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"American Idol" finalist James Durbin heads for the Chesaning Showboat Rockfest determined to earn success

Published: Monday, July 02, 2012, 11:30 AM Updated: Monday, July 02, 2012, 10:14 PM

By Sue White | For MLive.com

CHESANING, MI – Watching James Durbin climb to a fourth-place finish on “American Idol” in 2011, some 30 million viewers caught one victory after another.

The young rocker from Santa Cruz, Calif., stunned the audience with songs like “I’ll Be There for You” and “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and showed the world what was possible even as he struggled with Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder, and Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. And who can ever forget Durbin’s face when pro wrestler Hulk Hogan stopped by to say hello?

But looking on those accomplishments as stepping stones rather than top-of-the-world achievements is what put Durbin in a van with his band in late June, heading through Oregon on his way to Tacoma, Wash., for another leg of the concert tour called Rockfest.

On July 14, the day-long music fest kicks off at noon at the Chesaning Showboat with hard rockers Sevendust, Fuel, Drowning Pool and 15 others waiting in the wings.

“I never wanted to be one of those people who got a lot of attention on ‘American Idol’ and then disappeared from view,” Durbin said. “The show is an opportunity, a stepping stone with the kind of exposure you’re not going to get anywhere else.

“You’re being looked at, you’re being chosen to go on, and when it’s over, you’d better be ready to work your butt off.”

When the run’s over, so is the five-star catering and the cushy tour buses, he admits.

“But I’m where I want to be right now,” he said. “I really want to earn my success, whether it is superstardom or touring Europe or traveling around the country with my band in a van.

“’American Idol’ was a platform and the rest is up to me.”

Durbin’s music has a harder edge than people will remember, which puts him in good stead with his present company. And the veterans are really supportive of the young bands, he added.

“They’re working as hard as we are and they know this is our time to shine,” he said. “There’s nothing but encouragement.”

They’re all having a good time, and that means good things for the audience as well as promoters and venues before he heads back in the studio for a follow-up to last year’s “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster.”

“I’ve always loved music,” Durbin said. “My dad was a musician, and when my sisters got started in theater and choir at school, I was interested, too.

“They were in ‘Damn Yankees’ and I watched every show. I became their mascot, I was 10 or 11 at the time, and by the end, I knew all the songs. At the end, they brought me onstage, like a little Easter egg hidden in the back, but then they pushed me up front and I got to see the audience.”

He was hooked, continuing in musical theater as he grew comfortable onstage.

“But the difference was pretending to be someone else; I wanted to do what I wanted to do.”

Durbin pulled his own band together and started singing his own songs, a scary experience at first, he admitted, but a lot cooler in the long run.

“I grew into myself, onstage and off,” he said. “I felt free and alive.”

The syndromes were a limitation, he said, “but I feel where I am now shows you can’t put a limit on what you can achieve. It might take a little more work and a little more time, but there’s no limit to what you want to be.”

Durbin said he and his band love playing to people who haven’t heard them and have no idea of who they are. They’re giving Durbin a chance, he said, and telling their buddies when they like what they hear.

“We’re showing people who we are and what we do,” he said. “We’re not bubble-gum and we don’t play that formula corporate crap. We start out with some Ronnie James Dio and leave the crowd screaming for more.”

“American Idol” was his alma mater, he said, “a point in my career, a springboard that allowed me to do something different. It’s all been an exploration, and I’m right where I want to be.”

The Chesaning Showboat Rockfest, also featuring nonpoint, SOIL, Taproot, Janus, Edisun, Eye Empire, Beyond Threshold, Shallow Side, Dory Drive, Charm City Devils, Prospect Hill, Art of Dying, 12 Stones and Anew Revolution, begins at noon July 14 at the Chesaning Showboat Park, 807 S. Front. Tickets cost $59, $39 and $29, plus a $5 ticket service fee on advance at the box office at 218 N. Front, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday; by calling 989-845-3056 and online at Chesaningshowboat.org.