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Hicks' hometown abuzz

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

BIRMINGHAM — You'd have thought it was Alabama winning a national championship in football instead of Taylor Hicks beating Katharine McPhee in a TV talent show.

Hicks' hometown celebrated Wednesday as the soul singer was named the winner of "American Idol," which has had a victor or runner-up with Birmingham ties in four of its five seasons.

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 on 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."

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. "People really seem to be getting involved this year."

Hicks hysteria 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 both played high school basketball and sang in bars before he was old enough to be in a nightclub legally. Thousands of people turned out to see Hicks when he paid a made-for-TV visit after advancing to the finals two weeks ago.

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, aka Birmingham.

The Birmingham Water Works Board sent 36 bottles of water to "Idol" judge Paula Abdul after she said there must be something in Birmingham's water to produce so many singers.

The state's tourism bureau plans to post billboards featuring photos of Hicks, Studdard and Bice with a headline proclaiming "Alabama Idols," said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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