“American Idol” finalist Taylor Hicks returned home to Alabama on Friday with a made-for-TV visit that included a parade, a visit with the governor and some down-home Southern food he just can’t get while taping in Los Angeles.
“You take grits for granted,” the gray-haired Hicks said during an appearance at WBRC-TV, the local Fox affiliate. Afterward, he and his bandmates played a few songs on a patio atop Red Mountain overlooking Birmingham.
Thousands lined a downtown street and fanned out at a park for a ceremony where Hicks performed and received a key to the city from Mayor Bernard Kincaid. Workers hanging out of City Hall windows screamed and waved as Hicks arrived.
The crowd included Ginger Whitworth, who carried her pet groundhog in the parade. “She predicted Taylor will win,” Whitworth said.
Hicks also treated fans to a performance at Alabama’s largest shopping mall before traveling to Montgomery for an appearance with Gov. Bob Riley, who is running for re-election.
“I’ve got two new inductees to the Soul Patrol right here,” Hicks said of Riley and First Lady Patsy before thanking the crowd. “If it wasn’t for you guys voting and watching, I wouldn’t be standing here today and I truly appreciate that from the bottom of my heart,” he said.
During the visit, which included peach cobbler and iced tea, Riley received a fax from “Idol” judge Randy Jackson, who announced his choice of Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” for Hicks to sing on next week’s show.
“I think that is a great song for him,” Riley said. “Don’t forget — what do we do next week?”
“VOTE!,” cried the crowd.
Ashley Oldham, 23, was among the few hundred who jostled for position on the mansion’s front lawn while waiting for Hicks to appear. “He’s so hot. He is very hot,” she said, tiptoeing to catch a glimpse through a window.
Footage from Hicks’ trip home will be shown on “Idol,” which already has had one winner from Birmingham — Ruben Studdard — and a runner-up, Bo Bice.
Hicks, who grew up in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, said the success of Studdard and Bice helped grease his way through auditions for the show.
“I’m doing great,” said Hicks, 29. “It’s a dream come true.”
“American Idol” remains a huge ratings draw four years after its debut, attracting as many as 33 million viewers each show this year. The ultimate winner will be announced on May 24.