American Idol Frontrunner Has Tourette Syndrome, Autism

James Durbin (Fox / 19 Entertainment)

Each year, American Idol produces a handful of contestants who give memorable performances during the audition rounds, immediately making them odds-on favorites to win. Last night, millions of American Idol viewers were introduced to just such a contestant in James Durbin. Durbin is a 21-year-old Santa Cruz, California resident and unemployed father who has faced some major challenges over his lifetime.

At the age of nine, Durbin’s father died of a drug overdose and the Idol singer has also been diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism. 

James Durbin wowed the judges with an amazing vocal range, which included renditions of "You Shook Me" and "Dream On." Judge Steven Tyler was particularly impressed, saying, “Wow man, that was so, so good."

Comparisons are already being made to Season 8 American Idol runner-up, Adam Lambert. However, Durbin is actually much different and his unique story, coupled with an amazing voice, will surely make him a fan favorite and front-runner to win it all. If that were to happen, Durbin would join a growing list of individuals (i.e. Jason McElwain, Temple Grandin, etc.) who have shattered many of the stereotypes and misconceptions about what it means to have autism and what those who have it are capable of accomplishing.

After his performance, James Durbin admitted to the judges that when he sings, his Tourette’s "all goes away." Hopefully, Durbin doesn’t anytime soon and is eventually crowned the Season 10 winner.

24 Responses to American Idol Frontrunner Has Tourette Syndrome, Autism

  1. Debbie says:

    James Durbin has an amazing voice! He will be a big star!

    My daughter has Asperger’s and is an amazing writer, but she is only in 9th Grade and struggling because of a math disability along with her high-functioning Autism, and the school district does not want to give her a diploma because of it. It is really not fair. Other states do let kids get diplomas like her, but because our school district does not, there isn’t much I can do. I keep fighting for her and that is all I can do. I am sure you will read her books one day. She can put amazing words on paper and compare things in an amazing way. I believe in her!

    I can’t wait to hear more from James Durbin! Go James!!

  2. hazel says:

    James Durbin was awesome last night. I look forward to seeing more of him. He is a very talented young man. I am from Santa Cruz Co. Go Santa Cruz…Go James….Make us proud!

  3. Megan says:

    WOW so glad to see some positive coverage on someone with TS. I have TS and can never watch shows about it. They are always the worst cases and it breaks my heart. When people think of TS they think of only what they see and hear about on TV. he is an amazing singer and seems like a wonderful person so far. CONGRATS to him and his family for raising such a great man. I was a swimmer and that was my hide-away and escape from it. i would try sooo hard to tic while swimming, just to see if I could…but i couldnt:)
    WAY to go James and cant wait to watch you in the finale! You are an inspiration to so many.

  4. C. Ray Billings says:

    Great voice,great singing sounds like a number one person also.

  5. lah says:

    Before you cannonize this guy you should wait and hear more from him. From what I’ve seen and heard from others that are viewing some Y2 videos of him, he is a bit of a douche. Yes, it great to see people with disabilities strive and achieve, however, this is a talent show and a person’s background story shouldn’t influence the outcome. I support a contestant based on their talent, personality, and whether I would pay good money to see them perform. For me there is nothing that sets this guy apart from others, yes, he can sing, but so can many others. Sorry, but so far I don’t see this guy as someone who I would spend money on.

  6. Jacki Walker says:

    He is by far my favorite! I hope he does well. What an inspiration!! My 12 year old suffers from Tourette’s and he was watching last night and his eyes lit up when he saw James perform!! Of course, I was bawling like a baby and watched and rewatched him tell his story. WAY TO GO JAMES!!!

  7. Kelle says:

    Go James, you are an inspiration. My son is an Aspie. I want him to know he can do anything. He is so bright and funny and creative. I know he can do amazing things in his life. I just want him to believe in himself. And your’angel’ God bless you for encouraging James… you are an amazing woman. Your son is lucky to have great parents too! Aspie’s can be a challenge to live with, misunderstood, I am happy to see a couple because I worry about my son someday being accepted and loved not only by his peers, friends but also I want him to have a soul mate. God has given me a gift in my son, and I know God has amazing plans for him… and for you too James… I look forward to seeing you go far… Idol will not be the end for you, it’s just the beginning. God bless

  8. Carolyn says:

    My message it so IAH who must be a bit of a douche, otherwise he wouldn’t say someone else is. I think it is a shame that you can label someone in such a mean way. No wonder there is so much hate and intolerance in this world. You go James. I know you are going to be a BIG STAR and I hope you have the happiest life ever!! Love you and best of luck.

  9. Trish Farmer says:

    My niece has Asperger’s syndrome and was diagnosed around 2 years old thanks to my sisters intuitiveness.. She knew something was not right. My niece is 14yrs. old now,still struggles some with socialism, but she is a joy, musically talented,great dancer, smart and a real gift in all of our lives! Go get em, Tess Elizabeth, we all love you!!!

  10. Disney Fan says:

    It’s ignorant comments like the one Iah made that makes autism so misunderstood. He and the so called “others” obviously don’t know a thing about this disorder. Sadly, because autism isn’t always noticeable at first glance they are called rude, snobby, b***h, or in this case douche. The whole point of mentioning his disorders is to show others LIKE MY DAUGHTER that they can do anything! I love that my daughter can see someone with autism doing what they love and getting recognized for it. We need more faces of autism in the public eye to stop this ignorance!

  11. michael petricca says:

    This kid faces incredible challenges in his life. His mind does not work the same way that most of us take for granted. He cannot think the way a typical person can. I hope he makes it far in the competition. He will not need sympathy votes however, his talent will stand on its own.

  12. Susan says:

    This is for Debbie, the first responder. Your school district sounds in violation of the law. I want to call my lawyer who has helped me with similar issues and get you a referral. I need your state, and school district though. If you email me via Autism Key, I will help you.

    Don’t give up!

    Best, Susan

    PS – Your daughter could be to literature what James Durbin is to singing. Our kids have amazing gifts…

  13. Steven says:

    Excellent! What an inspiration. Best of luck to you James….you will have a whole lot of people supporting you!

  14. Beverly Smith says:

    What an incredible voice and talent you have James! Best of luck to you!!

  15. Deb says:

    Hi All, Just yesterday my 10 year old beautiful girl was formally diagnosed with Tourettes. While she exibits nervous tics it does not stop her from exceling – so proud.
    So for you Josh – reach for the stars and best to you!

  16. Paul says:

    I voted for him over 100 times Tuesday night. He sang one of my favorite Judas Priest songs, and it was quite an impressive performance. He continues to impress the judges and all of America and I do wish him well. He also seems to have a wonderful heart and he is not at all ashamed of his condition, he does not allow that to limit him, he seems driven to excel and he is doing a great job of that. Go James, America loves you!

  17. Beverly Smith says:

    James, You are such an inspiration to others. Both my son and my daughter have Aspergers and both are amazing people. You are a very talented, gifted, young man and all of America is very proud of you! Keep up the good work, James~

  18. Dick says:

    This guy is authentic. When I first saw him, I thought it would be hard to watch with his various facial tics…now I think it adds to his uniqueness. He definitely has the ability to be a rock performer. And I think the judges definitely agree, particularly Tyler who is quite taken with this kid’s talent. Rock James Durbin Rock! Your performance tonight was your best yet. Keep up the great vocals…and I’ll keep voting for you.

  19. Marie says:

    He is a very good singer, I have aspergers and PDD. I sing when I’m bored but when I sing infront of people I get shaky =P. I hope he wins <3!

  20. Andrew says:

    Man f*** all of you. I have full-blown Tourette’s. I sometimes spend hours a day just ticking uncontrollably, doing things that actually cause me injuries. I have been hospitalized due to OCD. I can’t sit still because of my ADD. And I too have “high-functioning” Autism. Does anyone take interest in me or the s*** I struggle with everyday of my life in order to keep functioning? No. But some little **** goes on TV in Hollywood and suddenly he’s a courageous young man battling to overcome the odds???!! F*** everyone of you. You don’t know s*** about what it’s like living in this kind of hell.

  21. Kris Wedekind says:


  22. Cathy says:

    Andrew….life must give you struggles but its totally up to you to go after what it is you want. You can sit and feel sorry for yourself and down the people who got the strength to stand up and be heard or you can stop whining and live with your disorder. James you inspire the world with your talent and heart felt desires. Don’t stop believing in yourself.

  23. Beverly Smith says:

    I wanted James to win it all on American Idol. He is by far the best talent on the show. Whatever happens, I hope that you will continue to follow yours dreams and do not let fame change you in anyway.
    From one of your many fans, Beverly Smith

  24. you are an amazing artist. you are the reason that i continue to make my music. i also suffer with autism and you are my hero. i am also diagnosed with add, adhd, ptsd, and sepperation anxiety. you r my hero bro.

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