Newly crowned "American Idol" Taylor Hicks is getting ready to hit the road with the American Idols Live! tour, but what he's really hot to do is get to work on his first album, which is slated for re

Newly crowned "American Idol" Taylor Hicks is getting ready to hit the road with the American Idols Live! tour, but what he's really hot to do is get to work on his first album, which is slated for release this fall via 19 Recordings/Arista.

"I'm really excited," says Hicks, who won this year's "Idol" competition last month, after 43 million viewers tuned into the fifth season finale. "There's gonna be some really, really great things on the album. I've got some secret stuff that I'm completely stoked about and I know everybody else will be, too."

Not surprisingly, Hicks isn't revealing any of those secrets. "I'm just really excited about some of the stuff that I've heard through the grapevine and some of the stuff I've received," he says. "Hopefully it'll be a great album."

The game plan now is for Hicks to record his vocals after the 60-date tour wraps up in late September, but the Alabama native says that he may hit the studio during some "gaps" in the itinerary as well.

As the oldest-ever "Idol" champ at 29, Hicks -- who previously played in bar and wedding/bar mitzvah bands in the South -- is confident that he's perhaps more mature and better prepared to handle the pressures that come with his new status.

"I think you need experiences to connect with the audience," he explains, "'cause the audience has had its experiences. So anything you can draw comparisons to and believe in and be on the same page with your [fans], the better off you're going to be."

And even though he's received suggestions about coloring his trademark salt-and-pepper hair, Hicks says he'll stay with the gray. "People have tried to steer me another direction from a color aspect," he notes, "but what you see is what you get."

Hicks' first single, "Do I Make You Proud" b/w the Doobie Brothers' "Takin' It To the Streets," is just out; 19/Arista is donating $0.25 per CD single, $0.15 per digital download and $0.20 per ringtone to the American Red Cross. The American Idols Live! tour gets underway July 5 in Manchester, N.H.