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‘Idol’ continues to rock: “American Idol” finalist James Durbin performs at Saint Rocke Jan. 14

Posted: Sunday, January 11, 2015 10:01 am | Updated: 10:03 am, Sun Jan 11, 2015.
Michael Hixon

Rocker James Durbin came in fourth place during season 10 of “American Idol,” a year dominated by country music, highlighted by winner Scotty McCreery and runner-up Lauren Alaina. But audiences were drawn to Durbin’s story of a young father who battled Tourette syndrome and Asperger syndrome. With two studio albums, Durbin has been very busy in the nearly four years since he was voted off the show.

Durbin performs at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach Wednesday, Jan. 14, with his new band.

“It doesn’t let up,” said Durbin of the upcoming show. “Fortunately, now I have two records under my belt and a bunch of other songs, mixing in some covers and songs that I played on ‘Idol’ a few years ago.”

With a new baby girl, Durbin is busy writing at home every day, alone, which he calls “liberating and freeing.”

“I come up with a handful of ideas,” Durbin said. “My phone is full of voice memos and notes and (I have) notebooks and notepads and binders full of song lyrics and ideas. Then I take those to songwriters and see if we can ... piece stuff together from there. Sometimes it turns into a completely different beast, which is always really exciting. That happened a lot with my last record.”

Durbin auditioned for “American Idol” during season 8, but didn’t make the cut. When he auditioned with Muddy Waters’ “You Shook Me” and “Dream On” by Aerosmith for judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, his long road on “American Idol” began.
He said it was a “much crazier” experience than what was seen on television by an average of nearly 50 million people for the series’ weekly performance and results shows.

“All that madness they choose to show isn’t necessarily all the madness that’s actually happening,” Durbin said. “With television and the way they produce it and edit things, you sign a contract and they basically make it look like whatever they want it to look like ... but I definitely had a blast. The positive things about it definitely outweigh the negative things.”

One of the craziest nights on the show for Durbin was during Motown week. He had performed Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” with The Funk Brothers and the late Bob Babbitt during the performance night. The following evening, on the elimination night, the legendary Wonder came out to help sing happy birthday to Steven Tyler. Being and avid wrestling fan, Durbin was then shocked when Hulk Hogan made an appearance.

“That night was huge,” Durbin recalled.

By finishing in the top 10, Durbin took part in the American Idol Tour. He was also signed by Wind-up Records. That was when his first album, “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” began to take form.

“I was getting some songs in from different songwriters … I was starting to attach myself to them,” he said. “I had a long time to really understand the song and put myself in the song and not just sing it like the demo, figure out my own way and how it effects me and how I want to retell that story. I believe I recorded one song while I was on the tour.”

Once the tour was over, Durbin went into the studio and completed his first album in less than three weeks. The album debuted at No. 36 on the Billboard 200 chart and reached No. 8 on the Billboard rock chart. His Christmas single, “Santa Claus is Back in Town,” was released in November of 2012. Durbin released his second album, “Celebrate,” which included the first single “Parachute,” in April of 2014.

He spent the early part of 2014 touring to promote “Celebrate.”

“It was a great time to dissect the music and get back to the core of it and play it a different way,” said Durbin of the tour, which was mostly acoustic shows. “I was able to be more mellow … it’s kind of like how I am at home. I would have much rather had a couch to sit on at every show and make it just like ‘Welcome to our living room. We are here in James’ basement.’”

Durbin had one of his toughest gigs in March 2014 when he traveled to Manas, Kyrgyzstan to perform at a closing Air Force base. After 27 hours of traveling there and back, each way, Durbin caught a virus that left him wheezing and 15 pounds lighter.

During his run on “American Idol,” Durbin became somewhat of a spokesman for Tourette syndrome. He appeared in the documentary, “Different is the New Normal,” which detailed a teen’s struggle with Tourette syndrome.

“At first, I was answering questions in the initial process of them finding out a story to tell and if they can exploit it,” Durbin said with a laugh. “At the time, I wasn’t trying to be a spokesperson or a hero or someone people can look up to. That wasn’t on my mind at all. Thank God, it really has done wonders for me and just the appreciation for what I have in life, to see other people come up to me and talk to me about what they’ve overcome through me and that’s beyond me ... I guess I’m relatable. I’m really happy I can be that person for people because I feel that it has made me a stronger person.”

Durbin has had a very busy past few months. He and his wife Heidi welcomed their daughter, Kinzee, on Nov. 21. They also have a 5-year-old son, Hunter. Their third wedding anniversary was on New Year’s Eve and he celebrated his 26th birthday on Jan. 6.

Durbin said he’s “eternally grateful” for his “American Idol” experience.

“Getting told I voted for you a million times, it never gets old, it never gets annoying,” he said. “It’s a constant reminder if I’m having a (bad) day or if nothing is happening quite the way that I’d like it to, there seems to be that constant reminder that I have something … you’re living the dream. It might not be the Led Zeppelin private plane, limos, chauffeurs … (but) to me the glory that comes with it is equal to all of that.”