. I even bet a foolhardy co-worker $25 that Taylor would beat Kat on the finale (I was willing to up the ante even more, until my unflagging confidence in Taylor caused my co-worker to wisely back down). Nope, my faith in the Soul Patrol never wavered.
So, months after Taylor's deserved landslide victory on Idol (I'd like to think my carpal-tunnel-inducing repeat dialing on finale night had something to do with that), I jumped at the chance to interview the soulman in person at his L.A. manager's office. (Click here for a full transcript of our conversation.) And then, in another one of the bizarre, pinch-me moments in my career, our paths crossed again, when I accompanied the Silver Fox himself up to Yahoo!'s Silicon Valley headquarters to play a charity BBQ for the Yahoo! Employee Foundation.
Parked in the passenger loading zone at the San Jose Airport, in a mini-van so poorly matched for my 5-foot-0 frame that I practically needed to sit on three phone books to see over the steering wheel, I awaited Taylor's arrival, hoping and praying I'd be able to maneuver this tank-like vehicle safely down the seven miles of highway between here and Yahoo!'s Sunnyvale compound. Because if I was responsible for the vehicular death or destruction of America's salt-&-pepper sweetheart, I'd probably have to join the Witness Protection Program, lest I be hunted down and skinned alive by vengeful Soul Patrollers.
Luckily, after some difficulty finding Mr. Hicks (he was incognito in a baseball cap; he literally had to get in the middle of the street and jump up and down and yell into his cell phone until I spotted him), we journeyed to Sunnyvale without incident. Thank gawd for power-steering and automatic transmissions, I guess. Along the way, I was flattered that Taylor remembered our previous interview ("You're the one who asked the really good questions," he said--I guess that's a rare interview circumstance for him, sadly), and we passed the time chatting about Amy Winehouse, his current favorite artist. Apparently he'd like to record a duet with her, and I for one think it's a smashing idea. (Amy: If you're reading this, please give this collaboration some thought. I'll buy you a bottomless pint of Guinness if you accept Taylor's proposal, and something tells me the promise of free booze might be all it'll take to twist your scrawny little tattooed arm.)
Finally we arrived at Yahoo!, and I sure felt all important 'n' shiz when I drove up to the security kiosk, announced I had Taylor Hicks in the backseat, and was whisked off to a private, orange-coned parking spot quicker than the pre-rehab Lindsay Lohan used to be whisked off to a bottle-service table at Hyde. Yep, today I felt like a real Yahoo! A-lister. Taylor hopped out of the van as I was still struggling to park it, scurried up to Yahoo!'s outdoor stage...and suddenly the Yahoo! quad looked like the scene of the Beatles' JFK landing in 1963. People were carrying on like that sobbing Sanjaya fangirl from Idol season 6, cameras were flashing everywhere paparazzi-style, and when Taylor greeted the masses with a resounding Yahooooooo! yodel (a real pro, he later managed to skillfully slip the word "Yahoo!" into nearly every song he sang), I swear, I thought some of the Yahoos were going to faint.
But as quickly as it began, it was all over. Six songs and one severely congested cluster-eff of an autograph signing later, Taylor and his bandmates were piling back into the van, and we were headed back to the airport for our return L.A. flight. And it was there, in the security line at the San Jose airport, that my truly magical Idol moment happened.
Taylor turned around, stared me down, and practically ordered in that smoky voice of his:
"INTERVIEW ME AGAIN."
"I want you to interview me again someday. You ask good questions."
Well, golly. In my decade of interviewing everyone from baby bands and also-rans to superstars like Coldplay and Radiohead, no artist had ever requested an encore interview before. How could I say no? What Taylor wants, Taylor gets. If he ever puts another record out, that is.
To be continued...