From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
At a photo shoot just off I-40 in Nashville, a newly svelte Taylor Hicks is gazing beyond the freeway with a dreamy smile. "I'm looking," he says with a wink, "at that White Castle over there."

These days, last year's American Idol champ, 30, doesn't eat much White Castle. When a big preshow meal last fall made him feel "so full I couldn't move around onstage," the Alabaman—currently on a 53-city tour to promote his self-titled album—ditched fast food and such southern comforts as fried chicken in favor of salads, brown rice, fish and one unlikely dinner staple. "Chicken noodle soup is my [usual]. It's good for your throat. It's also comforting, but it's light," he says, opening a cupboard on his tour bus to reveal a generous supply. But he's not completely denying himself: A day off from the tour, he says, "is kind of like my one sin day. I look for chocolate cake. If you're gonna do it, you might as well do it that way!" At about 193 lbs.—22 lighter than he was on Idol—the 6'1" Hicks is the same weight as when he played high school basketball. "The fans who come to my shows mean a lot to me," he says. "I want to give them a good look."

With his new eating habits came a serious exercise regimen. Hicks runs for 45 minutes every other day, no matter where he is. "I just take off running, with a hat on," he says. And when covering up his distinctive gray mop, "I've walked through a thousand fans and nobody notices." But if you do spot Hicks in a crowd, try to keep an eye on him. "I'm scared about running," he says dryly. Why? "Because I might not ever come back! I would be like Forrest Gump: Run all over the country... pop up in some cool coffee house in Seattle with just my guitar."

Aside from the running, "I use a lot of the stage as exercise," says the singer, whose uninhibited dancing on Idol led Simon Cowell to compare him to the stereotypical drunk uncle at a wedding. There seem to be no hard feelings: Hicks calls Cowell "a straight-up dude" and his own dance style "signature me ... it's original and it's authentic." Plus, it's more cardio: "I wear jackets, and with those lights, I'm sweating off, like, two lbs. a night!"

215 lbs.
MAY 24, 2006

193 lbs.
MARCH 8, 2007