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Taylor Hicks of Birmingham is the third Alabamian to become an 'American Idol' semifinalist. The others were Birmingham's Reuben Studdard, who won in 2004, and Huntsville native Bo Bice, 2005 runner-up.
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Taylor Hicks of Birmingham is the third Alabamian to become an "American Idol" semifinalist. The others were Birmingham's Reuben Studdard, who won in 2004, and Huntsville native Bo Bice, 2005 runner-up.

Alabama's gray-haired Hicks brings soul to 'Idol'

By Wade Kwon
Scripps Howard News Service

American Idol" has seen its share of pop singers, country crooners, R&B divas and rock stars, but one finalist this season stands out as a soul man.

Taylor Hicks describes his sound as pop-soul, singling out Ruben Studdard as his favorite from seasons past. Studdard, who won the title in 2003, "was one of the most soulful contestants on the show," Hicks said by phone from Hollywood.

Their styles aren't the only similarities: Hicks' middle name is Reuben.

And unlike Bo Bice, Huntsville native and 2005 runner-up, Hicks, of Birmingham, said his sound is more soul and blues than rock. It's what separates him from Bice, and from this year's other finalists.

"If you listen to the heart of soul, from Otis Redding to Sam Cooke, there's an art to that," he said. He also said Redding's performance of "Try a Little Tenderness" had to be seen as well as heard to be fully appreciated.

Hicks, 29, is the second-oldest contestant this season; Mandisa, a songstress from Antioch, Tenn., is older by just five days, he said. Those extra years might give Hicks an advantage over the others, some as young as 16.

"Considering I've had more years performing, playing every honky-tonk imaginable in the Southeast, that's helped a lot," he said.

His father, Brad Hicks, agrees, having watched his son perform at clubs and festivals around Alabama, sometimes to nearly-empty venues. "He had an uncommon interest in music as a child. He was 5 or 6 years old and wanted to sing and dance for everybody."

Even though Taylor plays guitar and harmonica in addition to singing, he's never had formal music lessons, said Brad Hicks, who works in Jasper as a dentist.

"We're a pretty grounded group, we're just plain folks from Birmingham," Brad said.

Given the choice of any song, Hicks said he would cover "Sweet Home Alabama," quickly adding, "Just kidding."

"There's so many great songs. You're talking about the whole spectrum of music.

"I'd pick 'Just the Two of Us' by Bill Withers. It takes you back to the soul AM radio days. I really like that style of music."

Hicks also listens to R&B, hip-hop and country, citing favorites such as Ronnie Milsap, Kenny Chesney and Montgomery-based Dirty South rapper Deuce Komradz.

His colorful musical choices aren't unlike his colorful stage presence, from his salt-and-pepper hair to his harmonica jams.

As for his plans— from his image to his dating life — he is open to possibility. He said he'd even consider dyeing his distinctive salt-and-pepper hair, but "it would take a large sum of money from a (hair color company) sponsor."

Hicks mentioned that he's not dating anyone at the moment. "The only thing I'm attached to is my headphones, listening to the song I'm going to perform."

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