It's not about fame, it's about having your voice heard. Given the overwhelming success of American Idol and now knock-off shows such as NBC's The Voice, the facade of having your voice heard, especially if it's truly worth hearing, is omnipresent among the media. However, most artists worth the salt on their skin know that there's a price that is paid when commercial success becomes the goal. The world owns you if achieved and your "voice" becomes just a talking head among the masses.
In today's under-budgeted and overly politicized arts industry, it is not just difficult to "make it," it's damn near impossible. And when I say "make it" I mean working until all of the traditional adult responsibilities are covered without losing sight of who you are and were and who you want to be.
Recently I came across a living, breathing, bonafide definition of success. As a matter of fact he has tailored his success to fit the real version of himself. A rare treat indeed. And boy was I impressed, surprised and kicked off of the music critics "purist" throne.
Taylor Hicks, the American Idol Season 5 winner, started on the show as the underdog. Simon Cowell wanted nothing to do with him during the audition (Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson having the good sense to see past whatever blinders Simon wore that day) yet Taylor poured his heart out just to get his voice heard. In the end every musician that season had to eat his bluesy, talent laden dust. Now, an admitted five seasons later, people are asking questions ... where is Taylor? His name has seemingly disappeared from mass media (no scandals, no gossip ... tsk, tsk) and his music has dwindled from commercial radio stations.
Fortunately, I found him.
While covering the Telluride Jazz Festival I had the distinct opportunity of not only hearing Taylor along with his Little Memphis Blues Band but meeting him, albeit for only a brief exchange. But what I saw on stage and later during a jam at the Sheridan Opera House was NOT the Idol version of Hicks. Instead, the real Taylor Hicks made an unannounced appearance. My jaw dropped when I realized that this was the same shy, syrupy sweet man during the American Idol audition. After seeing him in Telluride, it was quite clear that his dream has not suffered and this life, his life, is working out well. More importantly, he isn't selling out to anyone. Taylor has stayed true even with his fateful Idol win. He did not play the commercial card to the extent as his runner-up Kat McPhee. It's clear that Taylor maintains two-fold the talent of his AI opponents. His hard working heart is sewn into the quilt of all-things Americana, the blues and living "the" dream.
To watch him perform is to live. There's passion, excitement and a clear message to anyone who's ever wanted to be bigger than their beginning, that all things are possible if only you stay true to yourself. Don't play. Be honest with yourself and everyone else too. Leaving that path known as the straight and narrow is a disservice to all involved. This isn't about a single work, it's about living a life regardless of the expectation of others. And in this short life, opportunity, especially one as grand as American Idol, doesn't present itself to most of us.
The only bedfellows that lie next to artists at the end of the day are regret, guilt, and shame when you live in a country that believes in cubicles more than it does classical music and collections of rare art. Notions of what is "good" are skewed through mass media outlets and those photoshopped lives most of us live. But as jazz legend Tom Harrel once said, "...there's a loneliness where art leads you, and sometimes it isn't always fun, but the reward is always there." Hats off to Taylor for proving the masses wrong, for tailoring a dream to reality and giving us all something to sing for.