Traveling with the Stars: American Idol's Rickey Minor

Rickey Minor is the Emmy-nominated music director of American Idol, which ends its season May 19-20, and his Rickey's Review segment airs on American Idol Extra each Thursday on Fox Reality Channel. The author of There's No Traffic on the Extra Mile has traveled extensively to collaborate with recording artists, including Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Ray Charles and Beyoncé Knowles, and shares his travel highlights and tips with USA TODAY.

Q: Where have you been recently that you liked or were surprised by?

A: Kitzbuhel, Austria. It's known as a major ski destination. I don't ski and it was during the summer. I was surprised at how it still felt like it could be anywhere in the United States in the countryside. It has rolling hills. It could have been Seattle. It was so green. I figured with the snow they must get a lot of green but I was surprised with the food. We stayed up all night long and they just kept various cuisines coming at the Grand SPA Resort A-ROSA, nestled in the mountains. I must have slept like nobody's business. The rooms opened up into the mountains. It's like a little slice of heaven.

Q: What's the best place you've ever visited?

A: The best place is Montreux with the jazz festival and the energy around it. Plus you're right there on the water. I remember playing there one year and my wife and son went. We stayed at this hotel that was just drop dead gorgeous. We had this huge suite. The weather was great. We went bike riding and sailing. There was so much to do and the atmosphere. It was one of the few times I felt like I was on holiday even though I was working because there was such a buzz around town.

Q: What's the most surprising/unexpected place you've ever visited?

A: South Africa. I went with Whitney Houston right after apartheid was abolished so this was historic. I expected the safaris and villages. I thought all of Africa would be like that because all I knew was what the news shows you or infomercials at 3 o' clock in the morning. In Cape Town I was surprised at how crystal clear the water is. And I thought maybe they wouldn't understand me ... But I had some great in-depth conversations, not only regarding politics, but religion and life, that were heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. I was moved. That's a place that I'd like to go and spend some time and get to see a little more.

Q: What's your favorite vacation spot?

A: Italy. The first time I went to Italy it was all about the food. Then it was the food and shopping. But my first real experience of Europe was the siesta. The fact that these people would work and then take a break for four or five hours. They have lunch for three hours then nap for two hours then open back up at 5 and start all over again. What really makes it wonderful with me is this is a country that knows how to live and knows how to love. It is just one big party. And dinner is an event. It's four or five hours easily and it's the whole family. Table for blocks just talking and laughing. That's my favorite spot because I find that a nap in the afternoon suits me.

Q: Can you offer an inside tip or recommendation for your favorite vacation place?

A: Stay at the (One&Only) Palmilla in Cabo. What I like most about it is the staff is all about service. Strangely enough, I don't know they do it, they know all of the guests' names and they have figured a way to be everywhere when you need them but you never see them. I forgot my sneakers. We were going to play tennis. I could barely get in my room and there was a brand new pair of tennis shoes. I just mentioned maybe we'll play tennis. They had the teacher lined up and the car taking me up to the tennis school.