Are they America's next great rock band?
L.B.'s Fifi Larue takes its shot at TV fame and a possible record deal tonight on newest `Idol' spinoff.
By Phillip Zonkel
Fifi Larue is the "Gothic Killer Clown of Rock 'N' Roll," and his band, also called Fifi Larue, is a motley crew. They appear in black garb and ghoulish white faces, except for one member whose face is devil red.
The Long Beach band might be familiar to gothic rock enthusiasts who've seen them perform at the Key Club or Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip, but tonight millions of Americans will see them in action as they compete on "The Next Great American Band," an "American Idol" spinoff that premieres from 8 to 10 on Fox Channel 11.
Behind the makeup, the quintet is John Simich (Fifi Larue), 44, of Long Beach; bass guitarist Andy Ungos (Andy Monic), 43, of Long Beach; drummer Bruce Burkett (El Diablo), 34, of Torrance; keyboardist Baron Karza (Cameron Mroske), 37, of Duarte and guitarist Billy Blaze (Billy Wesson), 41, of Hawthorne.
Like "American Idol," the series' initial audition episodes show the judges (Goo Goo Dolls lead singer Johnny Rzeznik, percussionist-singer Sheila E. and "Australian Idol" judge Ian Dickson) narrowing the field of 60 hopefuls to 10 semifinalists, who will then perform in front of a live audience in Los Angeles. Viewers call in and vote for their favorites after each show.
The season finale has the last three groups competing to secure a recording contract.
Simich won't say whether or not Fifi Larue advances past the first round, but the band already has gotten mileage from being promoted on the show's Web site (www.americanidol.com) and in TV advertisements. And in Entertainment Weekly's Oct. 19 issue, a "Next Great American Band" TV highlight features a photo of Fifi Larue.
The group auditioned for the series in a desert outside of Las Vegas in sorching heat on Aug. 20, almost three months after Simich submitted material.
He saw announcements on "American Idol" and MySpace that producers wanted bands to submit a DVD or VHS tape of a live performance for an upcoming reality show similar to "American idol."
More than 7,000 bands sent material for consideration.
In July, a producer with the show called Simich and said the band might be used. A couple of weeks later, Fifi Larue was invited to audition, Simich says.
All band members had to sign a series of legal documents, including an extensive background check and a contract granting the producers all legal and commercial rights to the bands.
The bands were housed at Montelago Village Resort in Henderson, Nev., about 17 miles outside of Las Vegas.
The day before auditions, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe congratulated the bands on reaching this point, but told them that the show's producers were not looking for the best musicians. They were looking for someone to mold.
During auditions, bands had to perform two songs, an original and a cover. On the show, Fifi LaRue sing "Gothic Killer Clown," which is on the band's self-titled debut CD. It's available at the band's Web site (www.fifilarue.com), and MySpace page (www.myspace.com/fifilarue
theband) and F.Y.E stores in Lakewood, Downey and other locations.
Fifi Larue isn't Simich's first attempt at rock.
From 1983-1990, he was drummer Fifi Robin in Dizzy Bitch, a glam band that played the Sunset Strip. Bored with being a drummer, Simich took a hiatus from performing until he formed Fifi Larue in 1999.
Simich, who was influenced by such favorites as KISS and Alice Cooper, purposefully gave his band a theatrical flavor.
"I want folks to be entertained," he says.
One of his biggest fans is his 82-year-old mother, Lilia Kelly, who lives with him near the Craftsman Village area of Long Beach, near downtown.
Simich is his mother's caregiver, driving her anywhere she needs to go and monitoring her heart rate and blood pressure.
"At first, I didn't like his music. It was too noisy," says Kelly, who listens to Nat King Cole, Placido Domingo and Augustin Lara. "But I got used to it.
"Everybody has the right to choose what they want to do," she says.
Apart from his "Gothic Killer Clown of Rock 'N' Roll" moniker, Simich works as a self-employed licensed painting contractor.
He's been painting since 1986 and hopes "The Next Great American Band" will give him a chance to put down his brush.
"All I want to do is not be a painter anymore," says Simich, who has asthma. "Painting is work. Jumping on stage and performing and dressing like a clown is fun. There aren't painting groupies."