Idol' favorite James Durbin overcomes Tourettes, Aspergers and bullying
Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have
overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness
or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found
resilience they didn't know they possessed. James Durbin became a
household name last year as the "American Idol" fan favorite
who also has Tourette syndrome and Aspergers syndrome. He also opens
up about how music was not only a refuge from neurological disorders,
but also years of bullying.
I believe it was December of '98 when my dad passed away of an overdose.
A few weeks later, around my 10th birthday, I was diagnosed with Tourette
syndrome and Asperger syndrome.
It was a really rough time, especially at that age, being told I have
a neurological "disease," when I already felt so different.
At that point I was being bullied for being different, having big
ears, and now for having no dad AND for making weird faces and noises
I couldn't control. I was a walking target.
Then my mom discovered a musical interest in me after my older sister
was in musical theater at her high school. I learned all the songs
from the show "Damn Yankees" and at the final performance,
the director let me go onstage (my first time onstage) and perform
with the cast! I was hooked instantly and for some reason it felt
Although I felt I had found "my place," I still had to go
back to my own school. The bullying just kept getting worse. I didn't
know what to do anymore. I remember I even had thoughts of suicide
and hurting myself.
When I turned 12, I was
given a hand-me-down guitar and a chord book. I studied those basic
chords and learned how to play the basic songs. Throughout this process,
I figured out that no matter how bad of a day I had at school, I could
come home and create my own world within the music. I could make the
music as happy or as sad as I wanted it to be. I used the pain from
being bullied to transform me into who I was meant to be.
I knew where I was most comfortable – on stage. But I couldn't
always be there and not everyone respected my happiness.
The bullying didn't end there. It just kept happening. It got so bad
that I dropped out of high school. I got to the point where I couldn't
even focus in class because of the pestering. I told the school officials
about the bullying and they did what they could, but I would rather
be sittin' on my butt at home than being bullied and beat up at school.
A couple of years later, I met an angel who would turn out to be my
beautiful wife, Heidi.
I was a dropout: No job, no license, no car, no aspirations. She had
a diploma, three jobs, a car AND goals. Having someone in my life
who really believed in me made me believe in myself. We started dating
and I started to progress. I started a band and found a job, got my
license, and soon afterwards got my GED! In the midst of it all, we
found out that we were expecting our sweet son Hunter. That right
there is the proudest moment of my life and no famous game show or
extravaganza concert can top that. EVER!!
Heidi and Hunter balance me. Throughout my adventures and heartache
on "American Idol" to the adventures and heartache on the
road of rock 'n roll, they have always supported me.
And when I'm home, I'm
With whatever "celebrity status" I have thanks to "American
Idol," I really wanted to use it for a good purpose.
I've always been a huge fan of WWE and pro wrestling and I was approached
by them after Idol to be a part of their anti-bullying campaign B.A.
Star. Since then I have participated in several in school rallies
to talk to kids about my experiences being bullied and how I've overcome
them to be the man I am today.
Regrets? I've had a few... but then again, too few to mention, haha.