A Deaf Fan Finds Inspiration in Taylor Hicks

Taylor Hicks has it all.

He's the latest "American Idol" winner, has received a hefty record contract, and is a hero to a group of fans.

Fans are the key to success for any rising musician. For "American Idol" contestants, fans are crucial.

Without fans, there are no votes, and without votes, there is no hope for a singer to continue on the show.

So, whereas the tabloids and other media are curious about Hicks' past, and others ask about his gray hair, we wanted to get to the root of Hicks' success: his fans.

Being Part of the Taylor Hicks' Fan Club

For many fans of Hicks -- who, inspired by his music, call themselves the Soul Patrol -- he was the natural "American Idol" choice.

He looks different, sounds different, and was the underdog from the beginning.

For Jane Croft, he's an inspiration.

Croft, 40, is one of the 25,490 members of TheOfficialSoulpatrol.com, the Taylor Hick's fan club Web site.

Croft was born deaf from maternal rubella, and believes she is one of a handful of deaf Hicks' fans.

"I can actually hear Taylor sing. Although I may not catch all the words at first, I do eventually," Croft said in an e-mail interview with ABC News.

Croft learned to listen through auditory-verbal therapy and two powerful hearing aids but can't attend any of Hicks' concerts because the amplifiers drain the batteries in her hearing aids.

She also couldn't vote for Hicks during the "American Idol" season because she could not use a telephone.

Croft still gets to hear Hicks' music by watching and listening to videos on the Internet, and, more specifically, on TheOfficialSoulpatrol.com, where his fans gather.

She also uses the site to keep in touch with other fans and get news updates on Hicks' album releases.

"I know when I see a musician who honestly and sincerely appreciates, respects and lives through any music of any kind. Taylor has 'it,"' Croft said. "Taylor has the gift to 'feel' the music, which very few musicians and performers can do."


Steffani Martino, the webmaster and owner of TheOfficialSoulpatrol.com, echoes Croft and said it's hard to put her finger on exactly why she became a Hicks fan, let alone the ringleader for other "American Idol" viewers.

"There was just some kind of magic about him," Martino said. "He was just so different and not a usual 'American Idol.' He looks older to begin with, and he is more mature. His type of music wasn't previously represented."

Martino, who is self-employed, spends a lot of time monitoring message boards, updating the site with news on Hicks, and corresponding with site members.

She says the fan club has evolved into a place to make friends, and, for members like Croft, to find something to be passionate about.

"It has always been a community of fans that like to come together and talk about Taylor," Martino said. "It's a community of friends who enjoy the features our site has to offer, like video and audio and purchasing items."

Does Hicks actually recognize the hard work of his fans?

Martino's satisfied.

Despite having never met the singer, Martino says she has spoken to him on the phone and was always pleased when he would mention the Soul Patrol site on air during "American Idol."

She attributes his lack of participation on the Web site to his busy schedule and demanding contract.

Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University and the author of the new book "Why We Love," has a few theories on why people join fan clubs and why people obsess over celebrities they most likely will never meet.

She says that whereas people used to gossip about their neighbors, more and more people have become disconnected from their immediate community and turn to celebrities.

"We don't know our neighbors anymore, and our entire sense of community is changing," Fisher said. "What we do have in common are celebrities. We all know who these people are, and a lot of these people follow their lives, so rather than talking to the neighbors -- which we did for millions of years -- we have switched to talk about the other people we know, which are the celebrities."

Fisher recognizes that fan clubs can help members, saying that it never hurt anyone to have a hero.

"Fan clubs are totally harmless -- maybe even beneficial," Fisher said.

For Croft and Martino, this is certainly the case.

Having a role model to look up to has shaped both their lives in ways neither of them could even imagine.

So to Taylor Hicks, Croft might say, "I may be deaf but not that deaf, and I heard your voice."