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<!---##CCI#[Text Tag=head Group=All]---><!---##CCI#[/Text]---> Ashlee Simpson at the Taft
Jessica's sister, now on her first full-length national tour, is getting some credit from critics
By Rick Bird
Post staff reporter

Getting caught lip-syncing on "Saturday Night Live" has turned out to be a great career move for Ashlee Simpson. In fact, some observers might wonder if the driven young actress and singer staged the "SNL" blunder as a calculated career strategy.

That's probably being too cynical, but things have certainly gone just fine for Jessica Simpson's little sis ever since the October lip-syncing flap. At the time some thought it was a career wrecking Milli Vanilli moment. Last year's most talked about musical faux pas didn't turn out that way, though.

If you go
•  Ashlee Simpson plays Wednesday at the Taft Theatre, downtown. Music starts at 7 p.m.

•  Opening: Pepper's Ghost and the Click Five.

•  Tickets: $39.50 at Ticketmaster (513) 562-4949.

On the show Ashlee began singing "Autobiography," but the backing track with her voice was playing "Pieces of Me," which she had performed earlier that night. She danced a goofy little jig, walked off stage, then returned to apologize.

At first she blamed her band, then an attack of her acid reflux that had forced her to use a recorded track.

 The blunder was seen as confirming the worst sins of the pre-fab pop music world in which MTV seems bent on making careers out of those with little talent.

Then in January, Simpson was booed by 72,000 at the Orange Bowl for an off-key version of her "LaLa." Fans united around her, though, still buying her debut album, now at 3.5 million copies.

Season two of her MTV show debuted in January with solid ratings and a surprisingly candid and insightful look at the hard work and frustrations that come with planning a national tour. The show does not dodge the lip-sync moment, as Ashlee tries hard to put it behind her despite being constantly asked about it in interviews.

Cincinnati native and brother-in-law Nick Lachey came to her defense, pointing out the hypocrisy and piety of music scene pundits, saying he knows from first-hand experience doing "SNL" can be risky for a singer.

"You finish dress rehearsal at 10:50. You go live at 11:30. If you blow your voice out in the dress rehearsal, there's no time to get a new artist in there. There's nothing you can really do except go out there and do the best you can," Lachey told TV writers in January. "Trust me, she's not the only person that's done that on 'SNL.'"

By February Ashlee had enough "street cred" to be named the Cosmopolitan Fun Fearless Female of the Year, gracing the Cosmo cover in a sultry red dress. She is the cover girl of Teen People's March issue.

Now she's out on her first full-length national tour, which comes to the Taft Theatre on Wednesday. While the tour is not getting rave reviews, Ashlee is almost begrudgingly getting credit from critics for a spunky, energetic show that owes more to her pop-punk influences from Joan Jett and Blondie to Courtney Love, than to sister Jessica's syrupy power ballads.

In that spirit Ashlee has put together a raw show, perhaps also bent on showing there is nothing fake about the presentation.

"It's really stripped down. There's no pyro or anything like that," she said. "The stage has a mud kind of feel -- you know, black and white. The thing about my tour is it's going to be me and my band getting out there and having fun."

In concert she covers the Pretenders, Blondie, Madonna and sometimes Hole.

It's anyone's guess if the Waco, Texas-raised Simpson sisters have any long-term entertainment future. Ashlee, 20, may prove a more versatile performer than her big sister. Her still young background includes dance, music, songwriting and acting.

Ashlee still has the honor of being at age 11 the youngest person ever admitted to the pres tigious School of American Ballet.

Her parents relocated to Los Angeles when she was 14 so she could work as a dancer in Jessica's stage show and pursue acting roles. She landed guest roles on "The View" and "Malcolm in Middle" before becoming a regular as Cecilia on WB's "Seventh Heaven."

When she went to record her debut, she went the opposite of Jessica's style, dyeing her blond hair raven black and going with a gritty rock sound rather than Jessica's throwback ballads that sound stuck in another era. She is listed as a co-writer on all the songs.

The anti-Jessica look might have been calculated, but it worked.

Her debut, "Autobiography," received several promising reviews, considering she was just 19, putting her in the Fiona Apple/Avril Lavigne category.

Of course, the MTV exposure of a weekly half-hour infomercial documenting the making of the album helped.

As for the Cosmo Fearless Female honor, Ashlee says she's not sure why the magazine picked her. "Oh wow. I don't know. I love to have a great time. I'm not really scared of many things at all. I've been that way since I was a little girl."

So, she has fearlessly tried to move past the "SNL" and Orange Bowl embarrassments with a theater tour drawing solid audiences mostly made up of appreciative screaming teenage girls.

And Ashlee has been getting the loudest screams when she introduces such angst-filled songs as "Autobiography" and "Love Me For Me," alluding to her miscues by saying such things as, "It's been a rough year," and "No one's perfect."

Publication Date: 03-08-2005

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