If you’ve been waiting patiently for the past three years, you’re finally allowed to have impure thoughts about Dallas pop star export Jessica Simpson. When she first appeared on the mainstream music scene at age 18, she still had the wholesome image of a minister’s daughter, which she was proud to be. She didn’t bump and grind like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, and she concentrated more on being a Christian role model for girls than being a fantasy prom date for boys. And just in case you began to get the wrong idea about her from what she sang or how she dressed, the pop princess reminded you and everyone with a microphone or a pen that she’s a virgin and fully intends to stay that way until marriage.
But that was the old Jessica Simpson. The new, 21-year-old voluptuous version proves you can be sexy without having sex. While an outside observer might wonder if her unapologetic buxomness suspiciously coincides with her flat album sales, her fans might wonder what the new version of their idol has in common with the old.
Is she still the Richardson girl who sang in her daddy’s choir? Or is she the temptress who recently appeared on the cover of Maxim magazine, wearing only a black camisole and looking like an escort who wants to wear even less? Or maybe she’s both: a good girl who doesn’t mind looking like a bad woman, as long as it sells records.
July 10, 1980
Jessica Ann Simpson is born in Abilene, Texas, before the family moves to Round Rock, then to Wichita Falls, to Fort Worth, to Waco, to Littleton, Colo., to Burleson, to Duncanville, and finally to Richardson.
Twelve-year-old Jessica Simpson goes to Orlando for the final round of Mickey Mouse Club auditions. After watching 12-year-old Christina Aguilera’s audition, a flustered Jessica forgets her lyrics and loses to Aguilera and 11-year-old Britney Spears. Jessica will later credit this failure for providing the motivation to take singing and acting lessons.
Buster Soaries, a guest speaker at a church camp, hears 13-year-old Jessica sing and immediately signs her to his Proclaim Records gospel label. She works on her album for three years, but the New Jersey studio goes out of business before its completion. Joe Simpson, Jessica’s father and manager, borrows $7,500 from his mother to mix and press the record, which the family distributes themselves to fans as she tours with other Christian acts.
Jessica is in the eighth grade and, according to her mom, already wearing a size 34D bra. “So she wore sports bras-never a regular bra-and big t-shirts because she wanted to hide it,” her mother will later say. “Because of that, she thought she was fat. But everyone in my family is busty. It’s inherited. She couldn’t help it.”
Jessica tries to get a record deal with a Christian label but can’t. “They said I was too pretty to be singing Christian music,” she will later remember. “I was in overalls and a ponytail, and they were telling me I couldn’t go out there and sing because it would make boys lust.”
Jessica is voted homecoming queen her junior year at J.J. Pearce in Richardson, her second consecutive year to win the honor. She leaves high school before her senior year to pursue her musical career. She will later earn a G.E.D. from a Texas Tech correspondence course.
A New York entertainment lawyer hired by the Simpsons sets up live auditions for Jessica in New York. She meets with eight labels in two days.
Columbia Records executives are impressed by her audition and arrange for her to sing for Tommy Mottola, CEO of Columbia and former Svengali to Mariah Carey. Mottola likes what he hears so much that he signs Jessica to a four-album contract andpromises to release her debut album in six months. It will take more than two years.
Joe Simpson resigns as a minister at The Heights Baptist Church in Richardson to devote himself full time to managing his daughter’s career.
Jessica is the opening act on the 98 Degrees “Heat It Up” tour. “After our prayer time I felt a little more at ease,” she writes in her online diary. “The main thing I was afraid of was being booed! I knew the girls all wanted 98. Also I was scared that the girls thought that I was dating one of the guys and would throw something.” As it happens, Jessica is dating Nick Lachey, a member of the boy band. Once public, the relationship will be a constant source of speculation, gossip, and adoration for their fans.
Oct. 20, 1999
Jessica no longer opens for 98 Degrees and instead moves up to tour with Ricky Martin.
Nov. 8, 1999
At Madison Square Garden, while straining to hit a high note, Jessica splits her pants and tearfully walks off stage. Her mother, a former aerobics instructor who has always been Jessica’s wardrobe advisor and stylist, takes off her jeans and shoes and tells her crying daughter to put them on. The singer returns to the stage and announces, “All right€¦I don’t know who saw my booty, but I’m still gonna sing it off, so here’s my next song.”
Nov. 23, 1999
Columbia Records finally releases Sweet Kisses, which debuts at number 45 on the Billboard charts in its first week. The album, which Entertainment Weekly rates as a “C-minus” and calls a “subpar portfolio,” goes on to reach double platinum, selling more than 2 million copies in the United States. (Rivals Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera sell 13 million and 8 million, respectively.) The cover of the album is a straight-on picture of Jessica, from her bare shoulders up.
Dec. 25, 1999
For Christmas, Joe Simpson buys his daughter a commitment ring to represent her vow of abstinence until marriage. The triple-diamond cross replaces the simpler gold, cut-out cross ring that flew off her finger while she was performing as an opening act for Ricky Martin. There are reports that she would lose that ring as well, again while performing.
Jessica tells Teen People that she promised God, her father, and her future husband to remain a virgin until she’s married. The story generates more reader mail to the magazine than almost any other that year.
May 13, 2000
Of Jessica’s performance at the Wango Tango 2000 Concert, the Los Angeles Times says, “Simpson€¦lost points for the blatant sexual tease of her dancing and outfit (skin-tight silver reflective pants made her look like an anorexic disco ball).”
June 2, 2000
Performing at radio station Z100’s Zootopia Concert, Jessica again has trouble with her pants. The zipper breaks in front of the sold-out Nassau Coliseum. This time, her mother is prepared and gives Jessica a spare pair.
July 31, 2000
Jessica does not attend the New York premiere of Coyote Ugly. Originally cast in the PG-13 film, she backed out for moral reasons when producers refused to remove a sex scene.
Aug. 8, 2000
Jessica wins Breakout Artist and Best Love Song (“Where You Are”) at the Teen Choice Awards. She’s also nominated for Female Artist and Female Hottie.
Sept. 14, 2000
Jessica appears on The Oprah Winfrey Show as a role model to talk about her music and her rules of life. According to Columbia Records, the episode is “designed to promote self-esteem in young women.”
Jessica is on the covers of Teen Style and the first-ever issue of Teen Vogue with boyfriend Nick Lachey. She’s also on the cover of the November issue of FHM, which causes controversy among her fans. In the interview, she says, “I’m not ashamed of my body, and I am not afraid of showing it. I just do it in a tasteful way. I just turned 20 and I want to show my body, and that’s OK because God gave me my body and I am proud of it and I worked for it, dang it!”
Oct. 28, 2000
A fan discontinues his Jessica Simpson fan web site. “Jessica is not keeping her promises,” he writes. “Her career has drastically changed. What used to be a Christian paradigm with high hopes of succeeding in the music industry has in very little time managed to hang up her guns, hike up her t-shirts, and hit the tanning bed to sell more records and become the exact type of puppet the media promotes.”
Redken, the hair products company, launches a new ad campaign with Jessica as its star. It’s the company’s first time to use a celebrity in its 40-year history. “We had to choose someone who would represent the brand well,” Shelley Saville, Redken’s senior vice president of U.S. marketing, tells WWD. “Jessica fits that image, and she also has moral ethics and values she is not afraid to stand up for.”
David Lovejoy, a 21-year-old University of Kentucky psychology and pre-med major, wins a date with Jessica on MTV’s “Spring Break Dream Date.” Lovejoy has never heard of Jessica. “I made a complete fool of myself on national television,” he tells the Associated Press, “all to get a dream date with a celebrity I didn’t even know.”
May 2, 2001
The New York Post reports that Jessica has broken off her two-and-a-half-year relationship with Nick Lachey. Jessica will later admit that she split from the boy-band balladeer in April. “I kept realizing I couldn’t become who I wanted to become. I couldn’t be independent while depending on him.” Rumors surface that Jessica had her career in mind more than her independence.
June 5, 2001
Jessica’s second album, Irresistible, debuts at number six. Entertainment Weekly rates it a “D” and, while acknowledging Jessica’s ability to sing, remarks that “her chops are ultimately as meaningless as the bombast around her.” Within two months, the album falls out of the top 50. The cover photo is of Jessica from the crotch up, as she tugs her sheer shirt slightly above her navel.
July 10, 2001
Jessica turns 21. She’s old enough to drink, but she says she never does.
July 18, 2001
In Albany, N.Y., on opening night of MTV’s TRL Tour, also featuring Destiny’s Child, Nelly, and others, Jessica splits her pants. Again.
Jessica drops off MTV’s TRL Tour (where she typically did four songs as an opening act) to headline her own. On Aug. 7, the Dreamchaser Tour kicks off at the Concrete Street Amphitheater in Corpus Christi. The tour, which hits parking lots around the country in cities such as Belton, Texas; Joplin, Mo.; and Champaigne, Ill., includes bungee jumping, trampolines, wall climbing, and professional motorcross riders doing freestyle jumps.
Fox airs the 2001 Teen Choice Awards, where Jessica is nominated for Best Female Artist. She loses to Britney Spears.
In the “Jessica Simpson’s True Confessions” cover story for Teen People, Jessica talks candidly about her constant battle with her weight and her low self-esteem.
Jessica kicks off the 32nd season of Monday Night Football with a special video co-starring members of the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos. “My papa, a former Texas high-school football coach, will be smiling at home to see me doing this video,” she says. “Personally, I like the tight pants and butt pads.”
Oct. 5, 2001
Bally Total Fitness’ ad campaign featuring Jessica and her hit song “A Little Bit.” Commercials feature clips of her video, and anyone who joins the health club in the month of October receives a free CD single of the song.
Nov. 12, 2001
Jessica joins Wayne Newton, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and others on a U.S.O. holiday tour overseas.
Jessica appears on the cover of testosterone-driven Maxim. She claims that her new look is merely a result of being older. “It’s not like I sat down and said, ’I’ve got to change my image.’ I’m just more grown-up now, and I’ve become more sophisticated.” Her vow of chastity is still intact, but the motivation has changed. “Abstinence for me is about romance,” she says. “It has nothing to do with my relationship with God. It’s definitely a bonus in that department, but it’s nothing spiritual.”