Thousands gather to welcome back James Durbin with open arms
Judging by the surging crowd and the number of squeals heard outside Louden Nelson Community Center Saturday afternoon, tourists might have thought Justin Bieber was in town.
But every local knew—Saturday was Durbin Day.
Just two days earlier, James Durbin was tragically eliminated on American Idol, after show-stopping his way to the final four.
News of the hometown hero’s elimination sent shockwaves throughout Santa Cruz County, where locals had tuned in every Wednesday night for weeks to text in their votes and bring Durbin to the winner’s circle.
For many, the weight of the loss was amplified by the fact that an elimination meant Durbin would not have the opportunity to return home until after the Idol finale. The top three competitors earn the chance to bring the cameras home with them and show off their roots to the world.
But Santa Cruz doesn’t give up that easily.
According to Zach Friend, Santa Cruz police public information officer, the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council, the Boardwalk, the City of Santa Cruz, the police and other local agencies rallied, and pleaded with the producers of American Idol to allow Durbin to come home anyway.
“It was the first time American Idol had been asked to do this,” says Friend. “And it’s the first time they’ve made an exception.”
As a result, Durbin was transported back to Santa Cruz for the day, where a full line-up of media events, starting with a press conference and concluding with a concert at the Boardwalk (where 20,000 people were expected to attend), awaited him.
“It feels great to be back,” said Durbin, from behind a podium at Louden Nelson. “I went to Zoccoli’s today and had two sandwiches!”
Donning a jean jacket with the phrase “Give Metal a Chance” stitched into the back and a peace-sign bandana around his neck, Santa Cruz’s idol spoke of his last day on the show.
“I was so emotional at Thursday’s elimination because I knew I couldn’t go home,” said Durbin, holding his baby boy. “I almost started crying when I was walking around [The Tonight Show with Jay] Leno and got a text about going back home.”
On Idol, Durbin stood out from the competition with his love of metal and avoidance of mainstream music, choosing to perform songs by artists like Judas Priest. He says his debut single will be in the same vein. “I potentially heard my very first single, I didn’t write it, but it’s catchy,” says Durbin. “In this day and age of entertainment, it’s got to be pop-y, with all the fun and excitement of ’80s hair metal.”
Durbin says he hopes to get a record deal soon, so that he’ll have the opportunity to record while on tour in early fall or winter. Until then, he’ll fly to New York for the first time Sunday morning to meet up with other Idol contestants, and then it’s off to Los Angeles for more press, followed by rehearsals for the Idol finale.
“I got great momentum right now, to waste it would be a shame,” says Durbin. “Everything I’ve done in my life—it’s been a Godsend that it all lined up in this order and built up to this.”
Throughout his childhood, Durbin was involved in performing arts groups in Santa Cruz County including Kids on Broadway and Santa Cruz Melody Makers, many of whose current members were in attendance Saturday to support him.
“I’ve loved being in front of an audience since I was a kid—I wanted to be seen,” says Durbin. “Every kid who picks up a guitar or drums dreams of a nationwide tour. I can’t believe it until it happens.”
American Idols Live comes to HP Pavillion in San Jose on July 13. And according to Durbin, three of the tour stops have already sold out of tickets.
If the number of fans wearing homemade “We love James Durbin” T-shirts and pressing themselves up against the glass of the room where the press conference was held, is any indication, Santa Cruzans will undoubtedly snatch up most of the remaining tickets.
“There’s so much love and support in Santa Cruz,” says Durbin. “I’m going to have to run away from security and run around the arena a couple times giving people hugs to thank all of my fans around the country.”
Though he is no longer in the competition, Durbin encourages fans to continue watching the show and voting for their (second) favorite. Considering he got fourth place in a contest for which an estimated 140,000 people auditioned, he says he couldn’t be happier. Besides, Chris Daughtry placed fourth, and look at him now.
“I feel I did amazing. And if I’m going out, I’m going out with fire and a big old leap,” says Durbin. “But I don’t want people to give up on the show—[American Idol] did all this for me.”
It’s hard to believe that less than a year ago, Durbin was just one of many people unemployed by the recession in Santa Cruz County.
“Domino’s on Clares [Street] had closed and I got laid off,” says Durbin, who was convinced by his fiancée to audition for Idol. “Two days later, I said [to her], ‘let’s go wait in line for 28 hours.’”
Fast forward to Saturday, when thousands gathered just to catch a glimpse of the hometown star.
His reaction? “WOOOOOOO! It’s magical! It’s nuts!”