Watch Prison Nurse Dee Dee Simon Take Off Her Shoes and Bring Simon Cowell Near Tears on ‘America’s Got Talent’ With an ‘American Idol’ Alum’s Hit

Before performing on America’s Got Talent on Tuesday, June 11, singer Dee Dee Simon told judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Sofia Vergara, and Howie Mandel that she has spent 20 years of her adult life as a nurse at San Quentin State Prison. Focused on family and career, singing became more of a hobby. The Oakland, California native even attempted to perform for inmates on two occasions: the first time led to a riot before she gained a more peaceful audience during her second round.

“You know, it’s always been a door,” said Simon. “I get to this door, and I never get to go through it because of something. So my big dream is to make that door, walk through it, and take care of my family.”

For her audition, Simon didn’t hesitate moving into the the Jennifer Holliday’s hit “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” Written by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger for the 1982 musical Dreamgirls, the song went to No. 1 for Holliday on the R&B chart and later reemerged on the charts when American Idol alum Jennifer Hudson covered the song in the 2006 movie adaptation.

Immediately stunned by Simon’s delivery of the song, judge Simon Cowell appeared on the brink of tears during her performance. Moments into the song, Simon flicked off her shoes and continued singing barefoot on the AGT stage, without losing her place in the song. By the end of her performance, Simon was down on one knee belting the remainder of the song out.

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When she was done, all four judges gave her a standing ovation, along with the audience. “I thought it was spectacular,” said Vergara. “It’s coming from your soul. It was a beautiful treat to have you here tonight.”

America’s Got Talent “Auditions 3” Episode 1903, Dee Dee Simon (Photo by: Greg Gayne/NBC)

Klum added, “To be honest, I think you’re one of the best singers we’ve had this season. It was just incredible. It was building and getting better and better. Shoes came off and you were down on the floor, and you were just giving it your all. You can really feel how much you want this spot, and you nailed it.”

Mandel, who started standing mid-way into Simon’s performance said ” You said ‘Every time I went to that door, something happened and I couldn’t get through.’ I think that you are out. You are free. Welcome to the world that you deserve to be in.”

Simon, real name Danesha Starr, who previously auditioned with the Holliday song on the California talent show Amateur Night at the Apollo, started singing when she was 4. She developed her skills at her Baptist church before giving her first performance at the Oakland Museum. Along with singing, Simon is also a novelist and wrote the 2014 book When a Man Loves a Woman: A Love Mystery along with two plays Misery Loves Company and Coretta: the One-Woman Stage Play.

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Simon has also released two albums, including her 2020 debut Ahh Hell Queen Dee, and a self-titled follow-up in 2022. She also had a hit with her 1998 single “As Long As I Live,” which peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart.

Visibly touched during Simon’s performance, Cowell was the last judge to give the vocalist more praise. “There’s nothing more frustrating than when you have talent and you just can’t be heard,” said Cowell. “And I promise you tomorrow things are just gonna be better. I think you’re going to inspire a lot of other people.” He added “You picked one of the hardest songs in the world, and you absolutely nailed it. You did amazing.”

Simon, whose mother was in the audience, said she dedicated her performance to “everyone that was told ‘no,'” she said. “Keep going, because one ‘yes’ can change your life.”

Photos: Greg Gayne/NBC


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