Clearwater-raised Juliet Simms just might win NBC's blockbuster singing competition, The Voice
Her rendition last week of James Brown's It's A Man's Man's Man's World nearly brought the house down on NBC's The Voice, becoming a landmark performance in a season studded with memorable displays.
But Clearwater-raised singer Juliet Simms confesses a tiny detail few probably noticed during her showstopping delivery last Monday.
She couldn't hear herself during the whole song.
"Funnily enough, on Monday night, my (in-ear monitors) went out. I couldn't hear myself the entire performance," said Simms, 26, who nevertheless gave props to the show's sound engineers, who she said usually do an amazing job.
"Because I have much experience singing on crappy stages where you can't hear yourself, I could do it," she added. "I grew up on stages like that, so that experience came in handy Monday night for me."
And when Simms says she grew up onstage, she's not kidding.
Graduating high school at age 16 — her father, Jeffrey Simms, said she was homeschooled, earning a diploma through Dennison Academy in California — she drove with her mother, Natalie, to Los Angeles, performing in coffeehouses and bars they booked along the way.
Now, she's on the verge of winning NBC's hit singing competition, a seeming favorite who often closes the show with spectacular takes on popular tunes. She'll compete for the show's big title tonight and Tuesday, representing judge Cee Lo Green while facing off against three other contenders supported by superstar judges Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton.
Before dropping jaws with James Brown, she took on Aerosmith's Cryin' (a slight jab, perhaps, at rival American Idol judge Steven Tyler?) clad in a glittering dress with a huge feathers sprouting from the back.
Tonight, she might be the favorite among four finalists vying for a grand prize of $100,000 and a record contract, an amazing turn for a singer who once saw a succession of disappointing deals with Epic, Sony, RCA and other labels nearly push her to stop trying for success in the music business.
"For a while I was like, 'This is too hard … too many deals, albums and touring and just getting dragged through the dirt,' " said Simms, best-known before The Voice as the lead singer of glam-rock band Automatic Loveletter, a regular on the Warped Tour rock festival. "This show has reinstated my faith in me. I've learned to hold my own as an individual; go with my gut."
Simms’ pre-Voice doubts might come as a surprise to her longtime friend Sofia Sweet, a longtime area singer who says he pal’s drive and determination to succeed are some of her key characteristics.
“She inspired me, because no matter what, she would keep truckin’ toward her goal,” said Sweet, half of the local duo Drake and Sofia, who has known Simms since they were young children. “If she likes something, she just goes after it…and I feel like she’s doing that now. She’s putting every ounce of energy into every performance.”
Jeffrey Simms said his daughter met with a succession of record company executives in New York just a year after her trip to Los Angeles. But often contracts didn't pan out — including a promising deal with Sony in Japan derailed by the earthquake and tsunami which rocked the country last year.
Juliet Simms says she and Green, the celebrity mentor she chose at the contest's start, plan her song choices together. They picked Cryin'; he suggested she cover The Police's Roxanne and the James Brown song.
"It is a language you have to pick up," she said, when told that Green's sometimes-convoluted phrases can be tough for viewers to understand. "To the naked eye, people could be looking at us and be like 'What the f--- are they talking about?' But we get each other spiritually."
And though faith has played a role in several singers' journeys on TV contests — American Idol contestant Colton Dixon often talked of his Christian faith — Simms hesitated to speak on how growing up in the Church of Scientology might have helped her journey on The Voice, beyond saying members are likely proud of her success.
"I'm sure she's known as a Scientologist by many in the Church," said Jeffrey Simms, noting he and wife, Natalie, who are also Scientologists, moved to Clearwater with their family when Juliet was about 8 years old (the city is the church's spiritual headquarters). "But (the support) isn't an organized thing. She probably has more fans from the Warped Tour."
It's all an amazing feat for a singer who admits she first responded with a profanity when her manager first suggested auditioning for the show.
But she now insists The Voice is a perfect showcase for artists who struggle with the industry's narrow views of what pop stars should look and sound like.
"It's for the outcasts...a chance for people who have been working their entire lives to make it," she said. "The biggest (challenge)is harnessing those nerves. Because you know it's the most important show of your life."
The Voice airs at 8 tonight and 9 p.m. Tuesday on WFLA-Ch. 8.