Juli Cragg Hilliard

The silver Idol is soul in control

Hey, Taylor Hicks, now that you're no longer a poor musician -- scrounging along on bar gigs, wedding receptions and the odd stint as the Easter Bunny -- what have you bought?

"A camera," said the reigning "American Idol" contest winner and People magazine hottest bachelor by phone from Los Angeles. "To document all the work that I've been doing that's not allowing me to buy anything."

No mansion? No cars? As it turns out, the prematurely gray 30-year-old's years of financial struggle left their mark.

"I think I've gotten into a groove now that I feel guilty when I buy something. I need to get out of that train of thought," he said.

With his new, self-titled album gone platinum, sold-out stops on a tour that starts this week in Florida and constant appearances on national television, it looks like his fortune won't sour anytime soon. (Thursday's show at the Tampa Theatre is sold out, but tickets are still available through Ticketmaster for shows in Jacksonville and Coral Springs.)

Busy with rehearsals and interviews, Hicks has somehow found time to follow the new season of "Idol" -- which he'd never seen before he was on it.

"I am watching now," he said. "I'm enjoying being a viewer of 'American Idol.' "

He called current contenders "a good crop," but passed on naming early favorites. "We'll have to see how it pans out," he said. "It's a crash course in show business, in a very short amount of time."

Hicks feels for would-be Idols facing judges' criticism. "I was one of those people last year. I understand how that goes."

He endured some brutal analysis from love-him-or-hate-him Simon Cowell, who, after one of Hicks' more physical performances, asked if the singer was drunk. What does Hicks think about Cowell now?

"I think he's still Simon. Simon Scowl. I think he's a great guy -- wink, wink."

At Hicks' concerts, fans can expect to hear a musical style less like what they experienced on "Idol" and much like the grittier, unannounced club appearances he made after hours during those summer months. "What I was performing visually on 'American Idol,' I've been doing for years," Hicks said. "Musically, it was a little different, but visually, no."

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