If Ashlee Simpson was in need of a confidence rebuilding exercise after her lip-synching debacle on Saturday Night Live and the subsequent boos of Orange Bowl fans, going out on tour was clearly the right call.
Throughout her sold-out concert at Palace Theater on Saturday night, legions of girl fans shrieked like an unyielding high wind, dancing in the aisles and donning homemade t-shirts with the messages “Ashlee is my homegirl” and “We LOVE you Ashlee!!!” In the upstairs lobby, teens in dark sunglasses and spangly tank tops, along with little girls in zebra-striped dresses and patent leather go-go boots were drawn to a banner that read ‘Get your rockstar photo like Ashlee!” They cheerfully grabbed a microphone and mugged for the camera in front of a backdrop meant to look like the cover of Simpson’s multiplatinum debut record, “Autobiography.”
In return, Simpson delivered a non lip-synched show with a rock star strut clad in a series of outfits, including a t-shirt that read, “I want to be normally insane.” She also shared plenty of teeny bopper wisdom and squeaky giggles in between songs.
“I’ve been through a lot this year,” she told the crowd while introducing her self-esteem anthem “Love Me for Me.” “I’ve learned we have to get over things. I mean, who cares what people say as long you love yourself?”
But as utterly authentic as the adulation of her fans clearly is, the Simpson package seems to be one of the most corporate and contrived in music today. She sang a song that no one knew in order to plug a movie she has coming out in the summer and gabbed a little bit about her show on MTV. Vendors moved through the crowd to sell autographed photos and there wasn’t a t-shirt under $30 in sight at the merchandise booth. How much babysitting money is that these days?
With big sister Jessica leading the way, the Simpson girls have been marketed as though they grew up like Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne with a sibling rivalry – the blonde diva vs. the darkling rock chick. As photo montages from Ashlee’s childhood flashed on a video screen, one imagined the two girls having heated childhood arguments over who was cooler: Debbie Gibson or Joan Jett. The crowd sang along to “Shadow” – Ashlee’s tale of 15-year-old woe – as though every one of them had been plagued with the trauma of having a hugely successful pop star for an older sister.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Columbus Dispatch in March, 2005.