‘American Idol’s Taylor Hicks Says He ‘Held On For Dear Life’ During Deadly Tennessee Tornado

Taylor Hicks, the Season 5 winner of ‘American Idol,’ survived the blindsiding tornadoes that cost the lives of 25 people in Tennessee. He has now opened up about the ‘traumatic experience.’

“This tornado seemed like it came out of nowhere,” Taylor Hicks, 43, recalled after tornadoes devastated Middle Tennessee on March 3. American Idol‘s Season 5 winner was right there in Nashville when one of the tornadoes hit, and he retold his “life and death” experience three days later in an interview with PEOPLE. From the beginning, the singer knew that something ominous was happening on that Tuesday morning. “I remember looking outside my window and there was so much lightning, and then the power went off,” Taylor said, calling the power outage “eerie” since the lights didn’t flicker. “It went off immediately in a blink of an eye, [and] that’s when I knew I needed to get into a safe place.”

That safe space was Taylor’s garage, from which he saw “huge pieces of debris flying 100 feet in the air.” His survival instincts kicked in. “I could feel the whole house completely shake and I just had to get into the crawl space and I held on,” he explained. “I heard the debris. I heard the train sound. I held on for dear life.” Taylor even admitted that it felt like he “went through temporary insanity because it’s such a traumatic experience,” since he was left in the dark as to “where the storm is tracking.” Keep in mind that Taylor had to go through all of this without anyone by his side.

“You know what’s interesting — the spiritual aspect of going through it alone,” Taylor continued. “Everyone goes to heaven alone. You’re standing and waiting to get into the pearly gates but everyone stands alone when doing that. When you’re in a life and death experience it’s a very solace mindset. I think what my mind did during those nine seconds is check out. You would almost rather your mind be in a different place than what you’re going through.” Taylor even ventured to say that his experience with the tornado was “the closest anyone can get to death.”

Even though Taylor survived the tragedy, he is still dealing with the tornado’s horrendous consequences. “There were trees snapped. My roof is damaged. My patio furniture was in a tree three blocks from me…Halfway down my alleyway buildings had collapsed and roofs were missing,” he revealed. There’s also the guilt Taylor is now battling with, since he wasn’t one of the deaths in the wake of the tragedy: 25 total, according to USA Today.

“You think about the people who were lost in this tornado too,” he told PEOPLE. “You stand there alive but then you immediately see within 100 yards there was death. That’s where you put things into perspective and you ask ‘What about those that were lost and why you — why did you survive?’”

In Nashville alone, 48 structures “collapsed” and throughout Middle Tennessee, “homes, businesses and schools” were destroyed, USA Today reported. Fifty-thousand customers lost power during the natural hazard, according to the outlet. Another fellow American Idol winner, Carrie Underwood, was also affected by the tornadoes. Although she was safe in New York City when they hit, she revealed on the TODAY show that her husband Miker Fisher and their two sons, Isaiah and Jacob, had to hide in a “safe room” in their Nashville family home, like Taylor. Thankfully, like Taylor as well, everyone is okay.

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