BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – "American Idol" finalist Taylor Hicks returned home to Alabama on Friday with a made-for-TV visit that was slated to include a parade, a visit with the governor and some down-home Southern food he just can't get while taping in Los Angeles.
"You take grits for granted," the gray-haired Hicks said during an appearance at WBRC-TV, the local Fox affiliate. Afterward, he and his bandmates played a few songs on a patio atop Red Mountain overlooking Birmingham.
Producers planned a parade through downtown and another performance at a downtown park, followed by a show at Alabama's largest shopping mall and a trip to Montgomery for an appearance with Gov. Bob Riley, who is running for re-election.
Hicks is one of three contestants remaining in the superpopular Fox talent show. The ultimate winner will be announced May 24.
Footage from Hicks' trip home will be shown on "Idol," which already has had one winner from Birmingham — Ruben Studdard — and a runner-up, Bo Bice.
Hicks, who grew up in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, said the success of Studdard and Bice helped grease his way through auditions for the show.
"I'm doing great," said Hicks, 29. "It's a dream come true."
Autograph seekers, friends and admirers swarmed Hicks as he arrived for a long day of appearances. Left with a few seconds to himself on the TV set, Hicks silently thumbed through an old yearbook from Hoover High School, which he attended.
Hugh Mitchell, a longtime friend of Hicks' father, said the singer seems to be holding up amid the whirlwind of being on a top-rated show.
"I'm just so excited for him," said Mitchell.
Before "Idol," Hicks was the frontman for a band bearing his name. The group, which played mainly in area nightclubs, now calls itself "The Little Memphis Blues Orchestra."
Guitar player Sam Gunderson said he hasn't been surprised by Hicks' success on the TV show, but it's unclear what the future holds for the group.
"We'd be excited to play with Taylor at any time," said Gunderson.
"American Idol" remains a huge ratings draw nearly four years after its debut, attracting between 15 million and 33 million viewers each show this year.