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Idol Rocker James Durbin Talks Beatles, Bieber, and Belly-Flops
Lyndsey Parker By Lyndsey Parker
March 21, 2014 5:28 PM
Reality Rocks


"American Idol" rocker James Durbin is set to release his sophomore album "Celebrate" on April 8, and longtime fans of the man who famously performed with Judas Priest on the Season 10 "Idol" finale might be surprised by its poppier, peppier direction.

But James has given more than just metal a chance throughout his musical life. He's influenced by a wide array of artists, from Michael Jackson to the Beatles to even his Season 10 "Idol" crony Casey Abrams, and in a pop-quiz interview with Yahoo Music, he hilariously dishes about all that and more.

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photo: Kristen Shaffer
What is the first album you bought with your own money, and where did you buy it from?
The "Space Jam" soundtrack.
What was the first concert you attended, and where?
It was horrible. It was Trapt. It was at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, and I won free tickets because I was getting a slice of pizza downtown and they had this radio station outside there. And I heard them because they were broadcasting right there; they were like, "Hey, if anyone hears us on the radio and wants to come to the concert tonight, come on down and we'll get you free tickets." So I went. I had two tickets, I was like 15 or 16, and couldn't find anyone to go with me. So I'm, like, trying to give away a free ticket to anyone outside, and of course, being a 16-year-old boy, I'm trying to find like a girl. Like, "You want this ticket? It's free! You don't have to stand with me or anything, but it's a free ticket." But she still said no — and she was there buying a ticket!

What was the artist/song/video/album/concert that made you go, "Wow, making music is what I want to do too"?
Thriller. When I was in 6th grade I sang [Michael Jackson's] "Rock With You" and I did the moonwalk and everything at a talent show. I think "Idol" still has the only known copy of [that video]. They need to send it back to my mom.

If you could duet with any recording artist, living or dead, who would your dream duet partner be?
Paul McCartney.

What has been your unfortunate onstage mishap?
I like to eat. I like to be healthy and work out, but my love of food and eating and sugar — especially the drug sugar — kind of kicks out the love of fitness and staying healthy. So sometimes I would finish off a show and at the very end of the show I'd do a big jump, and more than 100 times my shirt would fly up and you'd just see my white gut flopping over the belt line. Ugh!

What's the weirdest thing a fan has ever done for you or said to you?
At my Santa Cruz show someone made me a doll. They said they spent the last three years making it It's like the "Idol" me, so I'm heavier in the face, like a baby face, and then it has the hair and the striped shirt.

Did that flatter you, or freak you out?
Both. I told my neighbors about it. I didn't show it to them but I said, "If any of your chickens are missing in the morning, we'll come look and see if the case is still locked."

Do you have a special preshow ritual?
Actually on this last tour I started getting a lot of canvases and drawing on them [backstage]. I've actually already sold a couple of my works.

What's the most unusual thing on your tour rider?
Hand-warmers. I mean, we were just on tour in the polar vortex, so hand-warmers were definitely needed. But no one got us hand-warmers. My old band lineup, our old rider was like a bottle of Jack Daniel's, a bottle of Crown, a bottle of Grey Goose, rolling papers…um, countless other things. It's funny, now it's seaweed snacks. I really like nori snacks.

What's the one genre of music you'd never try to do yourself, and why not?
That I'd never do? I have to think of some songs that I wrote for this last record. I did a bunch of songwriting sessions, and so we'd have some days we just wouldn't have a full perfect pop-rock radio record idea, we'd have something else. So one time I was writing with Chad Wolf from Carolina Liar and we just started writing this song and we called it "California," and it's like a hip-hop song. It's really funny and I'm kind of rapping on it and there's like a Peter Frampton talkbox in there, and it's just stupid. But it would totally work to be like synched up for like a show like "The Hills" or "The Vineyard" or something like that. But something I'd never do, I don't know…

Do you do karaoke? If so, what's your go-to karaoke song?
I don't do karaoke anymore; I haven't done karaoke in a while. I had a setlist. I used to work karaoke, used to run the board, and I'd host. I did that before "Idol." I'd usually start off with "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green and eventually get to "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and "Bohemian Rhapsody." And then the very last song of the night, if it was a full house and they were crazy and people were having fun and buying drinks and everything, my co-host Chris and would get on the microphones and we would do the very last song. In the middle of the set we'd do "Ice Ice Baby," and then at the very end of the show we'd do "Don't Stop Believin'" and we'd stand on the tables and on the bar and we'd be throwing coasters out into the crowd at people. We just made it like a fun show.

What's the most surprising song or artist on your iPod?
Um, only because I like the production, and because I doubt that the person singing it had anything to do with the writing of the song, but yet probably still got like 60 percent credit…it's "Beauty and a Beat" by Justin Bieber. It's got really cool production and the flow of [Nicki Minaj's] rap line it's just kind of cool.

What's the most recent album you've purchased?
One of the last ones that I actually purchased, like a full record, was Casey Abrams's record. It's just really good. We listen to it on every single road trip. I think we listened to it twice on our drive just today. It's a really good album, underrated; it wasn't publicized a bunch and it wasn't promoted, and it's a shame.

OK, lightning-round time. Pick one: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?

Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly?

Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera?

The Notorious B.I.G. or Tupac Shakur?