Taylor Hicks ready for Capitol 'Fourth'
For some singers, the "Capitol Fourth" experience can be imposing.
Behind them is the massive National Symphony. In front of them are 300,000 people, plus more watching on PBS.
Just ask Taylor Hicks. Even before his "American Idol" fame, he sang at the Talladega Superspeedway. "It's like Mardi Gras times 10," he said.
Or ask Brian Stokes Mitchell. Lately, he's been singing with the symphonies in Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and more. "It's really fun when you get these incredible musicians behind you," he said.
Both are scheduled for the live July 4 concert, on the Capitol Lawn. So are Jerry Lee Lewis, Huey Lewis, classical stars Hayley Westenra and Harolyn Blackwell, plus more. It's a night of big music, big emotion, big fireworks. It's also a night when Hicks is usually busy somewhere.
"Every 4th of July, I've probably been performing," he said.
In the daytime, he'd take it easy near home in Birmingham, Ala. "We'd usually have barbecues. There are some beautiful lakes back home."
And at night, he would work. He rarely slowed down.
"You really have to love performing," Hicks said. "I've been in clubs where there was no one there; I've done weddings."
That's what helped him on "Idol" in 2006.
"I definitely had a vision," he said. "I had done a lot of performing; I was almost 30."
As "Idol" leaped between decades and genre, Hicks was ready. "That was from a lot of gold I listened to when I was 9 or 10 years old," he said.
Now he's leaping between different worlds. To do the July 4th concert, Hicks gets time off from his current duties, singing the Teen Angel role in Broadway's "Grease." This isn't something that a dentist's son from Alabama could have predicted. Until now, "Rent" was the only show he'd seen on Broadway.
"Luckily, the second show I've seen is one I'm in," he said.
And if Hicks needs any Broadway advice, he can turn to another "Fourth" performer.
Mitchell has done eight Broadway shows, getting Tony nominations for the last four. He won for "Kiss Me Kate" and was nominated for "Ragtime," "King Hedley II" and "Man of La Mancha."
He has kept up his music - despite a long detour.
"I was in San Diego, doing a musical with Greg Harrison," Mitchell said. "The Trapper John' producers came to see him and they decided to have me play Jackpot' Jackson."
Mitchell spent seven years as a TV doctor. He wrote background music for some episodes, but few people knew he could sing. "One episode, I had to sing. I made sure I didn't sing beautifully."
Afterward, he returned to musicals. He was doing "Kiss of the Spiderwoman" when he was approached by brash producer Garth Drabinsky, the brash Canadian producer. "He told me, I have a project. I can't tell you what it is, but when it's ready, I want you for it.'"
There was more waiting and wondering, until he finally heard. This was an adaptation of "Ragtime," focusing on the Coalhouse Walker character. Mitchell would be Coalhouse.
It was a powerhouse role, strong and strident. Mitchell became a Broadway leader. He and his wife (dancer Allyson Tucker) have done several musicals together. Now comes a new phase.
"Since my son was born four-and-a-half years ago, I've tried to just do concerts," said Mitchell, 50. He's flown out for quick shows with orchestras. He'll do that again July 4; this time, he'll be watched by masses on the lawn and on TV.
On the tube:
- What: A Capitol Fourth
- When: July 4.
Where: PBS (check local listings)
Did you know? In addition to the guest stars mentioned above, the event includes host Jimmy Smits and an Olympic tribute from Scott Hamilton. Also: Choral Arts Society of Washington, U.S. Army Herald Trumpets and the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.