When June Gloom fades away hereabouts it just doesn’t get much better. Sit on a seawall, soak up the sun and the cool breezes off that blue ocean, watch the brown pelicans soar overhead and have a phone conversation with James Durbin.
Yes, talk to James Durbin. The same guy who finished fourth on American Idol two seasons ago.
Listen to him tell you how former Idol winner David Cook helped him with some of the songs on his debut record – “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster.”
Hear him explain how much he respects Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips and how P2 is “killin’ it” and “working his — off.”
Ask him what Idol meant to him and then will come the booming voice, “Oh, my god, it was everything to me. I count my blessings everyday for that show. It was what set me apart.”
Try to get him to talk about sports other than professional wrestling – impossible. “I still stay in contact with Hulk Hogan. But he is very busy these days.” You see, Mr. Hogan surprised Durbin with a visit on-stage during James’ Idol run and the life-long WWE fan still talks about it.
Inquire to this love of heavy metal if he ever has seen Pearl Jam in person. “No, but,” Durbin, 24, will start out, “I’ve been told that when I was a little kid they came to my hometown of Santa Cruz to play a small bar under a fictitious name. Something like the Dirty Dogs they called themselves. By the time they played their third song word got around town and the entire place was packed.
Then came the emotional Durbin when asked what Idol really meant to him. “Three things,” he said. “It meant I was able to support my family (he has a wife and a son), it meant I got to perform and share my passion for music in front of millions of people and most of all it meant that I was able to get involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. To my surprise this little kid named Cole, who lived in Michigan, wanted to meet me. We did meet and it was incredible.”
Cole, like Durbin, suffers from Asperger’s and Tourette’s syndromes.
Over the course of 10 weeks on American Idol, Durbin sang for a television audience of over 20 million each week.
But he has never performed in much of California and that includes Sonoma County. And he has never witnessed a NASCAR race. All that is about to change.
Sunday, the Santa Cruz native will sing the national anthem before the start of the 25th Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
“Yes, it is a difficult song to sing,” Durbin admitted. “You have to rehearse and I will. Do you reme.mber when Christina Aguilera sang it a few years ago (2011 Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas) and messed it up by forgetting the lyrics? She rehearsed it all right, but only the first half of the song. That’s why she didn’t do it right. If you just read about the history of the anthem it is quite an emotional song to begin with.”
It might be the first time Durbin has performed it in Sonoma County, but it’s not the first time he has been able to sing it at sporting events. He did before a Los Angeles Kings game in L.A. (“Although they were playing MY Sharks and I couldn’t wear my Sharks shirt that night!” he said), a Santa Cruz Warriors (B League) basketball game and a San Jose
Giants minor league baseball game. “We had just had our son and I won a singing contest. The prize? A $1,000 which we spent it all on diapers I think and I got to sing the anthem at the baseball game.”
Sunday’s gig will put him on the Sonoma County performance map. But how close has he been to Wine Country in the past?
“After Idol I did an acoustic gig for a Rotary Club in Napa,” he said with a chuckle. It was hard to imagine the heavy metal aficionado and WWE fan performing for the local Rotarians. “But they really enjoyed it,” he said, “and it worked out really well with the 92-year old speaker they had. He was absolutely awesome.”
And what about witnessing a NASCAR race? Did he ever come close to seeing one?
“We drove up to the Cow Palace in San Francisco to watch a WWE event and my parents made me sit in the car so they could listen to the Daytona 500! I was bummed, we missed about half of the wrestling card,” Durbin laughed.