Meat Loaf, on the other hand, was standing right there in the thick of things looking exactly like you'd imagine Meat Loaf to look—big, bold, and more than a little wild-eyed. Toni Braxton—with whom I'd be singing the Elvis Presley classic "In the Ghetto" later in the show—looked lovely, and couldn't have been nicer. Toni was even kind enough to bring me a gift she thought would be perfect for this moment in my life, a money clip.
"Taylor, I got you a money clip because you're going to need it," Toni said sweetly. "You're going to have a lot of money to fill this with." Of course, I was way too embarrassed to tell her that, right then, all I had to fill that clip was a bunch of five- and ten-dollar bills—and a pretty small bunch at that. Believe me, you don't get rich being on reality TV unless you win—and maybe not even then. Still, I appreciated Toni's thoughtfulness and optimism. Stars weren't just lining up to be on the show tonight— we even had stars joining the audience, hooked on the excitement just like everyone else. For instance, the world's most beloved lifeguard, David Hasselhoff, was out front, as were a couple thousand other folks including my dad, Brad Hicks, his second wife, Linda, and my younger half brother, Sean. Our three famous judges—Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, and Simon Cowell, who might best be described as infamous— were also taking their places, attracting cheers and occasional catcalls from the crowd. Seemingly everywhere were executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, whose jobs, I'd come to learn, were as vague and ever-changing as they were important.
Debbie Williams—one of our stage managers, a little woman with a big personality who early on helped me figure out how to play to a TV camera the way I played to audiences in southern clubs and roadhouses—came over to tell me some breaking news. Debbie let me know that we'd have to rehearse one of the numbers during a commercial break. We'd simply run out of time to rehearse all the numbers in this two-hour show. That's just the way things sometimes went on Idol. We were all doing so much—and doing it so quickly—that we were continually in danger of falling behind.
Even during the show's quieter moments—and there weren't all that many—being on American Idol felt like riding some crazy bullet train. The problem was, you were never sure if you'd get thrown off the train. That's the thing about reality TV—it offers a unique crash course in fame, one that can end suddenly and painfully. As you might imagine, the whole experience can be thrilling, exciting, and a little scary—a real trip in every sense of the word. Somehow, to the surprise of a whole lot of naysayers— the sort I'd been facing most of my life—I'd actually made it to this final destination, the Big Show, the Idol finale. In the end, it had all come down to just Katharine McPhee and myself. The two of us didn't talk much to each other as we awaited the big decision that evening. It was nothing personal, though. Truth be told, I'd been living inside my head most of the show, and possibly most of my life. I liked Katharine and knew that she'd worked hard to get this far. Plus, let's face it, she was pretty easy on the eyes, and it was more fun looking at her than Chris Daughtry.