SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Here's a real LA story - two strangers see each other across a rehearsal room of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
I'm sorry. I didn't get your name.
SCOTT SIMONS: It's your name.
SIMON: It's good to meet you and thank you for...
Scott Simons with an S, who's music consultant and pianist for "America's Got Talent: The Champions." We met during a taping this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICA'S GOT TALENT: THE CHAMPIONS")
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your "America's Got Talent" judges.
SIMON: But when he was a teenager and I was at NBC, Mike Simons, his father, a local station weatherman in Clarksburg, W. Va., wrote me a note to say, I have a son named Scott.
SIMONS: And he got me a headshot that he requested through the network, and you signed it to me, said dear - something to the effect of Dear Scott, I hope you're doing our name more justice than I am.
SIMONS: You drew glasses and a mustache on yourself. And I probably - if I go - I'll go home over Christmas. I bet my mom - I have it in storage somewhere, and I was going to try to find it.
SIMON: Storage? You kept it up in your room, and it's been a constant inspiration to you.
SIMONS: I call my room storage.
SIMON: Oh, all right, OK, thank you. You're not sleeping in storage.
SIMONS: (Laughter) Yeah. And then, you know, my whole life, people are like, Scott Simons, like, the guy on NPR? I'm like, no, he's Scott Simon. I'm Scott Simons with an S.
SIMON: And he's doing well with that extra S. Scott Simons came to LA 10 years ago, and he's made a life inside this city of so many dreams. He writes and sings jingles and theme songs like the one for "Paw Patrol," the kid's cartoon show on Nick Jr. He works with improv groups, including the Upright Citizens Brigade. He has his own music group, TeamMate, with his old girlfriend, Dani Buncher. He posts hilarious tweets and helps contestants on "America's Got Talent" do their best for their one big moment before an audience of millions.
SIMONS: So I don't know what's going to come at me any given day. And there are things that sometimes I just have to, like, fake through and wing it. A lot of times it's a frantic pace so that it's like, hey, you know, we have this act coming in. They're only here today. We're going to try these six songs to see which one sounds best. Sometimes we have opera acts, and I got to play "'O Sole Mio" and sometimes we have R&B acts, so a lot of time I'm spent on Spotify or YouTube learning the songs, figuring out the chord progression.
SIMON: So, like, you can hear a song and start playing it.
SIMONS: Well, that's how I learned mostly. I quit lessons growing up a lot, so I was never really, like, a classical guy. I always learned by ear.
SIMON: Speaking of ears...
SIMON: ...Can I ask you about yours?
SIMONS: Oh, yeah. I was born with genetic hearing loss, and for 18 years all the way through high school, I was really reluctant in the '80s and '90s to get a hearing aid because it was like, you know, one of the big behind-the-ear ones.
SIMONS: But hearing aid technology is moving so fast, I ended up getting one small one. I had that for years, and just a few years ago, I got these two little guys.
SIMONS: And yeah, they're super tiny. They go all the way in my ear.
SIMON: Oh, my word. I mean, yeah, they are very tiny, aren't they?
SIMONS: Yeah. And I can hear you with them out. It's just kind of muffled.
SIMON: Scott, a lot of people, when they knew that as a kid, would rule out a career in music.
SIMONS: Yeah. I don't know. It just - it was never a point where it was like, do you want to do music or something else? It was just always like I just knew. I mean, I think maybe for a moment when I was 8 I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian or an astronaut. But I think I always knew I was going to be a musician. So it wasn't ever, do you want to do this or should you do this? It was - I really hit the parent lottery, like, the parent jackpot by, like, they supported me very early on to do what I thought I needed to do and what I wanted to do.
SIMON: You've made a life of music.
SIMONS: Yeah, luckily.
SIMON: And luckily. I mean, I'm glad to hear you say that because you devote everything to it.
SIMONS: Well, I'm very fortunate. I mean, I'm always well aware and I try to, like, help people that I can when I'm in a position to. I mean, this isn't a normal - I tell my friends whenever they are complaining about something, like, I didn't get this job or I didn't get this gig in music - I'm like, yeah but do you know how crazy this is we get to do this? Like, it still feels weird to me. Like LA - I love LA. I've been here 10 years, but it still feels like I can't believe I live here. I can't believe I live here and I get to work in music. So even when I have those days where I'm like, oh, man, I've got to get some work soon or things are going to get rough, I'm still thankful that I get to do it and make that choice.
SIMON: You are here in this vast human community - right? - LA...
SIMON: ...Thriving with ambition and talented, ambitious people. And you are trying to help some of the most talented who are, as I don't have to tell you, the talented are sometimes the most vulnerable emotionally, aren't they?
SIMONS: Yeah, for sure.
SIMON: Yeah. But you have a big responsibility, don't you?
SIMONS: Yeah. You know, this show is really special because there - it is people from everywhere, that - they might be the best in their town or they might have won a karaoke contest in their local bar, but then to put it on the stage and make it a thing and make it resonate across America - a lot of this job is therapy. It's like, right before they sing and we're in a commercial break, it's live on TV and they're freaking out and I just go up and say, hey, you've done this 20 times this week. Like, you got this. Just remember - just center yourself. What does this song mean to you? It's not about getting the right notes. It's about connecting with the audience, making them feel something. It's not always about being the best singer perfectly executing a song. It's about the emotion. And that's really hard to quantify and to coach into someone. And I'm not taking credit for doing this all myself. There's a team of people that's helping do this.
SIMON: Can I hear "Paws Patrol (ph)?"
SIMONS: (Laughter) "Paw Patrol?"
SIMON: What is it - "Paw Patrol?"
SIMONS: "Paw Patrol," yeah.
SIMON: "Paw Patrol" - right.
SIMONS: You know what? So here's the thing with "Paw Patrol." My friend wrote it and I sang the demo for it, so I could probably - it's like (singing) Paw Patrol, Paw...
And I use this weird, like, weird voice that's not really my voice. And I went in, and I sang it for, like, 20 minutes. And I was like, cool, what was that? And they're like it's some Nickelodeon show. We don't know. They didn't think it was going to be that big a deal. And then the next thing I know, it's like people that were listening to my band in college now have kids and they're like, hey, I listened to you at West Virginia University. Now my kids listen to you every morning. Or I get messages going I'm going to murder you if I hear this song one more time today.
SIMON: (Laughter) Well, we'll tell our listeners, let him play it this one last time.
SIMONS: (Laughter) I think it's like (singing) Paw Patrol, Paw Patrol, we'll be there on the double. Whenever there's a problem around Adventure Bay.
I messed that up.
(Singing) Rider and his team of pups are going to save the day. Rider, Zuma, Chase, Rocky, Skye, Rubble...
What are their names?
(Singing) Yeah, they're on the way. Paw Patrol, Paw Patrol - be there on the double. No job's too big, no pup's too small. Paw patrol - they're on a roll. So here we go.
(Laughter) I don't remember.
SIMON: I'm deeply moved. I think that's a great song.
SIMONS: It's so funny.
SIMON: Has it occurred to you there are not only perhaps millions of children who can sing that song now...
SIMON: ...They are going to grow up singing it and, like, 30, 40 years from now...
SIMONS: (Unintelligible) Where's the guy that sang the "Paw Patrol" theme?
SIMON: (Laughter) No, they'll know you. They'll know you. They'll say can you believe...
SIMONS: At the metro station at Hollywood and Highland playing.
SIMON: No, they'll say, can you believe Scott Simons did that earlier in his career?
SIMONS: Yeah, and they'll be like, the guy from NPR?
SIMON: Oh, and I wish.
SIMON: All right. This has been a delight.
SIMONS: This is great. It's crazy to meet you. This is awesome. I've been looking forward to it all day.
SIMON: It's crazy to meet you but very nice. I hope we talk to you again, OK?
SIMONS: Yeah. That'd be great. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.