Before 20-year-old Delray Beach twins Rashad and Tashad Gardenhire got a “yes” vote from Simon Cowell for the new season of “The X Factor,” they’d heard a lot of “no.”
The story of how they went from being homeless and sleeping in a car last winter to the possibility of a rewarding entertainment career this fall is complicated, but is at its essence one of faith, determination and love.
Speaking just a few feet away from the stage at Delray Beach’s Arts Garage, where they will give their first headlining concert performance on Sept. 19, Tashad says, “We are blessed.”
“So blessed,” echoes Rashad, before his brother has even finished.
“Everywhere they go, they lift people up,” says Drew Tucker, director of education and outreach at the Arts Garage, where he mentors the brothers by providing musical and educational instruction in exchange for work. “They have this incredible ability to lift people’s spirits.”
Personable, articulate and polite, the brothers, fraternal twins, were in state care almost since birth, they say, returning to their drug-addicted birth mother for a spell, and then at age 4 to foster care, where they bounced between “some scary” situations, eventually landing with a woman who adopted them.
Those years were stable, but at about 14, their teenage rambunctiousness became too much for their mother, who had other foster children in her Delray Beach house. She gave them one option: the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Live Oak.
“I’m not going to lie, we were acting up. I had a lot of anger,” Tashad says, “But it was juvenile mischief. We were, you know, just being boys. It didn’t have to be like that.”
After a year in Live Oak, the call they expected from their mother to return home did not come. Tashad eventually did leave after 18 months due to what he says was “an altercation.” He returned to his mother’s, where he attended Atlantic High School and won acclaim for his singing, finishing first in the school’s “Atlantic Idol” contest, he says. For his junior year, he turned his singing talent into a scholarship to American Heritage in Boca Raton.
But Tashad calls these years “the hardest time in my life,” because he was separated from his brother. Rashad had decided to spend more than four years at the youth ranch for the discipline, structure and respect he received. He attended Suwannee High School and played football, and the ranch helped him get a scholarship to Santa Fe College and an apartment in Gainesville.
“They set me up really nice,” he says.
But ill-equipped to navigate adult responsibilities on their own, that’s about the time it all started to go wrong. Rashad started hanging out with “the wrong people,” and stopped studying, eventually losing his scholarship. He also neglected several traffic tickets (including a seat-belt violation, speeding and driving with a suspended license), which earned him a 15-day jail sentence.
Last fall, he moved back to South Florida, where Tashad was living in a moldy apartment on a rough side of Lantana, juggling two low-paying retail jobs. The two lived together until a trip to the emergency room (Tashad believes his severe respiratory ailment was caused by mold) produced medical bills that finally tipped their precarious finances over.
With no one willing to take them in, last winter they spent several weeks sleeping in random spots around Delray Beach, including in a relative’s car.
“In the morning, we had to keep down low, so kids going to school didn’t see us,” Tashad says.
It was at this low point that the brothers, improbably, committed themselves to a plan to become a singing act called Double Trouble and to get themselves in front of Simon Cowell on “The X Factor.” And things started to click.
A friend took them in. Tashad got a job as a prep cook at a local restaurant. Rashad began taking classes at Palm Beach State College. And they started singing. A lot.
“We would sing at the train station, in the stairwell at Palm Beach State, everywhere. We’d just be singing,” Tashad says, smiling.
They looked online and found the closest “X Factor” audition was in Charleston, S.C., in March. With no way to get there, they could think of only one person to rescue them: Judy McMahon, their third-grade teacher from Banyan Creek Elementary School. But it had been years since they last spoke to the woman they call Momma J.
“She said, ‘When do you need to be there? I’ll drive you,’” Tashad recalls with lingering amazement.
McMahon, a music teacher, formed a relationship with the two early on. “She took us to Disney World and bought us our first pair of Air Jordans,” Tashad says. She had also encouraged them to sing.
YES AND NO
When speaking about “The X Factor” auditions, where they were surrounded by thousands of other entertainers like themselves in a downtown arena, the brothers sound like they visited another planet.
“It was so … I can’t even describe how amazing it was,” Tashad says, burying his face in his hands.
While Momma J waited outside, the brothers aced multiple rounds of auditions in front of gradually more important looking people. Their relentless energy and optimism, which producers made note of even while the brothers were in line to audition, are big selling points, they were told.
They returned home, and soon got the call: “The X Factor” wanted them back for the final audition in Charleston — the “live” version in front of Cowell and the other judges that would be taped for the opening four segments of “The X Factor.” Again, Double Trouble nailed it with a song requested by Cowell himself, the Bill Withers’ classic “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
The four “yes” votes should have earned them a trip to Los Angeles for the main “X Factor” competition. But no: A background check turned up the hundreds of dollars outstanding in Rashad’s old traffic tickets. They’d only made a couple of payments to a collection agency, and could only provide paperwork for one. Soon, they got a call that the show had to make some “cuts.” While they can be seen on televised promos for “The X Factor” audition episodes airing this week and next, Double Trouble will not be seen in the L.A. shows. [A representative for "The X Factor" said she could not comment on the brothers' status on the show.]
“I cried a lot,” says Tashad, sitting next to Rashad. “… But he’s my brother.”
A NEW HOME
That’s when Drew Tucker heard about their situation and brought them on at the Arts Garage. At first he was skeptical: Would they even show up? he wondered.
"We didn't even know something like this existed," Tashad says, looking around the Arts Garage concert space.
Tucker says he was still skeptical when he started having them assist with the Arts Garage summer camp.
"I'd come back in the room and the kids would be all over them like a jungle gym," Tucker says. "I'd hear all the time, 'Are the boys here? When are the boys coming back?' ... That's when I knew what kind of guys they were. I learned a long time ago to trust the instincts of kids."
Tucker says the twins now happily go about their jobs setting up shows, moving equipment, running errands, cleaning bathrooms, whatever is needed. Next Thursday that means singing, as they’ll perform in front of a rapidly selling room of 150 seats. The show is a benefit, in which the Arts Garage will devote all proceeds to the brothers.
And just this week, Tucker helped Rashad and Tashad secure their own apartment in downtown Delray Beach.
“It’s a pretty amazing story,” Tucker says. “I think they have the chance to be special talents.”
IF YOU GO
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19
Where: The Arts Garage, 180 NE First St., Delray Beach
Contact: 561-450-6357 or ArtsGarage.org
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