Jessica Simpson likes to keep it real

Singer doesn't mind showing her flaws

June 15, 2004|By Jim Abbott | Jim Abbott,ORLANDO SENTINEL

A blonde walks into the White House and meets Interior Secretary Gale Norton: "I really like what you've done with the place," she says.

The punch line, reported in Teen People, comes from Jessica Simpson, though it's open to conjecture whether the singer-turned-reality-star-turned-uber-p roduct-pitcher is really a ditz or just plays one on TV.

Either way, the popularity of her MTV series, Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, has made the dazzling singer America's most popular dim-bulb since Suzanne Somers played Chrissy on Three's Company in the late '70s. Expect images from the MTV show, which follows Simpson's married life with pop star Nick Lachey of the boy band 98 Degrees, to be the highlight of her concert Saturday night at Nissan Pavilion.

It's hard to imagine Newlyweds would be such a cult hit without its famous "Jessica Moments," when the reality-challenged singer attempts to go camping, pump gas or discern the origin of Buffalo wings or Chicken of the Sea.

Is it an act?

"People call me a dumb blonde and to me, that's funny," Simpson says in a phone interview that she conducts while getting her hair and nails done. "I am ditzy, and I have been since I was a young girl flirting with boys.

"I always played into it because it's fun. That's me showing my imperfections that people can relate to, so they know I'm not perfect."

Rather than ditzy or dumb, there's another word Simpson uses to explain her appeal: real.

"Whenever you have an image, it always hurts you," she says. "Your image should be your heart and who you are. It shouldn't be your costumes and this dance move or that dance move, or how you can shock somebody."

Simpson is content to leave the shock tactics to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, singers who once overshadowed her in the teen-pop arena. Like them, Simpson auditioned for the 1990s version of The Mickey Mouse Club in Orlando, but she didn't make the cut.

Instead, the Dallas native had her first career break as a contemporary Christian act, touring with Kirk Franklin, CeCe Winans and God's Property. A preacher's daughter, Simpson maintained that moral perspective even when she scored her first pop hit in 1999 with "I Wanna Love You Forever."

Now it seems like the approach might be paying off. Her wholesome image has made her ubiquitous in commercials for everything from pizza to breath mints. A new season of Newlyweds will start tomorrow night at 10 on MTV. She reportedly is in line to play Daisy Duke in a coming big-screen version of The Dukes of Hazzard.

If that triumph is sweet, Simpson isn't gloating.

"I used to compete with people, and that was why my music was never successful," says Simpson, 23. "I was always comparing myself to something else out there, so I was always feeling like I was not good enough.

"Being myself, that's the best kind of success to have. There's no bells and whistles. You don't have to impress anybody with anything. Now people don't compare me to anyone else."

It doesn't offend Simpson to suggest that her career boom has less to do with her music or acting resume (which includes a stint on That '70s Show) than a few silly scenes in a reality show.

"It all works together," she says. "It only works for me to be positive because that's how I am."

Simpson's latest album, In This Skin, was re-released this year with bonus cover versions of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" and Robbie Williams' "Angels." Another song, "With You," was a radio hit.

Yet even Simpson can be critical of her singing. She was disappointed with her a cappella version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the recent Indianapolis 500, where a wind gust blew up her skirt as photographers snapped away from below.

"I was very sick on antibiotics and all kinds of herbs, so the Indy 500 was not one of my favorites, but it's OK for me to say that," she says.

That easygoing manner separates Simpson from other stars who aim to be glamorous (Paris Hilton) or sexy (Britney), says one pop-culture observer.

"Jessica Simpson has really carved out an interesting niche in what was already a crowded cultural environment," says Robert Thompson, founder of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "Newlyweds kind of invented this other space for her. She took a little bit from the book of Anna Nicole Smith with the obliviousness and cluelessness, but she's so much more likable."

Simpson says her concerts are "about me giving appreciation to the people who got me to the stage. I want people to relate to me."

She adds that anyone who expects her to dish out dopey comments on demand when she's out of the spotlight might be disappointed.

"They probably expect me to act that way, but five minutes into the conversation they'd probably say, `I'm pretty shocked.'"

But not in a Britney way.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Jessica Simpson

Where: Nissan Pavilion, Bristow, Va.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $25-$48

Call: 410-547-SEAT

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