Singing's Not An Act For Ashlee Simpson

Excerpted from the magazine for

Video may have killed the radio star 25 years ago, but in today's multimedia universe, it seems that the more exposure one fosters -- through TV, movies, commercials, the Internet or Billboard's Hot 100 -- the better the chance for success.

Case in point: Jessica Simpson, whose singing career was catapulted to new heights after starring in MTV reality series "Newlyweds" with husband Nick Lachey.

Consider it a well-learned family lesson, as Simpson's younger sister Ashlee works the spell in reverse, transforming herself from actress to pop/rock ingenue.

After two seasons playing Cecilia on the WB's family-friendly drama "7th Heaven," the 19-year-old blonde dyed her hair brunette, established herself as the more organic Simpson and is forging a dual career as a pop hitmaker.

"With acting, people judge your character and how you portray it. But with singing, you're letting your guard down and opening yourself up in front of people; it's the real you," Simpson says.

"This is all so crazy. Two months ago I finished the record, and now the single is on the radio. It's a huge deal for me."

Ashlee Simpson's first single, "Pieces of You," from her Geffen album, "Autobiography" (July 20), is No. 14 at mainstream top 40 radio after just five weeks and No. 4 on Billboard's Hot Digital Tracks chart. A commercial single was released June 29.

Simpson, who co-wrote the 12 songs on the album, has also signed a deal with EMI Music Publishing.

In addition, MTV hitched another ride with the Simpsons, launching "The Ashlee Simpson Show" in June. The show follows the making of Simpson's album and her dramatic teenage life.

Musically, it's easy to separate Ashlee from her sister. While the latter Simpson capably plays the role of diva in a gown, Ashlee wears jeans and lets her hair hang loose and names such influences as Chrissie Hynde, Janis Joplin and Pat Benatar.

John Shanks (Michelle Branch, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette) produced the album, and the work rocks with the guitar-crunching urgency of a huskier, more upbeat Avril Lavigne -- though Simpson sounds more like Joan Jett than any of her contemporaries.

The songs on the album reflect the eye-opening discoveries that come with young adulthood, including first love and first heartbreak, identity and sexual awakening.

"I'm 19, and I'm going through some defining moments in my life. I've tried not to hold anything back," she says. "I guess I should apologize to all of the boys that I have used for inspiration."

As for her contributions to the record, Simpson explains, "I wasn't going to make a record unless I could write on every song. It really makes a difference [when you're performing] to speak from your own experiences."

While her career deliberately started in acting so she wouldn't be viewed as trying to follow in big sister's footsteps, the path to music certainly wasn't a stretch.

Simpson has been preparing since she was 3, when she began taking dance lessons. She moved from hometown Dallas to Los Angeles with the family at 14 and served as a background dancer for Jessica, while pursuing acting. In addition to "7th Heaven," she appeared as an MTV VJ.

Her musical break came when she placed the song "Just Let Me Cry" on Disney's "Freaky Friday" soundtrack. She signed to Geffen and at the beginning of 2004 began work on the album.

Regarding the obvious comparisons between the sisters, Ashlee says, "I am so proud of Jessica. She is an amazing artist with a beautiful voice. But I have never listened to the kind of music that she does. We're both doing music -- but in very different ways, and it's cool."

Excerpted from the July 17, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to subscribers.

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