You’d have thought it was Alabama capturing a national football championship instead of Taylor Hicks winning a TV talent show.
Here in Hicks’ hometown, more than 1,500 people screamed wildly and waved “Soul Patrol” signs during the climax of the broadcast at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena, which producers turned into a huge TV set for the show.
“I love Taylor!” squealed Kristin Spears, 20, of Trussville as “Idol” played on six huge video screens. Friend Barbie Langner held up a sign that said “Roll Tide and Taylor Hicks.”
A few yards away, Alabama first lady Patsy Riley jumped up and down in the front row.
This old steel city once called itself “The Football Capital of the South,” mainly because the University of Alabama played most big games at Legion Field during its gridiron heyday. These days, city promoters might want to consider calling it “Idoltown” — in four of the five “Idol” seasons, the victor or runner-up has had Birmingham ties.
Callers on sports talk shows chattered about the gray-haired Hicks leading up to the two-hour finale on Fox, and fans from as far away as Connecticut and Kentucky showed up at a radio station event to meet his band.
“It’s pretty wild,” said Zippy Dieterich, drummer of the Little Memphis Blues Orchestra, which calls itself the “next generation” of The Taylor Hicks Band.
Hicks-teria reached all the way to Alabama’s gulf coast, where a restaurant owned by the sister of Alabama-raised singer Jimmy Buffett threw a party for about 3,000 people, including Hicks’ grandmother, Joni Hicks, who arrived in a limousine.
“She made a grand entrance,” said Johnny Fisher, general manager of LuLu’s.
Hicks, 29, lives in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, where he played high school basketball and sang in bars before he was old enough to legally enter a nightclub. Two weeks ago, thousands turned out to see him at a made-for-TV appearance after he advanced to the finals.
Hicks has the chance to be the biggest “Idol” phenom yet from Birmingham.
Ruben Studdard, the “velvet teddy bear,” won the second season in 2003 and made the city’s area code famous with his “205” shirts. Bo Bice of the Birmingham suburb of Helena was a finalist last year.
In between Studdard and Bice, Diana DeGarmo was the runner-up in 2004. She listed her hometown as Snellville, Ga., but she was born in Tune Town — a.k.a. Birmingham.