ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT GAZETTE

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Idol also-ran says tenacity more vital than trophy

By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published April 26, 2012 at 3:46 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK — Motivation and talent sometimes overcome what some might perceive as disabilities. So it is with James Durbin, an American Idol alumnus who was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome and Asperger’s syndrome at a young age.

And like Chris Daughtry, another American Idol rocker, Durbin finished fourth in his attempt to reach the top. But like Daughtry, Durbin realizes there’s more to the chance for fame than winning a competition.

“It doesn’t matter what you get as long as you keep the fire in you,” Durbin says. “If you fall short, it’s not your fault, you just have to keep working for it and fight the fight.

“Look at Jennifer Hudson, who finished seventh when she was on the show, and has gone on to win an Academy Award, Golden Globe and a Grammy.”

The 23-year-old Durbin got plaudits for his versions of Queen and Muse songs and then got to sing with a band he had long idolized, Judas Priest, onstage during the Idol competition’s final episodes of Season 10.

“That was an amazing opportunity,” Durbin says. “I wasn’t in control, I was just there.”

His rise through the show’s weekly episodes had Durbin singing songs by artists as diverse as Muddy Waters, Aerosmith, The Beatles, Sam Cooke, Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Sammy Hagar, The Shirelles, Earl-Jean, Badfinger, Journey and The Clovers.

A native of Santa Cruz, Calif., Durbin grew up a fan of the heavier end of rock ’n’ roll, thanks to his sister’s musical inclinations: “When I first heard Ronnie James Dio’s ‘Rainbow in the Dark,’ he had a voice that intrigued me and made me think that someday I’d like to do what he was doing.”

As a high school student, Durbin played the lead roles in local productions of Grease, Beauty and the Beast and West Side Story. He’s undecided about pursuing more acting opportunities, but there is one play he’d love to get a chance for one of two roles.

“I love musical theater, and really learned a lot about performing, taking on a role and living it, so maybe one day I’d do something else, especially if I could play Jesus or Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to be involved in any roles that involved romantic hoopla. I’d want a role where I could keep my dignity and remain faithful to my wife.”

His Tourette’s and Asperger’s don’t slow him down, he notes.

“That’s all day to day,” he says. “I deal with the struggle but as soon as I get onstage I’m normal and fine. That’s when the magic happens.”

Though he loves performing and touring, he misses his wife, Heidi, and their son, Hunter, who will soon turn 3, an occasion that will have Durbin flying home to Santa Cruz for a couple of days to be present at the birthday party.

“That’s the hard part, being out in a van while they’re back home,” he says. “That can be depressing. So I bottle the emotion and use it for songwriting and performing.”

On Nov. 11, Durbin —whom Revolver magazine recently named one of the “100 Greatest Living Rock Stars” — released his debut album, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, which he says takes its name from “looking back at the moments of my life that I thought were disasters, but that I learned from.”

The album has been propelled up the music charts by his hit singles “Stand Up” and “Love Me Bad.”

Durbin and his band (two guitarists, bassist and drummer) recently opened a show for Evanescence in Austin, Texas, and Durbin and the group have several spots through May opening for Buckcherry.

Durbin knew Amy Lee of Evanescence had formed her band in Little Rock, but he is unsure about whether he has performed in central Arkansas before.

“I don’t recall if we came there or not,” he says. “I went out on the Idol tour with all the other top 11 finalists, but I have no idea where we went. All we knew to do was get on the bus when they told us to and get off the bus when we got somewhere.”