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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Hicks is surprisingly solid, and delightfully dorky
By JAY CRIDLIN
Published February 23, 2007
Before his sold-out concert Thursday night at Tampa Theater, I knew very little about Taylor Hicks.
I knew he won the most popular popularity contest in the country, American Idol.
I knew he was prone to shouting "Soul Patrol," a reference to his fervent fan base and not some sort of metaphysical SWAT team.
I knew he had gray hair.
After evaluating his performance, I can tell you all of those things are true. A more pressing question was whether Hicks' extraordinary - and, some might suggest, head-scratching - popularity is truly merited. Did America make the right call?
The crowd of 1,423 sure thought so. Most were middle-aged, mid 40s and up; all the Idol-addled kiddies must have been down the street at Justin Timberlake. But the Soul Patrol is nothing if not passionate, especially the gaggle of ladies who chartered a bus to follow Hicks through Florida.
"Thank you guys for voting for me," he said, to raucous applause. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you." Brought the house down. Standing O.
Hicks drew the crowd to its feet with singles like "The Runaround" and "Just to Feel That Way," not to mention covers of Rod Stewart ("Young Turks") and Ray Charles ("The Right Place").
He strapped on a guitar (he wasn't terrible) for about a third of the set and played his own songs "Hell of a Day" and "The Deal." You could tell he was having more fun playing his own material.
Indeed, Hicks was at his best when he felt free enough to let his salt and pepper shake, and produce enough facial contortions to spook Joe Cocker. His goofy signature dance move - I call it the Jive-Walking Hunchback - is just dorky enough to make you grin.
The sluggish moments came during Hicks' poppier moments. On "Dream Myself Awake," he sounded like Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas, which makes sense, given that Thomas wrote it.
If Hicks wants to blossom, he might do well to let loose a little more often. He's not a bad showman, but he's a surprisingly solid musician. There's no shame in being a modern standard-bearer for the white-bread blues; just ask Huey Lewis or Michael McDonald.
Indeed, Hicks' finest moment was the closing song that's become his anthem, McDonald's "Takin' It to the Streets." It was energetic, even dynamic, and Hicks' harmonica work - outstanding, by the way - was really fun.
The crowd loved it all. Me, I could have used more of the bluesy stuff. But his career will be fine either way. The Soul Patrol will see to that.