Chicago resident Jaila Simms is appearing on Sean "Diddy" Combs' new reality series Making His Band on the MTV channel. As a quadruple threat, this transgendered vocalist, actress, dancer and full-figured model is ready to break out.
Windy City Times: Hi, Jaila. You were born and raised outside of Chicagowhereabouts?
Jaila Simms: In Joliet, Ill. I used to commute back and forth to Chicago when I would take voice lessons and things like that here in the city.
WCT: You moved to New York afterwards to go to school?
JAILA SIMMS: I started at Western Illinois University then I transferred to the American Musical Dramatic Academy in New York.
WCT: You were baritone? What kind of musical range do you sing?Read more story below....
JAILA SIMMS: [ Laughs ] I was a baritone, definitely a baritone. And that was before I began my transition. Range was never a problem but I was trained baritone there. Right now I am a first alto/second soprano.
WCT: You did your transition after college?
JAILA SIMMS: It has been maybe about two or three years now.
WCT: You are a multitalented performer.
JAILA SIMMS: The biggest trick has been turning from a man into a woman. But yeah, I can do quite a few things.
WCT: What was your journey to being a contestant on Making His Band?
JAILA SIMMS: Production began late spring. At that point they were holding nationwide auditions across the country and Chicago was one of the major cities where they were going. My boyfriend encouraged me to audition. I had been a fan of Diddy since I was in fifth grade. I was already a fan of the of the Making the Band series so when I saw he was going to be making his band, this was an opportunity to go ahead and do it.
After auditioning in Chicago, I made it to the semifinals in L.A. From there, it has definitely been an exciting journey.
WCT: Well,Diddy does like diversity on his shows.
JAILA SIMMS: Yes; that was very comforting to know. He respects people for their talent and their craft, as opposed to the hype and the gimmick of it all.
WCT: Was he good to work with?
JAILA SIMMS: He is definitely a perfectionist. That's with any artist. You want to make sure that what you are presenting is the best that it can be because it's a piece of yourself.
We were able to hang out with him on a more humanistic level as opposed to watching him as the mogul he is. We were able to see him laugh, joke and sometimes get frustrated not always with us but with his music on where it needed to be,
WCT: What can you tell us about the show?
JAILA SIMMS: I can tell you that anytime you gather 40-some-odd musicians/singers and put them in a house to live together, it's a colorful experience! Everyone's passionate about what they do. Everyone's been doing it for years and very strong minded. You have to be determined because you have to deal with the pressure that Diddy and the music industry puts on you.
I am competing with my singing. In the past, he has been making supergroups like Danity Kane and Day 26. This time he is making a backing band for Last Train to Paris, which is his last album and tour. The singers have separate challenges and the musicians have separate challenges; then, we all come together.
WCT: What musical artists are you influenced by?
JAILA SIMMS: Diddy! [ Laughs ] No, it sounds clichéd but I really am eclectic. I was trained in musical theater and classical voice/opera and grew up in the Black church, which is downhome gospel. All of my friends listen to hip-hop and R&B, so this makes it hard to say one particular genre. Hip-hop has been in my heart for a long time.
WCT: Is there anything you want to say to our trans readers?
JAILA SIMMS: Stay fab, stay glamorous and stay motivated. That's the main thing. People will sometimes look at you as if being transgendered is the gimmick but it truly goes far beyond that. You have to make sure that your talent and your gift are what people are looking at and make them appreciate it.
A lot of my tranny friends are so talented and sometimes get discouraged but you can't let that beat you up.
WCT: Where do you see your career going?
JAILA SIMMS: Right now I am so focused on making Last Train to Paris so I haven't really looked past that. I do see my music as an artist growing and hopefully crossing boundaries to break down musical genres. I don't want to be categorized as one type of artist. I want to be more a global underground worldwide kind of feel.
WCT: Oh, I like that…
Don't miss your train to Paris. Making His Band is currently on MTV. Visit www.mtv.com for listings and watch Diddy's Twitter feed, www.twitter.com/iamdiddy .