Update: James Durbin was voted off ‘Idol’ tonight. The result was in well before the show went on the air here on the West Coast. More on the vote: Santa Cruz’s James Durbin Voted Off ‘American Idol.’
A local favorite could make it to the American Idol finals tonight. 22-year-old James Durbin has inspired fans around the country with how he has overcome challenges, including diagnoses of Aspergers and Tourette’s Syndrome when he was a boy. But nothing beats the enthusiasm of his fans in his hometown of Santa Cruz.
One hot spot for fans is at Dale Ockerman’s Musicscool. Ockerman, a former guitarist with the Doobie Brothers, opened the self-styled “school of rock” around six years ago in the back of his friend’s guitar shop. James Durbin was one of his first students.
Ockerman says Durbin always “worked really hard.”
“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, he’s just a savant.’ No way, he worked really hard just like these guys do. You have to practice and I think he was always ready for the big time,” says Ockerman.
But Ockerman acknowledges what many say — that Durbin got his talent from his father, who died when Durbin was nine years old.
Ockerman actually knew and played with James’ dad Willy: “He was like the baddest bass player in town. Willy Durbin was a serious bass player.”
Just this week Ockerman says he discovered how small the music world is when he found a DVD of Willy Durbin opening a concert that featured Randy Jackson, the “American Idol” judge who is now playing such an important part in James Durbin’s life.
Ockerman’s not the only one excited for Durbin’s homecoming. Mary Lundberg is the woman who first recruited Durbin to her daughter’s musical theater group Kids on Broadway, where Durbin held the lead in three plays.
Durbin’s first show with Kids on Broadway was Grease in 2006. The show’s directory, Will Gilford, remembers when he first saw James audition and noticed his Tourette’s Syndrome.
“I saw the tics and said to my musical director and said look, it’s a ’50s show, he’s playing John Travolta’s character Danny Zucko,” says Gilfrod. “I said who cares if he has tics, it’ll play with his character. So we just let him be free with who he was.”
Mary Lundberg remembers what it was like for Durbin to be in those plays, and credits James’ mother with helping make his conditions a non-issue. “His mother was just so good with him,” Lunberg said. “She came with brochures about Tourette’s syndrome and autism, and tried to educate everybody around her.”
Lunberg says the dressing room was difficult for Durbin to handle at times with all the chaos, but they found if they gave him a guitar and headphones he could focus without being undone by all the activity.
Will Gilford says Durbin is about as perfect a local hero as you can get: “He is Santa Cruz — he’s creative, he’s open, he’s different, and this will be a different American Idol. Which to me speaks volumes not just to Santa Cruz but to our whole country.”
If Durbin advances to final three on American Idol, it’s expected that FOX will follow him back to Santa Cruz for a homecoming performance on the Beach Boardwalk this Saturday, May 14.