By Marty Clear
For countless American Idol contenders, a good showing on the country's favorite talent contest has been the start of a very brief career.
Season 5 champ Taylor Hicks is determined that his star will glow for years to come.
"This is a marathon, not a sprint, as far as I'm concerned," Hicks said in a phone interview from Fort Lauderdale. "I'm just at the beginning of the marathon."
He was in South Florida with the national tour of Grease, which comes to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center for eight shows starting Tuesday. Hicks plays Teen Angel, a small but prominent role mostly associated with Frankie Avalon, who played Angel in the movie and in several tours.
Hicks said he had his choice of Broadway roles, but Teen Angel was the right role at the right time. He's the biggest name in show, and he's the one who gets the hype in all the advertisements. But because it's a smaller role, he doesn't have to carry a big load in his first Broadway show.
"I had been offered roles previously, before Grease, but I turned them down," Hicks said. "I wanted to start kind of small. I wanted to get my feet wet, learn the business first, not just dive right in."
Hicks' feet were pretty dry for two years until he started in Grease last year.
Fresh off his Idol win in 2006 — Hicks' legion of "Soul Patrol" fans gave him the crown despite an unenthusiastic Simon Cowell — he got the coveted record deal and debut self-titled album. It sold a respectable 700,000-plus copies, but he didn't fare as well as other Idol winners and was dumped by his label in 2008.
His recording career stalled until he started his own label, Modern Whomp, this year and in March released his new album The Distance, spawning two singles.
Which is another reason Hicks likes being Teen Angel. Just like Avalon did, Hicks gets to do a miniconcert of his music at the end of the show. He'll do his new single Seven-Mile Breakdown, which allows Hicks' fans to hear him sing something other Teen Angel's sole song, Beauty School Dropout.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The names of the actors who play the lead roles in the national tour of Grease are incorrect in today's Weekend section, which is printed in advance. Eric Schneider and Emily Padgett play Danny and Sandy in the production, which comes to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts center next week. Different actors who won those roles by appearing on NBC's You're the One That I Want were in the production on Broadway.