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May 22, 2006
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Fans of Taylor Hicks hope Birmingham native grabs 'Idol' title

By Darryn Simmons
Montgomery Advertiser



Taylor Hicks of Birmingham survived last week's cuts on the "American Idol." He is now one of the 16 finalists.
-- Contributed

At this rate, they may have to start calling it "Alabama Idol."

Fox's hit show "American Idol" has another Alabama native who is doing well this season. Birmingham's Taylor Hicks follows in the footsteps of Ruben Studdard, who won the second season, and last year's runner-up, Bo Bice. 2004 runner-up Diana DeGarmo was a Birmingham native but listed Snellville, Ga., as her hometown.

Hicks also shares the Alabama tradition of bringing a different look to the hit show.

Where Studdard's large build was a change of pace from the slim and pretty people of the first season, and Bice's long- haired rocker look was different from the other artists in previous years, the 29-year-old Hicks caught the eye of "Idol" watchers with his gray hair (he started turning gray at the age of 15) and soulful demeanor.

"He definitely stands out," said Jessica Connelly, a local "Idol" fan. "I hope he wins. It's nice to get something different from the cutesy pop types that always seem to make it."

Performing his first gig at the age of 18, Hicks has made his way throughout the state, performing at such spots as Birmingham CityStages, the War Eagle Supper Club in Auburn and Jubilee CityFest with assorted bands, including his current group, the Lil Memphis Blues Orchestra.

He also went to Nashville for nine months to pursue his music career and has even played the Playboy Mansion on a couple of occasions.

Hicks made the final 16 last week after doing a rendition of Alabama native Lionel Richie and the Commodores' hit "Easy."

While he doesn't seem to have the full support of Idol's three judges -- Simon Cowell has called him "average" and Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson criticized his choice of "Easy" -- he does follow in the footsteps of the other Alabama contestants in that he has a rabid fan base.

The Hicks fans refer to themselves as the Soul Patrol in reference to Hicks' love of soul music.

Mike Jeffcoat is the webmaster of www.TaylorHicks2006.com, which he refers to as the official "Soul Patrol HQ."

"He's got an enormous amount of talent and sounds so wise beyond his years," he said.

Mike Salvo, a contributor to the site, agreed.

"I knew I liked him the very first time he opened his mouth," Salvo said. "He is definitely a throwback to a different musical era."

Salvo said that Hicks' movements reminded him of Ray Charles, who is one of Hicks' heroes.

In Salvo's opinion, Hicks -- despite not having the full support of the judges -- is definitely a favorite to be there at the end.

"Chris Daughtry and Elliot Yamin are pretty impressive," he said. "They're his biggest challenge, but I think Taylor's fans will keep coming up big."

Jeffcoat said that from the look of the message board and other fan sites, Hicks' following is one of the strongest of any of the contestants.

"It's the voting of the nation that counts, and everyone seems to know and like his singing style and charisma," he said.

Jeffcoat is currently organizing Soul Patrol gatherings to watch the show in Birmingham. He said the E! network is coming down to tape footage from one of the gatherings this week.

Other fans have said they will definitely do their part to keep Hicks around.

"I'll be calling in every week," said Justine Moore of Montgomery. "I just want to see someone with talent win that might be around for a while."

Hicks is a Birmingham native who lived in Hoover and has family in Gulf Shores. Before focusing on his music, he attended Auburn for a brief time.


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