Return to James Durbin






‘Idol’ star, on greatest living rock stars list, performs locally

By Leslie Gray Streeter | American Idol, Music | March 22, 2012


When James Durbin got the call from Revolver magazine about their "100 Greatest Living Rock Stars" issue, he was game to wax philosophic about some of "the people I’ve idolized my whole life… I was like ‘OK! Who am I talking about?’"

Turns out the music magazine – whose list included Axl Rose, Ozzy Osbourne, James Hetfield, Dave Grohl and others – had one specific rock star they wanted the 22-year-old American Idol semifinalist to focus on: James Durbin.

Which, you might imagine, took more than a few minutes to sink in.

"They were like ‘No, you’re one of them’ and I was like ‘Ex-squeeze me? Baking power?,’ " Durbin says, referring to fictional would-be rock star Wayne Campbell of Wayne’s World’s signal of incredulity. Wayne and Garth might be fictional, but Durbin’s rising star – as well as his status as a young stalwart of good old undiluted rock and roll – is very, very real.

Durbin finished fourth during Idol’s 2011 season and is performing Friday at WRMF’s "Just Us Girls" event. He’s promoting his hit album Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, and reveling in the experience of playing the music he’s always wanted to play.

Survived bullying

On Idol, Durbin always came off as older than his years – he was already a young father with his longtime girlfriend (now wife), and had lived through and conquered an incredible amount of difficult stuff. Diagnosed with both Tourette’s syndrome and Asperger’s syndrome, he’d survived bullying and the death of his father as a young kid to front his own bands and appear in community theater before auditioning for Idol.

And once on the show, he stood out less for his diagnoses – which, after a few mentions were never really discussed – than for his unapologetic hard-rock sensibilities and honest-to-Ozzy rock howl.

Of course, being a serious, humble guy, Durbin’s refreshingly reticent about tooting his own horn.

"Oh, man. I really don’t know," he says haltingly, when asked about his appeal. "I really don’t. I’ve just always been myself, and if anyone tries to change me, I’m not gonna let them."

Being an advocate

Being on Idol has allowed Durbin to meet some impressive people, including the band Judas Priest, with whom he performed on the show ("Sometimes I still can’t believe that actually happened"), and some lesser-known but important people with whom he relates. People like Cole, a 10-year-old who wanted to meet him as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Like Durbin, the boy had both Asperger’s and Tourette’s syndromes, but had also just had a dual kidney transplant.

"He’s just a little boy, but he’s a fighter," Durbin says. "I knew that if I could make one little boy happy, whose only wish in the entire world (was meeting him), than there was something bigger than me. That keeps me grounded and humble."

And it was that meeting that inspired him to become a spokesperson for the STAR Alliance, an anti-bullying initiative. It’s a subject he sadly knows a lot about, having "certainly had my share" from elementary school all the way through high school.

"I was beat up, spit on, called names I never want to repeat. And it ruined me," he says, quietly. "Growing up I never had anyone that I could look up to. And now I’ve felt that I’ve been able to be that person for kids who are dealing with what I’ve dealt with."

Clearly, moments like meeting Cole and being an advocate mean more to Durbin than winning a title or getting an award. But that part’s still cool too – he’s a nominee for Revolver’s "Golden Gods" awards, to be held in Los Angeles in April.

"It feels really surreal. I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s a really interesting feeling," he says. "I’m really honored to be a part of that."