I hope you’ve been watching American Idol this season because there have been some very talented, very diverse young artists performing. James Durbin has been consistently among the best with his hard-rocking, daring and inventive performances. I have been especially delighted by Durbin as he is a native of Santa Cruz. And every Thursday and Friday morning, the local paper reports on his successes on AI and on his local history.
I have never met Durbin, nor have I seen his performances with Kids on Broadway—a popular, independent performing group for whom he played the Gene Kelly part in “Singing in the Rain” (I wonder if he can dance)—nor have I seen his performances at the local Young Performers Showcases. But I know people who know people who…Okay, it’s a slim connection but tracking Durbin’s development on AI as well as our community’s response to it has been a pleasant diversion during our hard economic times. Arts reporter Wallace Baine brags about how “one brash and supremely talented 22-year-old singer has brought together the oddest of cultural odd couples—the proudly eccentric, different-drummer, Deadhead-and-reggae-loving town of Santa Cruz, and America’s top-rated TV show, by definition, as mainstream as pop culture gets” (Baine April 27 A2).
The Santa Cruz Sentinel, our daily newspaper, has been revealing Durbin’s secrets to us locals bit by bit We learned early about his Tourette’s and Asperger’s Syndromes; the identity of “Heidi” (his fiancée) to whom he dedicated his performances; that he perfected his performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” while a guest artist with the Santa Cruz White Album Ensemble (he received a standing O for one of his performances) (Baine April 7). We learned that Durbin is the “king of the county’s karaoke scene” (would love to have been there for that) and that his father, the late Willy Durbin, was a well-loved local jazz musician (Baine, April 27, 2011). (For more, read Baine’s article “The book of James: The amazing journey of James Durbin to ‘American Idol'” Sentinel Feb 17)
Durbin stories have been featured on the Sentinel’s “Extra” or B section with the exception of one front page article about how his openness and talent is inspiring young boys with Tourette’s and Asperger’s (Chuck Barney, April 5, 2011). This week, however, with Durbin’s national reputation rising along with our hopes for his win, Durbin’s image was splashed across the front pages of the Sentinel for two days and on the cover of our weekly entertainment rag, the Good Times Santa Cruz. The GT issue is the annual “Best of Santa Cruz” and set across Durbin’s cover image are the words “The Best.” Durbin was awarded the Critic’s Pick for Best Singer/Performer. “In a year when Santa Cruz could use a little more emotional sunshine, look who comes along to surprise us all—the most brightly lit star…of all in the Cruzan bunch” writes Greg Archer. “Kudos to you, James Durbin, for give Santa Cruz something to root for” (Archer, GT 4/28/11 pg 100).
Public broadcasts of American Idol are held each week at three local restaurants, and from what I hear they are getting crowded. If he makes it to the finals, maybe there will be a big-screen showing at the Civic Center so we can cheer him on together. And if he wins, well, I can’t wait to be downtown for the homecoming parade.