James Durbin James Durbin

During American Idol rehearsals this week, James Durbin had no trouble keeping his emotions in check singing the emotionally wrenching "Without You." Doing several takes, he brought out the gentle side of his voice and then hit the high notes hard. It was moving, but rehearsed in a very professional, matter-of-fact manner. 

It was a different story entirely Wednesday night when he arrived on stage. Once he saw the taped package showing him with his fiancé, Heidi, and his 2-year-old son, Hunter, you could see his struggle to keep it together. His voice faltered and there were tears in his eyes. After the show, Durbin, 22, explained what happened.

"When we were shooting our mentor session with Sheryl Crow and Jimmy Iovine, they played this song, and I had never heard it before," says Durbin, still looking drained. "And I immediately felt an emotional attachment to it. And that was before they even started the lyrics, before they even started singing. God works in mysterious ways and sometimes life will throw a curveball at you. Even though I got so emotional with it, I felt that singing it was the right move, the right step, in my Idol journey."

Durbin says that he's trying to be strategic about the songs he's choosing, because some people see him only one way. "I'm trying to create moments and instill passion, just more passion, because I'm the rock guy, the metal guy. But I'm very passionate about what I do, so I feel like I brought that forth tonight."

Does it matter to him that he cried? "I don't mind if I cry," says Durbin. "When I got on stage, I thought, 'All right, I'm ready to do this. I have the strength to do this.' But as soon as that video started playing, I was reminded of all the emotion and it got me."

The judges loved it. Was it perfect? No. But, said judge Randy Jackson, it was "emotionally perfect." Then he said, "Right now, this competition is yours to lose." At that moment, the compliment was lost on Durbin. "I didn't know what he meant by that," he says, finally smiling.

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!