If you told former American Idol contestant James Durbin five years ago that aside from being a celebrated rock singer, he’d be a spokesperson for Tourette’s, he wouldn’t have believed you. Today, the Season 10 alum is just that. Durbin recently appeared in “Different Is The New Normal,” a documentary that takes a look at the syndrome through the lens of Tourette’s Youth Ambassador, Ariel Small.
In an exclusive interview with Wetpaint Entertainment, Durbin talks about the difficulty of growing up different, the importance of Tourette’s patients having role models to look up to, and how music changed his life.
Wetpaint Entertainment: How did this come about?
James Durbin: Right after the Idol season had ended, we were rehearsing for the tour and they asked me, “Is it something you'd be interested in?” I was like, “I'll do it — anything for making more people know about what I have and what Ariel Small has and so many kids all over the country and all over the world have.” It’s bringing a lot of attention to it. According to the media, [Tourette’s] is just swearing uncontrollably. It's something to laugh at. It's comical. It's like Deuce Bigalow. And it's really not comical. It's something that a lot of people do struggle with; they struggle with it in society and they struggle with it in their own heads.
It's something that's just really hard to cope with. It’s even hard for me to just do interviews and talk freely. I have a hard time at home in a relaxed setting talking to my wife without ticcing uncontrollably. It's definitely something that's hard to live with, but I'm really lucky that I had the opportunity to do the film because not a day goes by that I don't hear from someone who’s seen it or get a tweet or something or learn something from it. I think that was the purpose of it.
Did you have someone to look up to growing up, the way you are now this inspiration to Ariel?
There wasn't really anyone for me to look up to. I mean I had heard that Robin Williams and Jim Carrey maybe had it. I was like, “Okay. Maybe I could look up to them.” But they were a lot older than me. So what was there really for me to look up to? I can watch their movies and laugh but I can't see them talking freely about it or doing something for it. So there wasn't really anything out there for me. That's why I’m even more grateful that I can do that for kids all over the country and even all over the world. It's really humbling. It keeps me centered. It keeps me grounded. It's an honor. It really is.
You’ve said that music sort of relieves the tics. Is that always a relief?
Oh, always. It doesn't matter if I'm sitting down with a guitar, have a harmonica in my hand, sitting down at a piano, I'm free. Music is my freedom. Music is my expression. My dad had given me a hand-me-down guitar when I was maybe 12 years old and I was getting bullied so much at that point. I had a workbook, but no lessons, nothing. I just put my heart into it, and learned a couple basic chords. Even if I sounded like complete shit, at least it was how I felt. If I felt like shit, I could make the music sound like shit. It was my escape. It was my world, and it still is.
When I'm on stage, even if there's other people on stage, it's my world that I’m in where I don't have any problems. There's not a care in the world, in my world. It's always been my escape. Music's always been there for me. Even if I don't have an instrument on me, I'll just start humming and start singing, plug in my iPod. It really is healing.
To watch Different is the New Normal, go to http://watch.thirteen.org/video/2135738235.