Showing It’s OK To Be ‘Different’

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - May 25, 2011
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Every once in a while the reality show known as American Idol overcomes its cheese factor and gives us something sublime.

This year, that came in the person of 22-year-old California native James Durbin. He was eliminated finishing in fourth place, but his accomplishment in getting so far in the competition was incredibly inspiring to kids who feel “different” or who are singled out or bullied in school.

Durbin is blessed with a pretty good voice and a knack for showmanship.

He also has not one, but two neurological conditions - Tourette’s (a type of chronic tic disorder) and Asperger’s syndrome (high-functioning form of autism). His life has not been easy. He’s been bullied and ridiculed and knows he’s different.


But he is lucky enough to have talent, a passion and people who love him.

Durbin has become a hero of sorts for kids who have Asperger’s and their families, mainly because they don’t see an awful lot of role models out there.

He’s a determined kid - auditioned two years ago and didn’t make the cut. This time he did, and he says he’s glad he was forced to wait. He is more mature now, better able to handle the stress and emotional ups and downs of a pressure-cooker atmosphere.

His penchant for metal music and high-pitched screams may not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I’m not really a fan of his singing - he had some pitch and control issues. But his joy in performance and positive attitude pretty much appeal to anyone not burdened by an overabundance of cynicism.

What I admire most about him is his go-for-broke attitude.

Here’s what he told Wallace Baine, the reporter for his home-town paper, the Santa Cruz (Calif.) Sentinel:

“The thing about Asperger’s is that it’s about social awkwardness, and not being able to contain yourself and being overwhelmed in social situations,” he said.

“I’m just so busy that there’s no time to be overwhelmed. I’m enjoying it and I’m not looking at it as work. I’m just having tons of fun.”

And that made it fun to watch him.


What a positive message for a kid with a difference or a disability.

Or, for that matter, for anyone. That kind of fearless, gungho attitude can make up for a lot of things.

And it can help give so-called “normal” people something valuable, too - a teaching moment.

This boy basically threw his heart onto the stage every week and said, hey look, America, I’m not scary. I’m a good person with hopes and dreams and skills. I’m different, but where it counts, I’m just like you.

And that is what I call a real American idol.

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