Brad Hicks fondly recalls the time he and wife Linda settled down for dinner at a small Mexican restaurant in Birmingham years ago and spied a curiously familiar face on stage with the band.
That lanky frame and thick mop of hair, the way the young man jerked around as he coaxed sweet melodies from the mouth harp at his lips — the mysterious musician could only be their son, Taylor, who was supposed to be at home.
“Linda looked up and said, ‘Well, there’s Taylor,”’ Brad Hicks reminisced recently from the family’s home in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover. “When he was 15 or 16 he would sneak into bars and play harmonica.”
The only sneaking Taylor Hicks has to do these days is to keep from inciting mayhem among the fans who’ve voted him to the final four contestants on Fox’s “American Idol.”
Hicks is the fourth Birmingham area native to make it to the show’s top four with rocker Bo Bice finishing second to Carrie Underwood last year and Birmingham-born Diana DeGarmo the season three runner-up to Fantasia Barrino. R&B crooner Ruben Studdard became America’s second “Idol” when he won the competition in 2002.
With his distinctive dance moves and soulful singing, the 29-year-old Hicks has provided some of the more unpredictable performances this season, like his failed attempt to topple a microphone stand while singing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” on the April 11 show.
Antics like that and his trademark silver hair are what make Hicks a favorite, says Birmingham fan Pat Hummel, who’s been attending Taylor Hicks Band performances for the last 18 months.
“What people are seeing on TV, that to me, that’s really Taylor,” she said. “He gives it his all. He just lets go, he just has a good time.”
‘The white Michael Jackson’Hicks was born in Birmingham, and his family moved to suburban Hoover a few years later. His parents divorced when he was 8 and his dad and stepmother, Linda, share custody. His half brother, Sean, is a student at Georgia Tech, where he plays trumpet in the school’s jazz band.
Hicks grew up in Hoover, where he played Little League baseball and, at 6-foot-1, was on the varsity basketball team at Hoover High.
“He was an athlete and he just loves sports,” Brad Hicks said. “He loves to eat too — we all do. But he’s lost weight out there. He’s a meat-and-potatoes boy. Sushi’s great and all that, but he’d like some greens and some potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and iced tea.”
The elder Hicks, a dentist, remembers the performances Taylor would put on when he tagged along with him to work as a boy.
“Here’s this skinny little kid — he’d walk around to each person and say, ‘You want me to sing for you?’ and then he’d just wail on Kenny Rogers,” he said laughing. “What adult is going to say ‘No’ to a 5-year-old kid?”
His artistic talents didn’t end at singing — Brad Hicks says his son could cut a mean rug, from disco moves to mimicking the King of Pop. “He thought he was the white Michael Jackson,” the elder Hicks said.
Hicks studied business at Auburn University and was close to getting a degree before music lured him from the classroom to the stage for good.
The ripples from the splash Hicks has made on the show have trickled down from his bandmates to his pet goldfish, Lamont and Ray, who have their own blog at http://lamontandray.com.
Brian Less, a keyboardist and backup singer for Hicks’ old band, said the band has been getting more gigs since Hicks’ success on “Idol.”
And while chances are the band will be forever different, there’s no sadness.
“Taylor spent 10 years putting this band together, and Taylor said, ‘Keep playing, stay tight,”’ Less said. “I think the only sadness is that everybody misses Taylor so much — it’s like your family member’s gone. But he’s so much bigger than this now. We’re just all blessed.”