By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Facts are facts: Lists of today’s top rock sellers are dominated by acts grouped as bands. Where Top 40, country and hip hop are more flexible for the solo artist, it’s tough for a rock singer to make inroads. And while singers get famous, it’s usually because of time spent with a band.
That doesn’t faze James Durbin, however. The “American Idol” finalist says it doesn’t matter whether he’s with a band or not -- making it is difficult.
“Of course it’s hard. It’s hard for anyone in rock,” Durbin said. “It’s one of the hardest things to make it in. But I like that. It gives me something to work for.”
Durbin, 23, said that the stepping stones are laid out perfectly for him, and he plans to walk that path. He’ll keep up the walk Saturday at Buffalo Run Casino, where he will open for Buckcherry.
Durbin is one of a handful of “rockers” who have made it as a finalist on the pop-based talent show. He placed fourth in season 10 of “American Idol” -- along the way, he performed songs by Queen and Muse, and got to perform on stage with Judas Priest. He also performed a blistering rendition of Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” joined on stage by legendary guitarist Zakk Wylde.
The show gave Durbin, who had sang for Hollywood Scars and worked for Domino’s Pizza, a new source of energy for his career. After auditioning but not making the cut in season eight, he almost didn’t get a chance to try again, thanks to his job.
But a timely layoff gave him the chance to make the show.
“I had the audition on my calendar, but I was told that I couldn’t get the day off to do it,” Durbin said. “Then a couple of days later, the owners brought everyone back to the kitchen, said they were bankrupt and fleed the state ... if there was never a sign before, that was my time.”
One would think that his run would be aided by new judge and Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler. But Durbin told Rolling Stone in January that Tyler might have been harder on him than any of the other judges.
Though he didn’t win, the appearance has helped give his career a boost. Though he finished fourth, he received treatment and positioning normally reserved for the top three finalists. He also got to sing alongside Judas Priest during the show’s finale.
Finding out he’d get to sing with one of his idols meant the world to him, he said.
“I nearly s*** my pants,” Durbin said. “That memory will never fade away, it’ll always be there. I love them, I love their music.”
Durbin said he doesn’t see the show shrinking in his rearview mirror. He is pushing forward with new projects, including touring with Buckcherry and Evanescence in support of his album, “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster.”
He has also appeared in the documentary “Different is the New Normal,” which focused on a teen’s effort to overcome Tourette’s syndrome.
Durbin said he’s prepared to meet the challenge of making it as a soloist from a pop-based TV show in a sea of rock bands. He doesn’t see a solo name being a problem, he said, noting that famous singers switch bands all the time.
As for being a rocker among singers on “American Idol,” he said he’d take advantage of any chance given to him.
“‘America’s Got Talent,’ ‘X Factor,’ ‘Idol,’ any of those, they are opportunities,” Durbin said. “If you don’t take the opportunity sitting right in front of you, it doesn’t matter. I dreamed about being a performer, and if that’s the road I had to take, so be it.”
And audiences are buying in, he said. His live shows are filled with people who know his lyrics and are having a good time.
“Being on stage is like a drug,” Durbin said. “It’s extreme adrenaline, and I’m a junkie on stage. I always say this, and it’s the damn truth. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a platform of two-by-fours or a stadium, I have just as much fun every single time.”
Great week of rock
In addition to James Durbin, the next few days feature some great rock for the region: