Big Vinny Credits ‘Biggest Loser’ With Saving His Life
Big Vinny (whose real name is Vincent Hickerson), spent several years being known as the funny, fat guy who danced across the stage in the group Trailer Choir. But all that changed when his weight reached an astonishing high of 426 lbs., and he faced a serious health crisis. The singer-songwriter realized his life was in jeopardy, so he boldly put his performing career on the back burner and became a contestant on NBC’s hit show, ‘The Biggest Loser.’
Vinny may not have won ‘Loser’ — he placed in the Top 3 within his competing group and lost by just a three pound difference — but he definitely came out a winner. (The proof is in the before-and-after picture below!) The Boot sat down with the singer-songwriter to talk about his brave decision, his weight-loss journey, and what life looks like as a healthier, slender person.
What made you decide to go on ‘The Biggest Loser’?
Back in February, on Super Bowl Sunday, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. I knew I was in love with my girlfriend, and knew I wanted to ask her to marry me, but I was too scared to do that because of where I had gotten with my health. So I said, ‘I gotta do something, I gotta lose weight.’ Two days later, sure enough, [a former contestant] who is a friend of mine called me and said, “Hey, you should be on ‘The Biggest Loser,’” and I said, “Hey, I think I will.” Mainly, it’s the fact that I need to make my health better and I need to focus on the rest of my life, as opposed to being this 400 lb. break-dancer who was going to die in two years.
How did you feel when you first arrived at the ranch?
It was exciting. I know people have come here and lost hundreds of pounds, and I knew it was a great place to be for what I wanted to accomplish. But, also, I like to be around my friends and family and all that stuff, so it was hard to be there and not see them. It was exciting and scary and sad all at the same time.
What was the most difficult part about being on ‘The Biggest Loser’?
It was being away from my friends and family, and not being on stage. Every day is the same thing: you wake up, you eat right, you work out. You wake up, you eat right, you work out. It was definitely cool on certain days when we had ten people there, like [Olympic gold medalist] Apohlo Ono and we had challenges and things like that, but not being around my friends was hard on me.
What did your Trailer Choir partner, Butter [Marc Fortney], say about your decision to appear on the show?
He supported me 100 percent. At first, I was feeling selfish, because if l leave that means Butter can’t tour, which means our band members can’t tour, which means none of these guys are making money. But in order for us to have a future, I have to be alive. So, I can either leave for one summer and knock this out, or I can not be here a couple years from now. Butter looked at me and said, “I want you to be around for a long time and I want you to be here, so I’m all for it.”
You were very open on ‘The Biggest Loser’ about your traumatic childhood, which included abuse at the hands of your stepfather, and how that influenced your physical health. Was it hard to share something so personal?
I never thought it had affected me as bad as it really did, because I felt like I got through that, but sometimes just because you got through something doesn’t mean you’re over it. With the guys at the ranch, I wrote down my physical strength and then I started dealing with my mental strength. I realized there was something I hadn’t dealt with, which is how much I resented my mom for letting that happen to me. How much it did make me want to eat because I honestly thought if I was bigger than him, he couldn’t hurt me anymore. So when I started dealing with those issues, that’s when the weight really started coming off, and that’s when I realized I had put this on partly because I had never dealt with those issues in my life.
What made you decide to go public with that part of your story?
Nobody knew that about me. Everybody thinks I’m always in a good mood, always happy, always having a good time. Nobody ever would think I was going through this, but I thank God now that I shared my story so that maybe I can share with others that just because you start out in a bad situation doesn’t mean you have to end up there.
You made it into the final four on ‘The Biggest Loser,’ but didn’t complete the marathon. In spite of losing an impressive 28 lbs. since your previous weigh-in, you didn’t lose enough to remain in the competition. Do you have any regrets about the outcome?
I’ll never run a marathon again. I understand it’s a physical challenge and all of that, but to me … there are some people that are good at running, some people that are good at lifting weights, some people that are good at swimming. For me, I’m good at the lifting weights part, and I always have been, but I’m not super fast for long distances. I’m super fast for about ten yards. So a marathon wasn’t something I would do or would even enjoy, but the sense of accomplishment, that was huge. It wasn’t something I would choose to do just because I want to run a marathon, but the way I felt afterwards was very accomplished, and very satisfied and that’s something great and unbelievable. To go from running a mile in the desert to here I am running a marathon in the desert is unbelievable.
You became engaged to your longtime girlfriend, Lori Diaz, while on a date at the Grand Ole Opry, as part of the show. How did you two meet?
We were at a club in Nashville dancing. She was out with her friends, and I was out being me, dancing. I saw her that night — she was wearing a zebra print dress. I love it when someone can be a little bit loud, have a little fun, because I’m that way. As soon as I saw her, I thought, “I’ve got to talk to this girl.” She had a boyfriend, of course, and she was very loyal, which I love about her. Over the next few years, we developed our relationship after she had broken up with her boyfriend.
How does she support you in your quest to stay healthy, now that the show is over?
She comes and works out with me. She goes to boot camps with me. She continuously reminds me that I need to eat right. I don’t even need to be reminded of that but she always says, “We’ve got to get you chicken, we’ve got to get you broccoli, we’ve got to get you asparagus.” She does all my shopping. She tries to get me as much organic stuff as we can get. She’s all about it. She’s all about me being as healthy as possible.
What are you doing to stay in shape now?
I fell in love with going to boot camp … I do them every single day for an hour when I’m in town. I fell in love with spin-biking and regular biking, so I do a lot of that. I don’t really like to hike that much, but my girlfriend does, so I do that. Eighty percent of your health is just the way you eat. I’m continuing the diet I was on. It’s a good diet. It’s great food. There’s plenty of flavor and taste and everything. I plan to continue eating correctly and making the right decision every single day.
If I placed a plate of brownies and french fries in front of you, and a plate of fruit and vegetables, which would you choose now?
Well the fruits and the vegetables now. … It’s not that I don’t like that other stuff, because I do. You don’t stop liking brownies just because you’re eating healthy now. But what you do, is your mind knows what happens when you eat those brownies. I know where it got me. I know why I was sitting in the hospital in February. With all that, the right decision for me is to continue eating healthy.
How are your friends and family reacting to the new, thinner you?
Most of my buddies are in pretty good shape, and they were always wanting me to get in better shape as well. My buddies that are not in good health and not in good shape, they’ve all decided that they want to be healthy, too, so some of them are coming to work out with me. Some of them are on diets and trying to get themselves right. I’m trying to be an inspiration, and to help them with their journey. It doesn’t even have to be weight loss. If it’s something they aspire to do, if I can motivate them to realize they can do it, through what I did on ‘The Biggest Loser,’ then I think that’s a great thing.
Now that ‘The Biggest Loser’ is over, you can focus your energy on Trailer Choir. What can fans expect from the band in the new year?
We started our own label, Hollaville Records. We may be tying up with another label and do a partnership thing as far as promotions staff and things like that. ‘Love Me First’ is our first single. It’s all about my journey, and how I had to put myself first and love myself first before I could expect anyone else to, or give true love to anyone else. The song is really awesome. It’s written by the Warren Brothers and Butter, who was inspired by what I was doing to go write that song. First time I heard that I started crying. It hit every emotion that I had no idea was there.
When can fans expect new music from Trailer Choir?
We’re probably going to do a six-song EP that will come out in March or April. When you listen to ‘Love Me First,’ you’ll see that the new direction is also the focus … I’m not a 400-lb. break dancer anymore, so it’s going to be a little different on stage. I’m still going to be the wild, crazy one on stage, and having fun like I always have, but I won’t necessarily be the spectacle image anymore. We’re going to show off a little more of our songwriting.
Now that you are healthier, what else would you like to accomplish?
I want to have a couple kids. I want to be a major act. I want to have a platinum record. I want to be in movies. I want to make my own movies. And I think I can accomplish that in the next ten years. I think the brand of Big Vinny, or Skinny Vinny, whatever I decide to call it, that brand will be as big as Kenny Chesney is.
I’m working on my movie career and getting that started. My biggest goal has always been in acting and film. I’ve always wanted to be in a movie of some sort. I want to be an entertainer, I don’t want to just be a singer. I want to make people smile in as many ways as possible. I signed with [L.A.-based entertainment lawyer] Cindy Farrelly Gesner, the sister of the Farelly Brothers. They did ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ ‘There’s Something about Mary,’ ‘Kingpin.’ The first thing we’re going for is to try and get me in the movie ‘Dumb and Dumber 2.’ There’s a pretty good shot that I’ll get in. It’s not guaranteed or anything, but it’s definitely a good possibility.
[Music producer] Nathan Chapman (Taylor Swift) has talked to me about doing some things, and we recorded a song. That’s in the making, but right now mostly I’m focused on Trailer Choir and getting that going again. We were doing so well when I left … I think in my life I want to do several albums that are on my own. And Butter will probably do some on his own, but we’ll always have Trailer Choir.