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Industry experts on selling Taylor Hicks

The oldest "Idol" winner might prove a tough sell, with his strange dance moves and odd fashion sense.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Despite his Jay Leno look, a soulful voice that recalled another era and a manic, rhythm-less dancing style, Taylor Hicks beat the odds (and a comely Katharine McPhee) to become this year’s “American Idol.”

Hicks emerged as the clear favorite in what was perhaps the nation’s most watched (and hyped) competition outside the Super Bowl. But while there may be millions of fans in the “Soul Patrol” — the frenzied fan base of the Alabama native — Hicks faces a more difficult challenge ahead as he tries to make the leap from reality television sensation to established hitmaker.

Even Clive Davis, the record mogul and legend who has guided the careers of previous “Idol” winners Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard and Carrie Underwood, says the transition is not as simple as it seems.

“They then enter the world of making records,” said Davis. “It’s a totally different world.”

The very things that made Hicks so endearing and engaging to a television audience might be a hard sell in the pop world.

First of all, there’s his advanced age — well, advanced for “Idol.” At 29, he’s the oldest winner, and while the pop world has recently become less youth-centric — James Blunt and Daniel Powter are two recent acts to make a splash despite not being part of the Clearasil set — Hicks’ soulful voice, which perfectly suited classic soul records, may not translate easily on pop radio.

“I think his personality and his sound is a little bit mature,” says Devo “Springsteen” Harris, a Grammy-winning songwriter and producer who has worked with Kanye West and John Legend.

“I just don’t see Taylor Hicks sound right over hard drums or bright production, which I think are prevalent in pop music.”

Fashion sense and dance style need workThen there’s his herky-jerky dancing — clearly he might need Paula Abdul’s help on the choreography side.

And don’t get us started on the outfits.

“I didn’t like his clothes and neither would you,” says Steve Stoute, a former music industry exec whose company, Translations Marketing, links A-list music stars with commercial products.

“If your favorite recording star had those clothes on, you wouldn’t even go there.”

But Stoute is quick to add that he believes Hicks will make the successful, platinum jump from “Idol” like his predecessors, thanks in part to Davis, who has molded superstars like Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys and jump-started the careers of veterans including Barry Manilow, Rod Stewart and Aretha Franklin.

“He’s definitely, definitely got the vocals to compete on the big stage, which is the recording industry,” says Stoute. “I believe Clive Davis can fill in the gaps.”

Davis, who plans to sit down with Taylor very soon to map out his debut album, says Hicks, like past “Idol” winners, has charisma and a unique singing style that will help him establish his pop audience.

“He definitely has his own sound,” says Davis. “He does have that gift, you know who it is when you hear him.”

‘It comes down to the song’John Shanks, a Grammy-winning producer of the year who has worked with artists ranging from Sheryl Crow to Bon Jovi, says the material that Hicks picks for his CD, due out in the fall, will be the key.

“It comes down to the song, and it’s how you produce that song. As long as your showcasing his voice, you have something that people can connect to, that’s gonna work,” he said.

Stoute echoed that sentiment.

“Now that we’ve gotten beyond him singing covers and other people’s hits, it’s time to see how he takes an original song, owns it and makes it his,” he said. “That’s going to be the true test of how he does in the recording industry ... how well he embraces new material.”

And what will that material be? Adult contemporary? Pop? R&B? Classic soul?

Davis says that can’t be determined until he talks with Hicks and sees what kind of music Hicks prefers, and whether he plans to contribute in the songwriting process.

And Shanks says the combination of Hicks’ quirks — and his talent — may be what makes him the next pop idol.

“I think people relate to him because he was willing to put himself out there very honestly, and people want someone who is maybe a little left of center; they want a variety,” said Shanks.

“Here’s this guy, gray-haired, 29 years old, an underdog — until he opens his mouth,” he adds. “It’s nice when talent shines through.”