Ashlee Nicole Simpson (born October 3, 1984) is an American pop rock singer–songwriter and actress. She is the sister of pop singer Jessica Simpson. Simpson rose to prominence in mid-2004 through the success of her number-one debut album Autobiography and the accompanying reality series The Ashlee Simpson Show. Simpson received widespread derision when she used a pre-recorded vocal track for a performance on Saturday Night Live in October 2004. Following a North American concert tour and an unsuccessful film appearance, Simpson released a second number-one album, I Am Me, in late 2005.
Simpson was born in Waco, Texas, and raised in Dallas. She is the daughter of Joe Truett Simpson (a former Baptist youth minister who is now her manager) and Tina Ann Drew (a former Sunday School teacher who homeschooled Ashlee). An accomplished dancer, Simpson began studying classical ballet at the age of three, and was admitted to the School of American Ballet in New York City at the age of eleven. Around that time, she suffered from an eating disorder; the condition lasted about six months, and she dropped to about 31 kg (70 pounds) at 159 cm (5ft 2in), but her parents then stepped in and got her to eat more. After her sister Jessica Simpson landed a record deal, the Simpson family decided to move to Los Angeles, California, where Ashlee began appearing in television commercials. When Jessica became a star after releasing her first album, Ashlee became one of her backup dancers. Later, she began appearing in films and television series, including an episode of the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle in 2001, a minor role in the 2002 film The Hot Chick and a recurring role on the family drama series 7th Heaven. In the summer of 2003, Simpson briefly worked as an MTV VJ on TRL, and later recorded a song titled "Just Let Me Cry" for the soundtrack of the film Freaky Friday. Eventually, Simpson signed a record deal with Geffen Records.
Debut album and reality television
Ashlee Simpson's first album, Autobiography, debuted at number one in the U.S. in July 2004 with first week sales numbering around 398,000 copies. The album was certified triple platinum in September 2004. Simpson co-wrote all of the album's tracks and described it as "very true to my emotion" in one interview, but critical reviews were mixed. Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Relic characterised Autobiography as a "mundane melange of Avril-ish brat pop and Sheryl Crow cod rock." E! Online wrote "Even if it doesn't wow you, Autobiography may surprise you." The single that preceded the album, "Pieces of Me," was one of the biggest hits of the summer in the U.S. and sold well elsewhere. However, the follow-up singles "Shadow" and "La La" were less successful.
Simpson occasionally appeared on Newlyweds, a reality show about the married life of Jessica and her then-husband Nick Lachey. To accompany the beginning of her own music career, she got her own MTV reality show entitled The Ashlee Simpson Show, which aired in a subsequent time slot to Newlyweds. It ran in the U.S. for eight weekly episodes over the summer of 2004, and a second season of ten episodes aired from January to March 2005. The show dealt with the process of writing, recording, and performing Simpson's music as well as aspects of her personal life.
When appearing for live performances, Simpson performs live with a backing band consisting of Ray Brady (guitar), Braxton Olita (guitar), Joey Kaimana (bass guitar—from 2004 to 2005 Zach Kennedy filled this role), Chris Megert (keyboards and vocals—from late 2004 to 2005 Lucy Walsh filled this role), and Chris Fox (drums).
In addition to her own first album, Simpson sang "Christmas Past, Present, and Future" on the 2004 holiday album Radio Disney Jingle Jams and a duet of the Christmas song "Little Drummer Boy" with her sister Jessica for the album Rejoyce, which they had sung together during the ABC variety hour special "Nick & Jessica's Family Christmas". In 2004 Simpson received the "Song of the Summer" Teen Choice Award for "Pieces of Me," as well as the "Fresh Face" award. In addition, she also won a Billboard Award for New Female Artist of the Year in December and was later named Entertainment Weekly's "Breakout Star of 2004" in January 2005. Simpson also co-hosted Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin Eve along with Regis Philbin (in Dick Clark's absence) at the end of the year, hosting the West Coast portion of the show and performing three songs.
Saturday Night Live incident
Simpson appeared as a musical guest on Episode 568 of Saturday Night Live (October 23, 2004), and as is customary for the show's format, she was scheduled to perform two songs. Her first song, "Pieces of Me", was performed without problems. However, when she began her second song, "Autobiography", the vocals for the song "Pieces of Me" were heard again—before she had raised the microphone to her mouth. Simpson began to dance spasmodically and then left the stage, while the band (not a recording) continued playing. During the closing of the show Simpson appeared with the guest host Jude Law stating that her band performed the wrong song in the opening on the performance and commenting that she thought she'd "do a hoedown" following the musical number. Others, however, criticized her for what they saw as evidence that she was lip synching.
On October 25, Simpson called in to the music video show Total Request Live and explained that due to complications arising from a "severe" variation of acid reflux (which had previously been seen in The Ashlee Simpson Show) she had completely lost her voice and her doctor had advised her not to sing. She claimed that because of the acid reflux, her father required her to use a guide track for the performance. She said of the incident, "I made a complete fool of myself." According to Simpson, the drummer hit the wrong button, which caused the wrong track to be played. During the October 25 Radio Music Awards broadcast, Simpson pretended, as a joke, to make the same mistake as she did in the SNL incident, but then began to perform "Autobiography" without using a pre-recorded vocal track as she had done during the prior SNL performance. On October 31, the CBS news program 60 Minutes aired footage from Simpson's rehearsals before the SNL performance in which Simpson is shown to be disturbed by voice trouble.
On January 4, 2005, Simpson performed "La La" at the halftime show for the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida; when her performance finished, many of the 72,000-plus spectators booed. Representatives for the Orange Bowl stated that they were pleased with her performance and felt that it was a belated reaction to the SNL incident, while others have speculated that it may have been because the audience of the Orange Bowl was outside of Simpson's target age bracket. Still others disagree, however (Kelly Clarkson had performed before Simpson in the show to a more positive reaction), and assert that her performance was poor and very off-key.
Following her Orange Bowl performance, an Internet petition at PetitionOnline.com complaining about Simpson's singing was among the most active of the site's petitions. Simpson later said: "That's cool. You don't always have to be a fan of everybody's music", also citing the support she had received from her fans. Around the time of the petition, Cosmopolitan magazine chose Simpson to be on the cover of the February 2005 issue, naming her the "Fun Fearless Female of the Year".
Simpson's first U.S. headlining tour (with two dates in Canada as well) ran from mid-February to late April 2005, and its opening acts were Pepper's Ghost and The Click Five. In addition to material from Autobiography, Simpson performed her own unreleased song "Hollywood", The Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket", Blondie's "Call Me", and Madonna's "Burning Up". She said that the tour would be "stripped down", without pyrotechnics, and that "it's going to be me and my band getting out there and having fun". In March 2005, Simpson said that The Ashlee Simpson Show would conclude at the end of its second season, the last episode of which aired at the end of the month.
Film, second album, and theater
Simpson had a supporting role as an aspiring actress named Clea in Undiscovered (originally titled Wannabe), an independent film that was released in theaters in August 2005. Simpson filmed her scenes in late 2004. While Simpson's performance was met with acceptable reviews, the film itself was trashed by critics and placed outside of the top ten in its opening weekend, earning just $676,048. Her performance in the film earned her a Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actress.
Simpson's second album, I Am Me, was released in the U.S. on October 18, 2005. Simpson said that she had wanted to incorporate the feel of music from the 1980s on the album, and that unlike her debut it would focus less on relationships and more on herself. I Am Me debuted at number one with roughly 220,000 copies sold, but sales quickly deteriorated; as of January 2006, it had sold less than a million copies. Its first single, "Boyfriend", became a top twenty hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and performed similarly elsewhere. The second single, "L.O.V.E.", reached the U.S. top forty, its success aided by a remix by R&B/hip-hop producer Missy Elliott and MTV's heavy rotation of the single's music video (it has been her most successful video to date on Total Request Live).
Simpson began a concert tour in late September in Portland, Oregon and appeared on the October 8, 2005 episode of SNL to promote the album. The first of Simpson's two performances on the show was of the ballad "Catch Me When I Fall", which was written about her previous SNL experience, and she thanked the crowd after her second performance. In mid-December, Simpson collapsed after performing in Japan, possibly due to exhaustion. She was briefly hospitalized, and consequently cancelled an appearance at the Radio Music Awards.
Simpson appeared on the December 2005/January 2006 cover of Teen People with her sister Jessica, and could also be seen on the December 2005 issue of Blender, Cosmopolitan magazine's January 2006 edition, the March 2006 issues of Seventeen and ELLE, the April 2006 issue of JANE, the June/July 2006 issue of Teen People (in which she was named one of its "25 hottest stars under twenty-five"), the July 2006 issue of Marie Claire and the September 2006 issue of CosmoGirl.
Simpson won a Kelly Slater/MTV celebrity surfing invitational competition, which also featured celebrities such as Meagan Good, Jack Osbourne (her main competitor during the competition), Ashley Parker Angel and Tony Hawk, as part of an MTV-sponsored 'Spring Break' Special in March 2006. On April 12 she hosted and performed at the MTV Australia Video Music Awards, where she won "Best Female Artist" and "Best Pop Video" (for "Boyfriend"). A new single, "Invisible", was released in mid-2006 and reached the top 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. Initially it was said that the song would appear on a re-released version of I Am Me, but this never occurred. Simpson began a summer tour on June 5, with Ashley Parker Angel as an opening act; initially The Veronicas also opened but quit the tour after the first few shows due to a problem with one of their singers' vocal cords.
Simpson said that after this tour, which ended in late July, she would be going on vacation, that she will take her time making her third album, and that she will look at movie scripts and continue her acting career.
Simpson played the role of Roxie Hart in the London stage production of Chicago, from September 25 to October 28, 2006. One reviewer called Simpson's performance in the show "dazzling and near flawless".
In mid-November 2006, Simpson said that she was going to meet with record executives soon and begin working on her third album. Simpson also stated that she would like to work with Robert Smith from The Cure, who attended her last show in London while playing Roxie Hart in the musical "Chicago".
Producer Ron Fair said in December 2006 that working on Simpson's next album would be "very tricky" because of press scrutiny and "prejudices", but that Geffen would work with her to overcome that, "because she deserves to be heard and she deserves a shot."
Image and personal life
When she first broke onto the scene, Simpson had a decidedly different image from that of her sister. Previously blonde like Jessica, she dyed her hair dark during the recording of the MTV reality show after she finished filming for the 7th Heaven television series, although after a year with dark hair she returned to blonde in 2005. Simpson's songs also have rock elements absent from her sister's music, and, particularly during the time of her initial stardom, Simpson would often wear shirts with "punk"-style designs, sometimes emblazoned with band names. She often has her fingernails and toenails painted black, and has at least three tattoos: a star on one wrist, two cherries on her ankle, and the word "love" on her other wrist. Simpson has changed her style significantly over time; she now is often seen favoring girlier, "preppier" looks, though her more "punk"-oriented look is still displayed at concerts. She has also been seen sporting long blond hair extensions.
Her vocals, while generally not thought to equal her sister's range, have been praised by some as fitting the style of her music, and are usually described as "raspy" or "throaty." Simpson and her sister were tied for third on oft-quoted celebrity-fashion critic Mr. Blackwell's list of the worst-dressed celebrities of 2004. Blackwell wrote that "from gaudy to grim to downright frenetic these two prove that bad taste is positively genetic."
She has refused to discuss her sex life, in contrast with her sister, who openly stated her intention to practice sexual abstinence until marriage. "I decided that I didn't want to talk about that because it's super personal," Simpson said of the situation. Simpson's relationship with actor Josh Henderson lasted for nearly two years and ended during the first episode of The Ashlee Simpson Show. Soon after, she began dating fellow musician Ryan Cabrera. That relationship was also featured on the show, and Simpson appeared as Cabrera's love interest in the music video for his song "On the Way Down." The two were reported to have split in August 2004 due to their hectic schedules, but they resumed their relationship for a while afterward, before ending it again in early 2005; Simpson says they are still friends, although rumors suggested that Ashlee did not like the fact that Ryan had moved on to Lisa Origliasso of The Veronicas.
In 2005, rumors began circulating that Simpson had stolen Wilmer Valderrama from Lindsay Lohan. Simpson's single "Boyfriend" was reported to be about the situation, but she said that the song "is about [how] every girl out there sometimes thinks you stole her boyfriend. It's just making fun of that." Valderrama has since said on Howard Stern's radio program that he did have sex with Ashlee Simpson, but claimed the incident was unrelated to his break-up with Lohan. Later that year, rumours arose that Simpson was secretly dating another Joe Simpson-managed actor, Viva La Bam's Chris Raab. In February 2006, she told Seventeen magazine that she was dating bandmate Braxton Olita and went on a 10-day vacation with him to Hawaii.
In November 2005, eTalk Daily broadcast a video of a late-night visit made by Simpson to a McDonald's fast-food restaurant in Toronto, Canada. Simpson appeared to be intoxicated in the video, and was shown arguing with a member of the staff, as well as rejecting a customer's attempt to get an autograph from her because he wouldn't kiss her feet. According to Simpson in a 2006 ELLE interview, she was "a little tipsy", and the customer had first called her "gross" before he had realized who she was, at which point he asked her for an autograph. She has said that she told herself to "grow up" after the incident.
In February 2006, Simpson was honored by MTV's Total Request Live (TRL), as the "Bounce-Back" artist. The award was given to her for being able to recover from her many ups and downs of her career, and still manage to release another #1 platinum album.
Simpson reportedly had plastic surgery for a nose job in April 2006; tabloid magazines and blogs have published pictures which are claimed to demonstrate the change in her nose. When asked about it in an interview in May, Simpson neither confirmed nor denied it. There have also been claims that Simpson had chosen to surgically enhance her lips and to reduce her chin. In June 2006, it was reported that Simpson seriously considered but later turned down a $4 million offer to pose nude for Playboy.
In early September 2006, Us Weekly reported that Simpson and Braxton Olita have split up. Simpson's rep said that the couple “broke up about a week ago. They have decided to take a break.”
Simpson is often criticized as being a "manufactured" artist with little singing talent. Her critics cite incidents like the SNL episode and the Orange Bowl performance as evidence for their claims.
Some allege that Simpson has lip-synched on occasions other than the SNL episode, comparing the impact of the SNL incident to the 1990 Milli Vanilli incident in which their guide track skipped during a live MTV performance, revealing that they were lip-synching.
In early 2005, Simpson's marketing campaign was accused of astroturfing by users on several websites. A post on Metafilter claimed that the marketing company posted the same text, which contained the text, "I just read about Ashlee in us weekly. Those guys at the football game were total jerks." (the "football game" referring to the Orange Bowl incident) under the user name "mandyc19" on over three hundred different music-related forums in order to further promote Simpson and paint her in a positive light. This (and possibly other instances) led to a new term, "Ashleeturfing", to describe faux fan raves such as this.
In January 2006, Simpson was nominated for a Razzie Award for "Worst Supporting Actress" for her role in Undiscovered; Ashlee's sister Jessica was also nominated in the same category for The Dukes of Hazzard. The sisters both lost to Paris Hilton.
In mid-2006, Ashlee gave an interview to Marie Claire magazine, in which she was said to have "had it with Hollywood's twisted view of feminine beauty" and was photographed painting a pro-female mural with a group of underprivileged girls from Los Angeles's Green Dot Public School. However, by the time the magazine hit newsstands, Ashlee had already had her nose job and had been seen sporting long blonde hair extensions. Some Marie Claire readers complained about this as being hypocritical; the magazine received over 1,000 angry letters and the magazine's new editor expanded the letters section of the September issue of the magazine to give readers a chance to vent their frustrations.