Can Juliet Simms truly be called a reality TV star if she was already a star before reality TV came calling?
Okay, fine, calling Simms a "star" might be a stretch. To date, the 25-year-old Clearwater native has achieved minor-to-medium fame as the lead singer of Warped Tour glam-rock band Automatic Loveletter, but that's about it.
But then on Sunday came one of the biggest breaks you can imagine: Simms performed on the season premiere of NBC's The Voice, immediately following Super Bowl XLVI. She promptly brought the house down with a powerhouse rendition of the Beatles' Oh! Darling, setting off a bidding war between the judges.
Christina Aguilera: "You blew my socks off."
Adam Levine: "The dirt in your voice is so incredible."
Cee Lo Green: "You turn me on. ... I heard the story of my life in that song."
Blake Shelton: "That girl was bada--."
"It was a pinch-me moment," Simms said Monday during a conference call with reporters and other contestants. "I totally had my brother, after I got offstage, give me a slap on the arm, because I couldn't believe that that had just happened."
It may be the last time Simms finds herself fazed by instant fame. The singer, who possesses a beyond-her-years whiskey-soaked wail, has been touring since graduating high school at age 16, both as a solo artist and with Automatic Loveletter.
But over the years, Simms has been signed, dropped, re-signed and re-dropped by multiple record labels. Automatic Loveletter's debut full-length album, Truth or Dare (2010), quickly fizzled. Despite becoming a regular on the Warped Tour, Simms, who has split the past decade between Los Angeles and Tampa Bay, couldn't figure out why she couldn't catch a break in Hollywood.
"Other girls I was friends with, they would get signed, and their bands would blow up, or they would blow up," she said. "Katy Perry, I remember playing shows with her back at the Viper Room about five or six years ago."
Simms hadn't considered auditioning for a reality competition before, but saw in The Voice an opportunity to separate herself from her image, and let her Joplinesque pipes do the talking.
"I'd always been told, my entire career, 'You have a different kind of voice; I've never really heard someone that sounds like you,' " Simms said. "It just seemed like this show is really meant for a specific crowd of people, people who maybe never fit the mold, or weren't what pop radio wanted."
Simms has made no secret of her ambition to be a Top 40 radio star, and has never been shy about speaking her mind and baring her skin to get people's attention.
"The feeling that you get after struggling for so many years ... you're wondering, 'Why is this so hard for me? Why is this such a struggle?' " said Simms.
After learning a week ago that her episode would air immediately after the Super Bowl, "I'm not gonna lie, I started dancing around my living room," she said.
Simms ended up picking Cee Lo Green as her mentor, and will advance to the show's "battle rounds." If she keeps moving forward, her success would mirror that of last season's runner-up, Dia Frampton, who also was already in a modestly successful rock band, Meg & Dia, before auditioning for The Voice. Simms also wasn't the only contestant from Sunday's show who has a showbiz background — Chris Mann is a performer on Glee, and singer-songwriter Tony Lucca once starred on the Mickey Mouse Club alongside Aguilera.
Simms said she hopes to continue with Automatic Loveletter at some point, but for now, "this is just another facet for me as an artist," she said.
"I've always wanted to go solo and pursue a career just under my name, and this opportunity came up and it just seemed like the perfect match," she said. "I've always been on the sidelines, and it was finally like, 'That's it. I'm not taking this anymore.' I saw this opportunity and I seized it. It's worked out in my favor."