Click photo to enlarge
James Durbin sings Saturday at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Let us pity America's TV viewers.

Because James Durbin did not finish in the top three on "American Idol," the rest of the country will not get to experience what happened Saturday in Santa Cruz. For the estimated 30,000 who did, the event is likely to linger in Santa Cruz's cultural memory for a long time.

The 22-year-old singing sensation was the center of attention on "Durbin Day" in Santa Cruz, which culminated in a free hourlong concert on the bandstand at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. With the late afternoon sun turning the Monterey Bay silver and an enormous carpet of screaming, hand-waving fans surrounding Durbin on all sides, it's a sure bet no "Idol" homecoming party was more picturesque.

Dragging two enormous gold wrestling championship belts wherever he went, Durbin met the press, spent time with young people with Tourette's syndrome and answered questions from a swooning crowd of young theater performers before taking the stage at the Boardwalk.

After a prologue when Durbin sat on the edge of the stage and chatted with the throng about his emotions after his ouster on "Idol" on Thursday, he and the Santa Cruz-based White Album Ensemble began the show with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?"

"I will never forget this," an emotional Durbin said before his rapt audience. "Thank you for begging them to bring me here."

Because he finished fourth in the competition, Durbin was originally not going to have a homecoming. But on Friday afternoon, after prodding from the Boardwalk and the city of Santa Cruz, "Idol" agreed to allow Durbin to have his homecoming, a first for a fourth-place finisher in the show's history.

Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty, seeking to go beyond the customary key-to-the-city greeting, proclaimed 2011 as "James Durbin Year" and in midperformance presented the singer with a surfboard with Durbin's likeness on it.

"I was born in Santa Cruz," Durbin said to the crowd when asked about his future. "I grew up in Santa Cruz. And I'll forever live in Santa Cruz."

Durbin's second song was the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," which has become one of his signatures. He ended his miniconcert with the song he sang during his final performance show on "Idol": Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

Earlier in the day, Durbin sat on stage at the theater at the Louden Nelson Community Center with the directors of Kids On Broadway, the Santa Cruz-based group where Durbin performed as a teenager. He fielded several questions from the gathered kids, many of them grinning with excitement. One boy asked Durbin, who was diagnosed as a kid with both Tourette's and Asperger's syndromes, what to do about bullying.

"I got made fun of," he said. "I got beat up. It's those hard things that made me what I am. Just know you're better than they are."

Later, the entire auditorium of roughly 300 kids serenaded Durbin with their version of "Don't Stop Believin'."

When asked finally what advice he had for young performers nursing dreams of ambition, Durbin said, "Don't. Stop. Believing."

A crowd of nearly 30,000 people turned out at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk to see James Durbin perform after his elimination from American Idol. (Video by Chloe Lee/Sentinel)