Whether you love her or hate her, no one can deny that Ashlee Simpson is a bona fide star. She won the 2004 Billboard Music Award for New Female Artist of the Year, and two Teen Choice awards. Her reality show, The Ashlee Simpson Show, is finishing its second season on MTV and she just wrapped up her first headlining tour in April, and she won her first movie role in the upcoming film, Undiscovered. All this in less than a year!
But it hasn’t been easy. First, Ashlee had a hard time escaping big sister Jessica’s success as a belt-‘em-out ballad singer and it took some time before she found a label that would really listen to her rock-tinged sound, “You’re going from label to label and people are saying you’re going to be like your sister, and I’m like, ‘No, I am my own individual.’ That was hard. People wouldn’t give me a chance to be my own artist,” recalls Ashlee before signing with Geffen and going on to release her debut album. “I learned a lot making the whole record. It was a growth for me. I wrote about my family and basically everything I was feeling, that‘s why I called it ‘Autobiography’,” says Ashlee. “Autobiography” has since gone platinum.
And then came her infamous appearance on Saturday Night Live last year, where she was caught using a backing vocal track. And the half-time show for the Orange Bowl in January, when the majority of over 70,000 people booed Ashlee’s performance of her single “La La.” In between all this came the media backlash. While some say she deserved it, others see it as a rite of passage. “Ashlee handled the bad press like any artist has. You just deal with it and work to improve yourself. Sometimes it‘s the bad press that really shows the true intentions and motivation of an artist,” says Kadie Corr who doesn’t consider herself an Ashlee fan.
Ashlee maintains she wasn’t lip-synching on SNL, but singing over a backing vocal track to strengthen the sound and quality of her voice — which was hoarse due to swollen vocal cords from acid reflux disease — according to her dad and manager, Joe Simpson. On Ashlee’s website, her drummer admits that he pressed the wrong button and caused the backing track for “Pieces of Me” to play instead of the one for “Autobiography.” Ashlee isn’t the first performer to use back-up, and she certainly won’t be the last, but she was performing on live television when her vocals blew their chords. “Most artists lip-synch and the majority of fans know that. People get sick – it happens. We are all human and I think if Ashlee had (to use a backing track) to keep the performance going, then that’s what she had to do. I am most proud of her because she was able to admit that it was a mistake,” says Joanna Brancati, an Ashlee fan.
These days, it’s no secret that sound engineers use computers to enhance the quality of vocals and that many performers lip-synch or use backing tracks while artists like Ashlee have admitted to taking voice lessons. “I think it’s OK for singers like Madonna and Ashlee Simpson to take voice lessons because if they feel that in doing so, it will improve their singing abilities, then why not? There‘s nothing wrong with getting more help if they really need it,” says Nicole Bautista, a high schooler in Toronto.
Live at the Orange Bowl, Ashlee suffered from bad luck and poor timing again. This time her earpiece wasn’t working, which meant that she couldn’t hear herself sing. On The Ashlee Simpson Show, even Jessica worried that the most experienced singers have trouble when they can’t hear themselves sing. Ashlee’s voice sounded hoarse and she had major problems with volume, trying to overcompensate by yelling instead of singing. When the crown erupted into loud boos, the camera cut quickly from her hurt and embarrassed face.
Have you ever heard out-of-breath panting after a particularly vigorous dance sequence? It’s all a part of the illusion that what you hear at home is what you should hear live. “We all listen to CDs or music on our computers, so we’re used to the way it sounds. When we go to concerts, we expect to hear what we hear at home. There is a lot of pressure put on performers to sound like their albums since the quality of their voice was what attracted their fans in the first place,” says Nicole.
But Ashlee seems to have survived it all once again, “My best advice would be to stay true to yourself and do what you want to do. Always listen to your instincts and go with them because they’re usually right.” And Ashlee also thanks her sister at the end of the day, “The most important thing I learned from Jessica is that she hasn’t changed at all. It’s the best example of dealing with fame I could have.”