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Interview: Backstage With American Idol’s James Durbin

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Hours before the Top 11 from American Idol season 10 took the stage at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, I had the opportunity to talk with a certain Idol contestant that was extremely excited and happy to be back in his neck of the woods.

Santa Cruz native, James Durbin and I sat down backstage for a pre-show chat, where he discussed getting the crowd up and on their feet during the tour, writing and recording for his album, and the episode of Idol that neither of us will be forgetting anytime soon.

So how does it feel to be performing in the Bay Area?

It feels great. We did Oakland last night, and that was insane. I’m really excited for tonight.James Durbin, San Jose, CA - credit: Kirsten Coachman

It has to be a cool feeling to have tried out for the show in San Francisco, and have this full circle kind of moment.

This place, HP Pavilion, I came to my very first sporting event here. It was the Sharks versus the Avalanche. I was five-years-old, packed arena, and out of every single person, my one seat, I won a CD player. And then a hockey puck got hit over [the barrier] and landed right next to me. Unfortunately the Sharks lost, but two out of three things ain’t bad.

I’ve been here so many times. I’ve seen countless wrestling shows here. I once waited for three hours and climbed on top of that cement wall to catch a glimpse of Chris Jericho. Now I have him on speed dial. We were just texting and he’s in Europe with his band touring. We went and saw Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks, Poison, and Motley Crue, and hang out all the time. It’s so crazy, it’s a full swing.

Very cool. Have you been able to get back to Santa Cruz while you’re here, or does everyone kind of have to come to you?

Everyone’s had to come here. I’m dying to go to Socrates and get a sandwich, but unfortunately not, which really sucks. It’s a twenty minute cab ride. I could grab lunch and come back.

So, how has the tour been going so far with the handful of shows you’ve done so far?

This will only be our sixth show out of forty-seven. It already feels like it’s been awhile, but it’s only been a blink. But, it’s gone really good; every show’s been great. Everyone’s been really receptive, everyone’s there to have a good time. Sometimes they need to be reminded that they’re supposed to have a good time. A lot of people have been sitting down.

You know, I’ve gone to a handful of Idol tours, and sometimes people treat the live show like they’re at home watching y’all on TV, instead of embracing the vibe of being at a concert.

I know some people get agitated if people are standing up, Sit down! We’re trying to watch the show! It’s a concert; you’re supposed to stand up! We enjoy it when you stand. That’s why when I come out for my set, I come out through the crowd. I want people to stand up! Stand up! Try and find me!

One of our shows, everyone was sitting down for like half of the show, I come out during the second set. I pretty much just say it. I’m blunt with them, I say it over the mic. It’s like, what are we all critics? No! Stand up, we’re family, we’re friends, we’re here to have a good time. Stand up, clap your hands, get on your feet, jump around; it’s time to have fun.

What has been the most fulfilling part for you so far on the tour?

Oh my gosh. In the meet and greet and seeing the people, taking pictures and giving back to everyone that’s gotten me here, and voted for me, got me on the show, and supported me, bought my Walmart EP. It charted on Billboard. What the hell is going on? [laughs] This is nucking futs, as my mom says. I just like being able to give back. It’s a once in a lifetime thing, you know? I’m used to playing bars, and now I’m playing arenas.

So once the tour wraps up, are you just going to hit the ground running working on your album?

I’m already hitting the ground running. The stars are aligning, everything’s falling into place. You’ve got to get on it. I’ve been doing a lot of writing, and working with folks. James Michael from Sixx:A.M., Dj Ashba from Nikki Sixx’s band. Tomorrow I’m working with Marty Fredrickson that’s worked with Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Buckcherry, and right now working on the new Aerosmith record. I’m working with him and James Michael tomorrow. Writing all day. We just wrote an amazing track, we’re shopping it around, and hopefully some good news will be coming out very soon.

Switching gears just a little, while you were on Idol, what was something you weren’t expecting?

James Durbin, San Jose, CA - credit: Kirsten Coachman

I definitely wasn’t expecting Hulk Hogan to come out.

I don’t think anyone expected Hulk Hogan to come out.

[laughs] What I found out later was only like a handful of people knew, like five people knew. A bunch of people didn’t know. They swear they saw him walking around, like my stylist later told me, “I saw Hulk Hogan and the first thing that came to my mind was you.” It was so surreal.

We had this whole group number, and literally an hour before the show they’re like, “Stevie Wonder’s here.” We’re cutting half of the group number, Stevie’s going to come out, and we’re going to sing with him, cause it was Steven Tyler’s birthday, so it was also that surprise. Stevie comes out, we bring a cake on for Steven, then Hulk Hogan comes out. I don’t even remember who performed that night, like the regular guest performer.

Well, they got a little overshadowed.

Definitely. And then Casey got saved. Probably the greatest episode of American Idol in all of it’s history.

I have to say that night I was at home watching the episode and the entire time I was like, “What’s going on? What just happened? Hulk Hogan’s there?” It was crazy.

Imagine being a part of it. It was literally an “Oh shit!” moment the entire time.

Was there a judge on the show whose advice or critiques you took to heart more so than the other judges?

I definitely got the most from Jennifer. I love Steven, I love Randy; they both gave me so much great advice, as well. But, Jennifer’s came from a different place. It came from a more motherly place, a warming place. And just how she spoke, I really connected with it. It kept me going. A lot of the time something Randy would say, like when I did “Without You,” and I had an emotional breakdown up there and he said, “This is yours to lose.” And that got me going crazy for that whole week. I’m like, “What does that mean?” And then I ended up getting eliminated the next week still thinking about it.

Last question, what advice do you have for future Idol contestants that are trying out right now?

Just believe. Believe in yourself. Believe all throughout Hollywood Week that you can do it, because so many lose sight of that. They lose sight of believing. Don’t let the bullshit get in your way. There are so many people there that are in it for the wrong reasons during Hollywood Week. Up until you get to the show, it’s weeding out the people who are there for material possessions.

Scotty won, because he doesn’t care about all this material stuff. He just wants to sing. All of us who were there, all us that made Top 11 on this tour, we’re here because it’s what we want to do. We’re here out of passion and out of love for music and musicality and melodic sensibility. We’re here for what’s missing out of music today.

You can check out James Durbin and the rest of the American Idol season 10 Top 11 at a city near you. Check the official tour website for more information.

Photo credits: Kirsten Coachman

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About Kirsten Coachman

Kirsten Coachman is an Entertainment Writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has interviewed a variety of people from across the entertainment spectrum, including singer-songwriter/Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, Andrew Dost from the Grammy Award-winning band fun., singer-songwriter Christina Perri, and acclaimed writer-director Derek Cianfrance.
  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Love that he’s wearing WWE wrestler The Miz’s T-shirt…LOL. I’m normally not an Idol fan at all, but James got me hooked this year. Nice kid with a great voice. Hope he gets signed soon.

    Oh, and nice job on this Kristen.

    -Glen

  • Stacey

    Kirsten, you are getting me hooked on James! After reading your review of the tour the other day I started watching videos of James and these other kids – I didn’t watch the show this year. James definitely stood out to me as the best on the videos I saw and I’m really surprised he didn’t win. What a fantastic voice and fantastic personality too. I also read that he is a very devoted family man with a little son and fiance who he adores. I hope he goes really far with his career – I’m going out to buy his EP. Great interview – keep ‘em coming – I’m a James Durbin fan now!

  • imrahd

    All the contestants need to realize that this is last of star treatment they are going to get via American Idol, after this it is a cold world out there and you will need to hustle to be seen or heard,to perform on a big stage like this tour is going to be hard to come by, you will need to put out money from your own pocket to support tour spending. Reality will be much harsher if you think from now on you will be singing arena stage only(no more bar singing?) Think again and be prepared.

  • Beth

    He is a poser for sure. I am a metal fan and he screams wannabe to me. I doubt he will amount to much. Nobody wants a reality contestant winner who got a break from a silly tv contest mimicking a metal band!