BY Harrison Pierce
July 29 2009 12:00 AM ET
Famed rap mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs has been turning aspiring musicians into music superstars for four seasons on his hit MTV reality series Making the Band . Among the better known products of the Diddy star-making machine are the hip-hop group Da Band, platinum-selling female group Danity Kane, and the award-winning R&B group Day26. For the show's fifth season, the Grammy-winning producer is on a nationwide hunt for backup musicians to join him onstage during his upcoming Last Train to Paris tour. Naturally, the king of moniker changes has renamed the season Making His Band to underline the fact that, yes ... this time the search is personal.
On Monday night's premiere episode, singer Jaila Simms emerged as one of the show's strongest -- and most controversial -- contestants. A powerhouse vocalist from Chicago, Jaila appeared early in the show, insisting that talent should matter more than a contestant's "story."
Nevertheless, Jaila's story -- specifically that she's a transgender woman -- quickly came to the fore during her Los Angeles auditions, in which she wowed Diddy with her soulful rendition of Estelle's "American Boy." Nevertheless, the Bad Boy Records impresario didn't fail to notice that Jaila's range ran suspiciously low. Fortunately for Jaila, Diddy's only concern was that she lose her "toe-up weave" before advancing the singer to the next round. In the coming weeks, we'll see if Jaila's natural talent prevails in her quest to become a unique and groundbreaking member of Diddy's band.
The diva-in-training talked to Advocate.com about her reality television debut, growing up transgender in a devoutly religious African-American household, and what she'd rename Diddy if given the chance.
Advocate.com: Jaila, tell us how you came to be involved inMaking His Band.Jaila Simms: I've been a fan of the Making the Band the series as well as of Diddy for years. When the opportunity came along, my girlfriend was like, "Hey, why don't you go audition? He's looking for background singers for his band." When I realized it would actually mean working with Diddy on his music, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to audition.
What was the audition like for you?The initial audition was in Chicago and it was a pretty lengthy process, weeding out people who actually had potential to be in the band. I really, really enjoyed meeting some of the judges there as well.
What did you sing at the Chicago audition?There was a list of songs we were able to choose from. For my first audition I sang Kanye West's "Heartless."
What was it like meeting Sean "Diddy" Combs for the first time?Intimidating. Intimidating, like ... I don't think I've ever experienced anything like that. I walked into the room and he sucked the life out of me. It was just, like, that kind of emotional, cathartic moment because everything I'd worked so long for was actually coming to fruition, with just one man in a room. It was then great to see him actually working on his own music and to see that he is an artist and has the same struggles everyone else faces. You know, he cries, he bleeds, he gets frustrated at times.