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Santa Cruz Pleaded With American Idol For Durbin Visit – And Won

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Written by Maria Gaura

La Vida Local

SANTA CRUZ (May 2011) – Frantic preparations for James Durbin’s homecoming visit to Santa Cruz have had city and Beach Boardwalk staffers working round-the-clock since Tuesday, when American Idol first notified city officials that the Santa Cruz rocker would likely be coming home for a well-publicized visit.
Durbin was to swoop into town with a film crew and full American Idol entourage for a highly scripted hometown tour on Saturday, culminating with a nationally-broadcast concert at the Beach Boardwalk.
But preparations slammed to a halt Thursday night, when Durbin unexpectedly failed to advance to the next-to-final round of the competition. The moment of quiet didn’t last long. Within moments of Durbin’s televised loss, Boardwalk officials were on the phone with American Idol, lobbying hard to bring the singer in and carry on with the celebration.
“It’s been an emotional roller-coaster,” said Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty. “Basically, we’ve been working around the clock to do the planning and figure out the details. And then when he didn’t make it, the Boardwalk folks were on the phone immediately, trying to find out if he could still come.”
Initially, the answer was “don’t hold your breath.” Idol contestants are contractually obligated to stay in Los Angeles and rehearse for both the show’s grand finale and the subsequent concert tour. Initially, Idol representatives said Durbin wouldn’t be free to visit Santa Cruz until fall, at the soonest.
But then, Idol changed its mind. At 10:30 a.m. on Friday, the show’s producers told Santa Cruz that Durbin would be given an unprecedented exception, and allowed one day away from the set. Instead of a big entourage, Durbin will travel with his family and one or two Idol staffers. The group will fly in from Los Angeles Saturday morning, and Durbin may have to fly back after the Boardwalk concert, or possibly early Sunday.
“I think one reason he is getting different treatment is that there is so much interest in his personal story from the press, and from his fans,” Coonerty said, referring to the singer's dual diagnosis of autism and Tourette Syndrome. “His story is so compelling, even compared to other contestants in the past, they think it’s a good opportunity for him to tell his story again, here in Santa Cruz.”
Saturday’s party roster has changed somewhat. Appearances at the ATT store in Capitola and at New Brighton Middle School, have been cancelled. But the singer will visit the Santa Cruz Teen Center, where he was a member, and two youth theater groups where he honed his stage presence - Kids On Broadway and All About Theater.
At 4:30 p.m. the Santa Cruz High School Marching Band will lead Durbin’s motorcade from the Louden Nelson Community Center to the Beach Boardwalk stage for a 5 p.m. free concert.
It is still unclear whether Durbin’s Boardwalk concert will be broadcast, but Boardwalk officials urged fans to check their website for updates.
The city of Santa Cruz is covering overtime costs for the police escort and for workers to close streets for the motorcade, and the Boardwalk is covering the costs for events in the beach area. The Santa Cruz County Convention and Visitors Council is organizing lodging, logistics and press coverage of the event. Coonerty said the extra work and costs are well worth it.
“What’s really important is for everybody to come out and show our support for James,” Coonerty said. “We want to make this a really great homecoming.”