James Durbin

James Durbin. James, James, James.

What are we going to do about James?

James absolutely has a good voice and a big range – a range that goes into the atmosphere, and in those aspects he certainly can be compared to Adam. I don’t like seeing the comparisons, but they’re not unreasonable. However, that’s about IT. In terms of performance – and really, that SHOULD be all we talk about, but it won’t be – there is no comparison.

Obviously, there’s a huge gap in training and experience between the two. Adam is much older, he’d been classically trained since he was ten years old and he’d been performing his entire life. James is relatively young, has had no training at all, so he’s all raw talent and his time on stage has been limited. Therefore, in that respect, it simply isn’t fair to James to compare the two. It also isn’t fair to Adam – it says his training, experience, etc should be discounted as an “unfair advantage.” It also says that he is on the same level as James, and he’s NOT. It’s like Siobhan last year – and with coaching and experience, Siobhan could well go very far on the strength of HER voice.

What Adam has, besides tone and range, is control. He rarely misses notes and he knows when to wail and when to just sing. He never screamed – he sang high notes. There’s a difference. James screams.

Whatever the reason for James saying what he did, he did himself no favors by invoking Adam’s name. In fact, no contestant should ever invoke the name of a past one unless they have a personal connection. Leave that for the media and the judges, please. Lauren Alaina has been compared to Kelly – not unfairly – but SHE never said so. By saying he’s going to sing like Adam, we ARE going to compare them, fair or not. And his “A Change is Gonna Come”? Not even close.

But it’s not just comparisons and it’s not just voice. There’s the elephant in the room – the twin elephants. James has Tourette’s and Asperger’s. These certainly should not have prevented him from auditioning OR from being placed on the show. It’s a vocal competition and he absolutely has the vocal ability. To cut him because he isn’t neurotypical would be very wrong – as wrong as cutting Scott because he can’t see.

But these conditions are going to make life more difficult for James. He has facial tics which may make viewers uncomfortable, and increase under stress. Asperger’s people can also have difficulty understanding social cues and in adjusting to change. I am generalizing here, of course, but we do have reports of James going off by himself and shutting the world out. I have no idea what would trigger that in James, though,and it may well be a good thing that he knows to escape when the world gets overwhelming.

I have said on Twitter that I think it would be a very bad thing for James to be on the live shows, but I am going to say right now that I was wrong. That is, it COULD be, but with forethought, decent communication with James and some very simple arrangements – just as they did with Scott – it could be managed.

Routine is important and comforting, but Idol has a very rigid format (as does the tour) so he will have routine, and the changes are predictable enough that he probably would have time to adjust if changes in routine are problems for him.

Obviously, I don’t know how James manages his conditions, so I’m speaking in generalities, but from my experience as a special ed teacher, with my severely, low-functioning autistic brother and my own Asperger traits (I’m barely on the spectrum. If red is neurotypical, I’m kinda red-orangey. Took me a while, but I can pass now) I can make guesses as to how Idol could help James handle the show.

Performance is stressful, but James clearly loves doing it. I don’t think performance nights will be a problem at all. I can’t imagine they’d change the order of performance without a very good reason. The worst thing I can think of is a set breakdown like just before Rock night in Season 8, which prevented dress rehearsal. But that’s happened ONCE in the history of Idol.

Results nights are a different story. They’re hard for everyone – they’re worried about themselves and/or their friends and Ryan has to stretch things out and he likes to play games, and they’re pretty much trapped on camera the entire time, whether on the benches or the stools. Just thinking about it is difficult.

Again, I have no idea how James manages these things, but there are things Idol and Ryan can do to minimize the stress. One would be to NOT play games with him. As soon as they settle onto the benches after the group performance, Ryan should tell him immediately if he’s safe or bottom 3. He can play around with everyone else, but it’s not fair to James. Another is to NOT trap him on stage, safe or not – he might be waiting to see if his best friend in the house will stay. Seat him in such a way that if he needs to slip off to a place without bright lights and cameras and audience and noises, he can without undue attention. And make sure such a place exists – an office or a dressing room with low distractions where he can discharge. And make sure he knows he can do this. Just knowing this might well be enough to keep things less stressful.

I’m pretty much assuming that James knows when a situation is overwhelming for him, so he can be trusted to make this decision – James is absolutely not stupid and he’s aware of his condition. And Ryan or his mom or girlfriend can check up during commercial breaks to make sure he’s holding up.

The tour is very rigid from all accounts – hotel to bus to venue to meet-and-greets/interviews (just keep an eye on tics and such) to sound check to performance to more meet-and-greets to bus to hotel in new city. If they make the meet-and-greets and press optional (even if he wins/finishes high) he should be just fine.

Again, this is all conjecture, and I have no idea if he even needs all this consideration – I certainly hope not – but none of this is difficult or intrusive. James will be just fine no matter what.

Except he is no where near Adam’s league.

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About mamadeb

I'm a devoted fan of Adam Lambert, but also of cooking, knitting, science fiction and pretty anything pop culture. I'm @_mamadeb on Twitter.
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5 Responses to James Durbin

  1. Anne says:

    This is very well thought out and articulated. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. funbunn40 says:

    You hit the nail on the head. James career should not be limited by these two afflictions any more than Stevie Wonder or any other entertainer with a challenge that has talent.I have a family member with Aspergers that functions very well, but your suggestions eliminating stressful situations could very well be done. James may also be misunderstood when he speaks without the filter that most of us have. I hope he will be fairly judged on his talent and no further comparisons to Adam will be made for the very reasons you mentioned. Adam is unique in his stage presence,personal style ,charisma as well as his magnificent, well trained voice. There is only one Adam Lambert ,as there was only one Elvis and one Michael Jackson.

    • mamadeb says:

      Exactly – he needs to manage them like one would other conditions. I would love James the singer to be judged solely as James the singer, not James the Adam wannabe and not James the guy with Aspergers/Tourettes/sob stories. We only need one Adam Lambert, and we have him. We might need a James Durbin, too.

  3. Pingback: Top 24 Results Night | Disco Rodeo

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