Why We Love James

jamesdurbin_museWait a minute, stop the presses! (Gee, I’ve always wanted to say that!)
This just in: Durbin Day will go on as planned in Santa Cruz tomorrow (Saturday), including a parade through downtown and a live performance at the Boardwalk beach bandstand. Click here right now for all the details!
Is it possible to be too good for American Idol? It happened to James Durbin last night when the program’s viewing and voting public failed to cast enough votes to send him into the Final Three. This was an enormous shock, especially when you consider that James is one of only two Idol performers this season who has never even finished in the bottom three before, not to mention that he consistently out-sang and out-performed the competition week after week after week.

James’ elimination is not about any lack of talent. Rather, it’s about a talent too big, gutsy, and exuberant to be contained within the very narrow confines of the American Idol pop-rock playbook. Sure, I’m prejudiced, but don’t take my word for it. Look who’s left standing: Southern teenage country crooners Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, who have played it safe in their song choices every week. (Both of whom also effectively played the God card this week to mobilize their vast Bible Belt fan base. Maybe James should have found a cross to kiss.) The only risk-taker left in the game is smoky-voiced Haley Reinhart. I like her, but unlike James, she’s never managed to establish a consistent personality onstage. She’s finished in the bottom so often, and is so routinely dissed by the judges, this week, the voters must have decided to come to her defense.

Why do we love James? Because he’s so much fun to watch! An exciting and dynamic performer, he understands stagecraft and brings a richly developed sense of theatre to the table every time. How about his intuitive showmanship, designing and creating his own production numbers every week? Then there’s his versatility; he can cradle a ballad or belt out a rocker without missing a beat—or a note. And OMG, that voice! His Top 5 performances this season? 1) “Maybe I’m Amazed,” for its melting authenticity. (He sang it again last night as his farewell song.) 2) “Uprising,” by Muse, for its electrifying authority. 3) “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” for its pliant, a capella beginning and big rocker finish. 4) “Heavy Metal” and “Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting” (tie), for their gutsy showmanship. 5) “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” for its quiet, stunning power. (Wait, I didn’t even mention this week’s playful, vocally acrobatic “Love Potion No. 9!” Well, you get the idea.)

The only losers in this scenario are the American viewing public, now cheated out of the fun of tuning in every week to see what James will do next. For his part, James achieved everything he set out to do—he brought a necessary shot of adrenalin to a show that’s started to go a little soft and stodgy around the edges. He also proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to all America that he was born to sing.

James Durbin’s American Idol dream may be over, but his career is just beginning. Not winning the Idol jackpot hasn’t impeded the careers of, say, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson (who finished Number 7 in 2004), or glam-rocker Adam Lambert, first runner-up in 2008. Idol may have let him slip away, but in the meantime, James has established a worldwide fan base. Untold gazillions of people are now primed and eager to buy his future CDs and throng to his live concerts. Like me, they all want to see what he does next.

The homecoming parade and Boardwalk bandstand performance that was to happen this Saturday have been cancelled. James has too many commitments, getting ready for the Idol finale in two weeks (in which all season contestants evidently appear), and the upcoming summer tour of the Top 10 finalists. But whenever he does come home, i hope there’s still a parade in the works, for us more than him; the hometown fans are in a frenzy to show him the love!
So don’t stop believin’, James. You’re the real deal.

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