It's that time of year when interest in American Idol rises to a fever pitch, as the show nears its May finale. The series remains popular in its 11th season, yet no year enjoyed more viewership than season five, when Taylor Hicks won the title with his throw-back blend of exuberance and soul.
Among his legion of fans, five women found themselves taking more than a seasonal interest in the competition. These strangers became fast friends after meeting on an AI message board, and they have since collaborated on The Soul Connection, an electronic magazine covering music related to their Idol.
Its Publisher and Managing Editor Connie Leinicke had never watched the show prior to 2006. She was sitting on her couch, channel-surfing with her husband, Craig, and daughter Cady when they came across Taylor Hicks's audition. Connie had been a professional keyboardist while pursuing a career in advertising, so she immediately recognized Hicks's talent and passion for music. She stood up and declared to her family that he would win the competition.
Not savvy about online chats, she read posts on the AI message boards without joining the conversations. Little did she know that her future soul sisters were also lurking on the boards. The other women were just as reticent to talk to strangers online. They actually didn't meet each other until two months after the season ended, when they tentatively started commenting on a thread for "lurkers". They became internet friends, so when Connie launched The Soul Connection, she immediately reached out to the other four women to join her editorial staff. Along with a cartoonist from Finland, they publish the ezine monthly.
Since they live in different states, they didn't all meet in person until Hicks's first concerts in Jacksonville, FL. It was a leap of faith to spend four days together. "We all had exit plans, just in case the others were axe murderers," says Jacque Jones, who had traveled from Memphis, TN. "But the minute we met, it was like we'd known each other for years."
Connie had never been on a girls road trip. "I never laughed so much in my life before getting together with these gals," she says.
While the ezine provides a common focus, their friendship extends far beyond this labor of love. The women take trips to see other musicians in concert. They share interests from pet rescue to souvenir coffee mugs. A few years ago, on a trip to Birmingham, AL to see Hicks in concert, the visiting women discovered the Brighton Collectibles store at The Summit mall. Lanae Brooks, a Birmingham native, had been a fan for years and got everyone else more interested in the accessories. She loves Brighton so much she recently started working at the store.
Interests aside, each girlfriend has her own sense of why they're so close. Linda Coke, the "organizer" of the group, from Southern Mississippi, points out that their families have also come to like each other. "I'm closer to them than any other friend that I have," she says, "but husbands have to someday get involved. You can't go running off to see a gray-haired singer all the time without them wondering why. Fortunately, the guys couldn't have been better matched."
Susan Truby, the fifth member from Bethlehem, PA, recognizes that they've reached a true appreciation for each others' character and integrity. As adults, people generally make friends through their work or interest groups, or they become friends with their kids' friends' parents or their spouses' associates. Unlike these relationships, Susan sees the women of The Soul Connection as her "soul friends." "It's special because it's about you," she says. "They understand you. The friendship is because of you. We talk about everything. We go to sleep talking and wake up talking."
The "talking" is actually done through group text. They have a "daily thread" just like their old days on the AI message boards. From the first "Good Morning" till the last "Good Night," they text each other all day long. They even all switched to iPhones to make the group texting easier. Since Susan lives furthest from the others and can't make all the trips, she especially values having them virtually "there" at all times.
When Jacque lost her husband three years ago, Lanae, Linda and Connie were literally there for her. The three women dropped everything and flew to Memphis to help her and her family through their initial grief and funeral. The four women stood next to her husband's grave holding each other in a group hug, all crying. Over the years they have all helped each other's families through other crises. "These women are the best people I've ever known," says Connie.
On a happier note, Susan has invited all her soul sisters to her son Joshua's wedding in September. Before then, they'll travel to other concerts, including Taylor Hicks's Las Vegas show in July. After six years, they still love him and his music. No matter what else they do, they'll still be on Soul Patrol.