Jessica Simpson pulls out all the pop cliches

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
July 8, 2004

There were moments in Jessica Simpson’s concert that seemed to come straight out of a teen pop version of “This Is Spinal Tap.” Some, like the opening vignette where she pretended to lose her way from the dressing room to the stage, were intentional. But there were other moments, probably heartfelt ones, that instead came across as parody.

Putting fans onstage was a nice idea that was badly executed. Penned into little gates at both stage left and right, they had little room to dance or do anything but gaze adoringly at the pretty performer. Though they obviously looked happy to be near their idol, the kids (and one kind of creepy grownup) looked a little bit like they were in a minimum-security prison Tuesday night at the Tweeter Center.

It’s obvious that this outing, touted as the Reality Tour, wouldn’t be playing such enormous venues without the success of Simpson’s MTV series “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica.” She has a strong voice and a pleasant personality, but her concert would have fared better in a more intimate setting where she could have just concentrated on singing and didn’t have to worry about working the stage so much.

This is why most singers look better when they have a guitar to fall back on, even if it’s just a prop. Then they can stand in their 4-inch heels like Prince and look pretty darned cool instead of feeling obligated to dance along to their own songs. Even Kelly Clarkson learned this for her “American Idol” tour.

I first saw Simpson perform live five years ago, when she was the opening act for 98 Degrees. Nick Lachey, the lead singer for that band, later would become her husband and “Newlyweds” co-star. Her younger sister Ashlee was one of her backup dancers. Her mother was sitting in the row behind me, explaining to a group of little girls that they, too, could become stars if they worked really hard.

Flash forward to Tuesday. Simpson is just days away from celebrating her 24th birthday. Ashlee is on hand at the show, as are Lachey and her parents. And though they have got to be one of the most loving families since the Osmonds, even Ashlee announced on her own MTV series that she can’t stand the style of songs her older sister sings and doesn’t want her own album to sound anything like Jessica’s.

And what do Jessica’s songs sound like? Like other people’s music. Her repertory of material at this point is anemic. Though she has written such tunes as “With You” and “You Don’t Have to Let Go” (in honor of her father), Simpson’s still at the mercy of other artists when it comes to filling out her set list. She encouraged the audience to get up and shake their booty on a couple of numbers, but the mid-tempo songs weren’t conducive to booty shaking.

Two of her better-known songs are Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” and Robbie Williams’ “Angels.” Simpson’s covers are lovely, but she doesn’t make them her own, the way Whitney Houston did with Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”

Until she does that, she will always be better known for singing other people’s songs rather than her own.

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