'American Idol' finalist with autism shares story, inspires Tampa Bay area students

James Durbin holding free concert on Tuesday night
American Idol Finalist with autism inspires kids
Posted at 2:42 AM, Oct 24, 2017

Some Tampa Bay students are getting life lessons from a popular musician and a free concert.

James Durbin is typically found on stage. In 2011, it was for American Idol. Now it is as the front man for 1980s metal band Quiet Riot.

"I might look like I've got it all together, but this is everything," Durbin said, motioning a rollercoaster ride. "All the time, ups and downs, highs and lows."

Durbin was diagnosed with high functioning autism and Tourettes Syndrome when he was ten years old. For a long time knew he was different and wished it would go away. He moved passed that and found music which changed his life.

"My diagnosis, my disability doesn’t disable me from being happy," Durbin said, talking about his wife and kids.

His past struggles are now motivating him to help others understand their value and the meaning of being successful, which he says is subjective. He spoke with mixed-ability students at Wharton High School, sharing his journey and hoping to inspire them to pursue theirs.

"I have a brother with autism so I can really relate to that," said Jack Samter, who says his brother Grant has a hard time communicating. "You’ve just got to live through it. I can’t really explain it, but it’s hard on my parents."

Durbin says it's good to see more folks talking about autism. Even,"The Good Doctor," a new show on ABC, is helping people better understand it.

"Whatever challenges you’re facing right now, they don’t define you. Because figuring out who you are takes a long time," said Durbin.

"I think they don’t understand the potential that they really have," said Wendy Finklea, the Director of Programs at VSA Florida, the State Organization on Arts and Disability. "Especially students on the spectrum. They don’t realize that many times it’s an asset, what they have. They can focus better sometimes very finally tuned projects. In the arts that’s a wonderful thing."

VSA is a non-profit that conducts art education programs in schools, Department of Juvenile Justice facilities, and community centers. It promotes the accomplishments of artists with disabilities.

Finklea orchestrated Durbin's time in Tampa, visiting several other schools and students across the Tampa Bay area.

Durbin is hosting a free concert Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at the USF Music Concert Hall in Tampa. Anyone can attend and enter a chance to win an autographed guitar. You can reserve tickets by clicking here.