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.