You wouldn’t imagine that many children would have Simon Cowell as their hero in life. But when Kylie Frey took to the America’s Got Talent stage in 2023, she revealed that Cowell had been her childhood idol. She even held parties where she would dress up as the grumpy judge and impersonate him. This revelation immediately endeared her to Cowell, who told her that her impression of him was “terrible” but that he liked her nonetheless.
Frey, aged 28 and from Opelousas, Louisiana, told the judges that her singing career had taken off from performing at rodeos. These events feature a series of riding and roping activities involving horses and cattle. “I’m from a big rodeo family,” she explained. “I was a rodeo queen. I started singing the national anthem for every rodeo I showed up to because I just love to sing.”
Before beginning, she told the judges that the song had been written for her grandfather. “He always told me if I sang the national anthem for every rodeo I showed up to, one day someone would ask me to sing at the NFR [National Finals Rodeo], which is the Superbowl of rodeo, and that’s how I was going to get the start.” Frey had charmed the judges and audience with her backstory, and now she needed to deliver with her performance. After taking a moment to catch her breath, she began.
With her bare feet tapping along, Frey played her original song “Horses in Heaven” with an accompanying band. Immediately, her strong country singing voice shone through, as did her sheer enjoyment of performing. Cowell, so often brutal in his assessments of the acts who stand before him, visibly softened. The crowd swayed and clapped along and could be heard saying ‘Ahhh’ during the sweeter moments of the song.
As the song finished, the audience rose to give Frey a standing ovation. Even more thrilling for the rodeo singer was that her childhood idol was a big fan. “Kylie, I really, really like you,” Cowell said, “and I loved that audition. I think you’re a great writer, and you worked for this, and I respect that. You are the real deal. Genuinely.” Fellow judge Heidi Klum backed up this opinion by saying, “I like you; I love your whole band—you guys were fantastic!”
Frey was given a “yes” from three of the judges (with only Howie Mandel giving a “no”), which was enough to send her through to the next round.
In the qualifiers, Frey sang another original song, “I Do Things.”. Unfortunately, this was less well-liked by the judges, who felt that her dancing and singing routine had made it hard for them to hear her vocal performance. Even Cowell described it as a “manic mess,” and as a result, she didn’t make it to the finals.