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To Hollywood and Back

From American Idol to Dirty Muggs, Frontman Nikko Smith Says He's Right Where He's Supposed to Be

Though he shares his father’s name, he doesn’t use it to get ahead. He really doesn’t need to. He’s just that good.

Osborne Earl "Nikko" Smith Jr. has made his own way, and he says his dad, baseball hall-of-famer and 13X Gold Glove winner, Osborne Earl “Ozzie” Smith, wouldn’t want it any other way.

So, what happens when your father—“The Wizard”—is arguably the best defensive shortstop of all time, but you want to sing and dance? Well, Nikko Smith says, you sing and dance.

And he’s been doing just that since he was a boy in the youth choir of the First Baptist Church of Chesterfield.

A gifted singer, songwriter and dancer, whose soulful vocals took him to the top 10 of American Idol, Nikko first went to Los Angeles as part of a group of other young, hopeful musicians he had met when he was 14 working with Team 11—a compilation of some of the St. Louis region’s best singers and dancers formed by St. Louis television pioneer and CEO of KPLR-TV, Ted Koplar. “We had grown up together in Team 11. We figured whatever comes at us, we’ll handle it together,” he says.

But things didn’t go quite as planned. The group—dubbed “The Platinum Shades”—was offered an opportunity to work solely with the management company owned by actor and rapper, Will Smith. As it turned out, though, one of the members of the group abandoned the others in LA causing the deal to fall through.

The loss was profound, but Nikko realized later that returning to St. Louis would put him exactly where he needed to be—a lesson that would prove a sort of mantra for him as the years past. As it turned out, tryouts for “American Idol” had come to St. Louis. It was 2005 and Season 4 of Simon Fuller’s mega hit singing competition on FOX—the one that made winner Carrie Underwood a star.

Singing timeless hits, such as Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and "I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5, Nikko advanced to Hollywood and on to the Top 16. He was initially eliminated, but then fellow competitor Mario Vazquez withdrew from the competition. Nikko had barely unpacked his bags when he got a call from the show asking him to return. From there, he made it to the Top 10, which he says was all he really wanted, as the final 10 contestants were given the opportunity to record an album and tour the country. “So that gave me the exposure to do whatever I wanted and to come home to St. Louis,” he adds.

Nikko returned to LA in 2014. He says at first, he went at the behest of his mom to look out for his sister, who had moved there for a job. The two lived in a little stucco apartment in Van Nuys, California.

He says what started as a family thing became more of a “soul searching” mission. "I found that it’s not about what you didn’t accomplish, but what you did accomplish. I don’t mean you couldn’t have done this or that, but you are where you are supposed to be because God put you on this journey.”

Nikko was performing with bands up and down the coast of California, and doing well for himself, when the the COVID-19 pandemic hit. So, he was driving up and down the empty streets of LA, working overnights in a hospital, and seeing things he never thought he would see.

“I had an opportunity to think a lot, to reset, and I thought, 'What is my goal?’ I am watching my niece grow up on Instagram.”

Today, Nikko performs high-energy, choreographed shows with the “Dirty Muggs,” singing a diverse and eclectic set list with the top party band who puts their own incredible spin on chart-toppers such as “Uptown Funk,” “Truth Hurts” and “Come Together.” They play to standing room only crowds around St. Louis with lead guitarist and band founder, Dee Dee James—who toured with Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Color Me Bad and Paula Abdul; lead vocalist, Cassandra Llea; bassist and keyboardist, KD Dobbins; bassist, Jordan Brewer; and drummer, Kevin Williams.

And Nikko says he's exactly where he's supposed to be. Because after all, the end goal was always family and “just to be happy.”

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