Born in Birmingham, AL, and raised in Hoover, Hicks grew up listening to classic soul artists such as Otis Redding and Sam Cooke — which he said he could to relate to even as a child due to the divorce of his parents and other troubles — and singer/songwriters like Van Morrison, Bob Seger, and Billy Joel. His chief influence, however, was Ray Charles, whom he admired so much that he carried a little statue of Charles with him whenever he performed. Though Hicks had no formal musical training, he picked up singing, guitar, and harmonica on his own. He began performing for his family at an early age and won a talent contest at his high school (at which time his hair started turning gray). While studying business, communication, and marketing at Auburn University, Hicks formed the Passing Through band, and left school early to try his luck in Nashville. As a touring performer, he opened for artists ranging from James Brown to Drive-By Truckers and also performed at the Playboy Mansion.
Hicks released two albums with his band: In Your Time, a live album, and Under the Radar. In 2005, he auditioned for American Idol; the Memphis tryouts were so crowded that Hicks couldn’t get in, so he went to the Las Vegas auditions. Despite the doubts of judge Simon Cowell, Hicks’ differences from the typical pop star look and sound worked for him rather than against him in the competition, and his performances of ‘Levon,’ ‘Living for the City,’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark’ helped put him over the top. After winning American Idol, Hicks signed a record deal with Clive Davis and 19 Recordings Unlimited, and released the single Do I Make You Proud that summer. Hicks also performed with the American Idol tour and began work on his major-label debut album. His self-titled debut arrived in late 2006. Live at the Workplay Theatre, a concert album recorded in summer 2006, was released in 2007