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James Durbin: It Really Does Get Better

By Jarett Wieselman

February 23, 2012

Last season, James Durbin lit the American Idol stage on fire (sometimes literally) with his rock star charisma, insane vocal reach and touching personal story. Now, James is putting his celebrity to good use by aligning with a pair of hugely important organizations as he simultaneously plans to tour the nation!

Not only will James serve as a celebrity spokesperson for the Be a STAR Alliance (an anti-bullying initiative cofounded by The Creative Coalition and WWE) but he's performing this Friday in a Help Kids Rock fundraiser for the Rock School Scholarship Fund (more details and ticketing information here).

I caught up with James yesterday to talk about both of these exciting endeavors as well as find out what advice he has for the current crop of Idol contestants! How did you get involved with the STAR Alliance?
James Durbin: I've always been a fan of WWE and pro-wrestling – when I was on Idol, I got the chance to tell the world that. Having Hulk Hogan come out and surprise me and becoming friends with Chris Jericho and The Miz, it's really been a dream come true. Match that with my bullying experiences throughout my childhood for being different (James has Asperger's and Tourette's Syndrome) and , it just kind of came together. They asked if I would be interested, and I was already a huge fan of the Be A Star program, so I knew right then and there I wanted to Be A part of it.

Insider: What would James circa 2009 think if he could hear you say today "becoming friends with Chris Jericho?"
James: [laughs] He'd sh*t his pants. Sometimes I still do when I think about it. It certainly makes all of this more exciting. I'm going to do a press conference with The WWE for these middle school kids who are just like I was. They're getting bullied and may think there's no light on the horizon. That they will always be bullied and that's their life. But it definitely gets better. You just have to believe in yourself and know that something great can happen. A curse can turn into a blessing.

Insider: And on Friday you're performing in a Help Kids Rock Fundraiser -- why was it important for you to participate with that?
James: That's something I'm really excited about. Music is what got me through school. It was the only part of school I liked, so it's especially sad that those programs are being taken out of schools. But knowing there are scholarships and after-school programs that keep music in kids lives makes me so happy. I was actually a part of a scholarship program back home in Santa Cruz and it boosted my love for music. That's what I love, appreciate and respect about these after school programs: They give us kids a chance to shine.

Insider: You've certainly had a lot of opportunity to shine since Idol -- how have your fans responded to your music?
James: Oh man, my fans are – and I use this term lightly – but they're crazy [laughs]. In all different ways. Some are actually crazy and others are just crazy for the music. It's great that I get to bring that out of my fans and bring that to them at my shows.

Insider: What's next for you -- will there be another single off Memories of a Beautiful Disaster? Will you be touring?
James: We'll be on the road all spring and summer – we just added Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio as well as Rocklahoma. So I'm really excited about that because I've always wanted to play festivals. I'm looking forward to earning my stripes on this one.

Insider: So many people have found the industry after Idol to be less than welcoming. How has your experience been?
James: It's been good, but it really is a lot of hard work. You whine and complain when you're on Idol – "I'm tired. They're overworking me. I want to go to sleep" – but if you decide to make this your career, you're going to be working four times as much after Idol ends. You'll be begging and wishing and pleading for those Idol days back. Idol is a breeze compared to actually making it in the industry – but all the hard work is for the chance to do what I was born to do. You can't take it for granted that it's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. You really have to earn a lot of respect to be taken seriously in rock and roll.

Insider: The current Idol season is about to head into the live shows -- is there anything you wish you knew before the Top 12 that you'd like to pass along?
James: There's a couple things – the first is, don't take sleep for granted! Get it whenever you can! The second would be, always listen to the producers. If they tell you to do something, you should do it. But there are a lot of other people giving you their input and sometimes it'll feel like they're trying to tell you what to do or how to sing. Remember, you don't have to listen to them. I disobeyed them so many times because I knew in my heart what I wanted to do was right for me. If I failed, I wanted to fail on my own terms. If I succeeded, I wanted to succeed on my own terms. It all boils down to learning from your mistakes. It makes you who you are, better at what you do.