Taylor Hicks has a new perspective on life after surviving the deadly Tennessee tornadoes.

The season 5 American Idol winner tells PEOPLE he was watching television at his Nashville home early Tuesday morning when he went through the “traumatic” ordeal that he says felt like a near-death experience.

“This tornado seemed like it came out of nowhere,” he explains. “I remember looking outside my window and there was so much lightning, and then the power went off.”

Hicks, 43, describes the way the power went off as “eerie,” explaining that “it was not a flickering outage. It went off immediately in a blink of an eye, [and] that’s when I knew I needed to get into a safe place.”

The singer rushed down to his garage for safety, where he witnessed “huge pieces of debris flying 100 feet in the air” through a window, and quickly realized that a tornado was ravaging through his community.

“I could feel the whole house completely shake and I just had to get into the crawl space and I held on,” he recalls. “I heard the debris. I heard the train sound. I held on for dear life.”

“There for a moment, it’s almost like I went through temporary insanity because it’s such a traumatic experience because you don’t know at that point where the storm is tracking,” he continues.

During that time, Hicks says he had a surprisingly calm mentality even though he was by himself and preparing for the worst.

“You know what’s interesting — the spiritual aspect of going through it alone,” he explains. “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,” Hicks continues. “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.”

“That’s the closest anyone can get to death,” he adds. “I guess the mind prepares you for death and I think that’s what my mind was doing. I just remember saying, ‘Oh God, Oh God.’ I said a prayer.”

After the winds subsided and the storm had passed, the American Idol alum went outside to survey the damage and check on his neighbors. Surprisingly, he recalls, the skies were clear but debris covered his entire neighborhood.

“There were trees snapped,” Hicks says. “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.”

As Hicks prepares to rebuild his roof and community, he says the terrifying experience has left a lasting impact on the way he views life.

“It puts things into perspective on your life and how small we are in the grand scheme of things,” he explains. “Since this has happened I’ve done it every day. Things could be worse. You’re just lucky to live another day. Whatever happens in that day is insignificant to what it could have been.”

The longtime Nashville resident also admits that he can’t help but feel a sense of guilt for surviving the storm, while so many others tragically lost their lives.

“You think about the people who were lost in this tornado too,” he says. “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?'”

“I’m just happy to be here on the planet,” he adds. “I’m also very sad and my heart goes out to the people who have lost their lives and all their belongings. Everything can be rebuilt except [the] loss of life.”

A total of 24 people were killed across four different counties in the state, according to CNN, and the Nashville Fire Department said the tornado collapsed 48 structures around the city, including schools, businesses, and the popular concert venue Basement East.

Like Hicks, many stars have spoken out about the devastating damage and even made donations to help the victims. Some of those celebrities include Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves, Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus, Reese Witherspoon, Connie Britton, Dolly Parton, Cassadee Pope, Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, and Gavin DeGraw.

On April 17, Hicks is scheduled to perform at the Lyric Theater in Alabama and is planning to donate a portion of the show’s proceeds to a local volunteer organization called Hands On Nashville.

To learn more about how you can help those affected by the Tennessee tornadoes, click here.


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