Jessica Simpson


People can say I'm dumb, I don't care, because I know I'm not

Two things piss off Jessica Simpson. Saying she's not the brightest bulb in the pack isn't one of them.

But suggest that she can't sing, or worse, that her marriage with husband Nick Lachey isn't going to last, and you'll find the singer/reality TV phenom in fighting mode.

"[How can] people say my marriage is going to fail after they watch a 22-minute episode that is segments of three-and-a-half, four months put together? [They can] actually judge our relationship and say it's not going to make it?" she asks incredulously. "How can you place that judgment on something you really don't know the back story to?"

The 23-year-old is on the defensive when it comes to her marriage, because, having just celebrated her one-year anniversary, in her eyes the relationship is stronger than ever. And she's surprised that other people might not think so, too.

She of course knows that her marriage isn't perfect. But the idea that it would be anything other than total bliss came as a complete surprise to her. Growing up as a minister's daughter in Dallas, she envisioned wedlock as a fairy tale where she would remain a virgin for her husband and keep sex a sacred and private affair between the two of them. Just as she was naive about what marriage would entail, she also doesn't seem to see that sex hasn't been an entirely private matter for her — that her sexuality in fact plays a large role in her public success.

Like Britney Spears, Simpson benefited from her self-proclaimed virginal status ("She's so hot! Can she really be as pure as she says?!") when she arrived on the pop scene — but Britney teased, while Jessica just seemed to be. And like her mom before her — and her mom before her — Simpson did remain a virgin until she got married. Both Simpson and Spears came from Baptist backgrounds, but Jessica took her vows of chastity and marriage seriously — looking at virginity as something romantic, she and her friends made a firm decision to hold out for their future husbands. Her father even gave her a purity ring when she was 12.

Simpson's religious upbringing shaped her early career, which began when she signed to a gospel label, recorded her first album, Jessica, and went out on the Christian youth-conference circuit. Other Christian labels passed on her, though, since they deemed her too "sexy" (she developed early). Then, when she was 17, Jessica went secular, signing to Columbia Records, which didn't object to her sexy girl-next-door image. She even became a more visible proponent of abstinence.

"I definitely think [abstinence] is the best birth control. I know that condoms are not a hundred percent, because I'm here because of a busted condom," she says. "I can say that right now. I am here because of a busted condom." Her mom, Tina, sitting nearby, confirms that with a nod. "I mean, I'm not an accident. My parents don't look at me like I'm an accident, but I definitely wasn't on the calendar."

Simpson says she never intended to publicize the fact that she was a virgin. But one day, someone asked her "some vulgar question," and her response was matter-of-fact: "I don't have sex." It shocked her that it shocked others, she says, "because it made me realize what a bubble I grew up in."

The bubble hasn't burst, though. Simpson honestly believes she's not playing up her sexuality — despite singing about losing her virginity ("Sweetest Sin," on her latest album, In This Skin), posing in her underwear with a Swiffer Wetjet on a recent cover of Rolling Stone, and showing up at multiple functions and for this interview with blouses so low-cut, her breasts seem to be trying to burst out and wave hello. Her marriage may be on display on "Newlyweds," but she says her sex life is not; she insists she isn't going the Britney route.

"You don't need to be going there unless your career is based on that sort of thing, and mine certainly isn't," Jessica stresses. "Unfortunately, in today's society, you have to be everything, and sex sells. I think [Britney Spears] knows what works for her and what's gotten her to where she is right now. I don't think we see eye-to-eye on the situation, because for me, I would rather sell my music."

Her music, however, isn't selling all that well. While her 1999 major-label debut, Sweet Kisses, sold more than 1.8 million copies, follow-up Irresistible has sold just over 600,000 since its release in 2001, and, after 20 weeks in stores, In This Skin is barely past gold status, despite the success of "Newlyweds" and the huge visibility the show has given her.

"Sex sells and I think Britney knows what works for her..."

"My show is the only reason right now why I have sales on my album," she admits. "I don't even have a song on the radio. But it's not a music show, so it wouldn't have helped as much as 'Making the Band' would have or something like that."

The show, however, may be helping to do more than sell her record — it's launching her as an actress with the appeal of a young Goldie Hawn (or so she hopes). At the same time, Simpson says, "Newlyweds" is actually helping her relationship with Lachey thrive, despite the conventional wisdom.

At first, she tried to be good for the camera's sake — until she eventually realized that it did her and Nick no good to avoid dealing with what was bothering them. Such as when he decorated the house without her input. Or when she fails to pick her clothes up off the floor.

"You hold back because you know the cameras are there, but then they've been there so long that you just can't hold back another month, so you end up losing it all. Nick and I are like, 'Oh, I think we need to fight now because ... ' " she pauses, before bursting as if by example, " 'I'm really mad at you!' It shows us in love, but it also shows us wanting to wring each other's necks. I didn't expect that in marriage, and I didn't expect that in the show."

"You hold back because you know the cameras are there..."

Not only was it healthier for Jessica and Nick to air their disagreements, she says, but it made for a better show. And she started to find that what was good for the show was good for the couple. Tapes of those fights — which she would at times regret having aired in public — were also there for them to review and to learn from. Simpson says it was an eye-opener to have such a direct line to another person's perspective. Not that watching playbacks of her marital missteps wasn't also painful.

"That's everyone's worst nightmare, to watch a fight back and realize that [you] were the one that was wrong," she says. "I mean, we just sit there, and I'm like, 'Gosh, I have to stop complaining. I complain way too much.' And he'll be the same way, like, 'OK, I see how hurt you were about me going to the Playboy mansion.' You know, stupid things like that, but it's just stuff you would normally bottle up and never talk about. But when it's in your face on [TV] Tuesday nights, you have to talk about it."

"I don't want it to all be about my sexuality..."

Simpson knows she can come across as spoiled. Yes, she was a brat during the infamous camping-trip episode. And as she rattles off her reasons why — "Because I hated it, I did not like being there, I wanted to take a shower, I was scared of bears, my cute little Louis Vuitton bag I just got was getting dirty" — she laughs at herself before you get a chance to. She knows how her excuses sound, and she understands why her dad, who is a producer of the show, suggested the trip in the first place. It's a classic comedy move, the same one that motivated that other reality show featuring sheltered rich kids out of their element, "The Simple Life." Simpson — like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie — might ask a lot of dumb questions (Hilton's "Do they sell wall stuff at Wal-Mart?" ranks with Simpson's "Is Chicken of the Sea chicken or tuna?"). But unlike her reality-show sisters, Jessica begs the question: Is she a dumb blonde, or does she just play one on TV?

Either way, she's smart enough to know what works for her now (even though a part of her wants to deny it), and what will, she hopes, be her meal ticket into the future.

"I don't want it to all be about my sexuality," she says. "I mean, I know I can do a hot cover, but I want the longevity. Your body's only going to be hot for a couple years, you know? Like 10, 15 years, and then you have nothing. I wanna still be singing, you know? And it doesn't matter what my body looks like. I want to be the Aretha Franklin who still sings today."

Seventeen Interview

Thanks to MTV's Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, Jessica Simpson, 23, has been transformed from the country's number-three pop princess to its most-talked-about reality star. Letting the cameras capture her ditzy side may be Jessica's savviest career move yet.

Were you nervous about following up the first season of Newlyweds?
It is scarier second season, because people already have expectations of what they want the show to be about. So Nick and I just had to throw off everything and just be who we are, 'cause that's what makes the show so successful. We're not going to give you Joe Millionaire or The Bachelor, in which everything is set up. We're going to give you our lives.
The whole camping thing....
Camping was my idea, if you can believe it! I was miserable. What they didn't show was that the trip was five days long. They compiled ALL of my complaints from five days and just ran them back to back.

Didn't that bother you?
I think it's hysterical! I laugh at it 'cause I know the story.

Do you and Nick sit at home and watch the show?
Yeah, but it's not like I was in the edit studio or saw the episodes before. We've never taken one thing out. That's why people are so shocked--people always ask me, "Why would you ever let them keep the Chicken of the Sea comment in?" I thought it was funny! I'm a total ditz and a klutz, but I know I'm not dumb.

So many people are so embarrassed by everything.
I was like that, too, but when I got married, I just gained so much more confidence. I'm much more relaxed.

You seem completely different than the person on the show.
Well, that person is a side of me they like to show. I know that person, so it doesn't really bother me. If you're going to compare me to Anna Nicole Smith, that's gonna bother me. The New York Daily News compared me to her, and I started freaking out! Then The New York Post compared me to Goldie Hawn, Lucille Ball, and Suzanne Somers--that was okay. To me, it's important to be a likeable person--it's hard to pull off.

Suddenly, everybody's calling you "America's Sweetheart." We've only heard that about Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, and Reese Witherspoon.
Well, it matters to all of them to be sweet. It matters to me to make everyone feel important. America's Sweetheart is a dream title for me.

Nick seems like a great guy.
He has great character. He's a man's man! A total guy! He likes to do everything for himself.

He's such a grownup about tidiness and money. How did he become so responsible at such a young age?
I don't know. Maybe because he went to college--and because he had a great family--values and morals were instilled in him. I had a great family, too, but I grew up in entertainment. Nick and I come from different worlds, but we just have a connection that's undeniable.

Having gone through the rare experience of being a virgin when you got married, do you recommend that to other girls?
Absolutely. At times, it was annoying. At times I felt like, "Who cares? Whatever!" But Nick kept saying that I would regret [not keeping my virginity vow]. He never tried to talk me out of it. He had other girls throwing themselves at him, and I was the person who, on the fifth date, hadn't even kissed him yet. He respected that, and he wanted someone who wanted that for him.

Who do you talk to about your sex life?
My mom. I want to be the kind of mother my mom is. She was always comfortable about everything. Our family's just like that--so open. I think it's because my dad was a minister and an adolescent therapist. That's why I'm so grounded.

What's the most important thing you and Nick have learned from each other in your relationship?
I think that just being you is okay. Like, I don't have to be the sports-watching, neat freak who he probably would have envisioned himself with. And he's not the guy who wants to go shopping and pick out my outfits with me. You can just be who you are, and it'll work.

You are a woman who was ready to get married young.
I'm one of those old souls who was blessed young--but I'm still naive and completely ditzy.

Why do you keep labeling yourself ditzy?
I think there's a difference between ditzy and dumb. Dumb is just not knowing. Ditzy is having the courage to ask! [laughs]

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