I have always enjoyed following celebrity news and gossip. In fact, when I first graduated from college, after signing a lease for my very first apartment, the next thing I did was purchase a subscription to US Weekly, ensuring it would be delivered to my new address.
It is well documented here on the blog how much I enjoy awards shows (translation: red carpets!) and debriefing on everyone's fashion choices, interviews and acceptance speeches. It's like the Super Bowl of celebrity fandom.
Over the years, I have read dozens of celebrity memoirs. When I learned Jessica Simpson was going to share her story, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Simpson is only four years older than me and I spent a good chunk of my high school and college years watching her on TV. I saw every episode of Newlyweds.
Before I started reading, I wasn't sure how candid she would get, but let me tell you, this book is 400 pages of straight fire. This may be the juiciest recounting of events I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
Simpson shares how she first got into the music industry, signing with a gospel label. Religious communities were constantly commenting on her chest, saying the way she dressed was vulgar (this is something Katy Perry has talked about a lot too).
She attempted to go mainstream by auditioning for The All-New Mickey Mouse Club. On page 65 she describes her first impressions of Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling, who were also hoping to get cast. She writes, "Justin and Ryan were huge flirts, and I was the girl they focused on. Ryan was my first hard crush. He tried so hard to sound tough, a voice like Marlon Brando but with his squeaky-clean face. He did that same thing he does now in movies: He leans forward like you're drawing him in, he lowers his chin, and then he opens his eyes to look up at you. I don't know what old movie he saw that move in, but it stuck. I was in love. Before anybody knew who Ryan Gosling was going to become, I had a vision."
Later in the book she talks about reconnecting with Justin as adults and sharing a kiss. Right after their lips parted he said, "Sorry, I have to call Gosling!" Apparently they made a bet back in those auditions about who would be the first to kiss her.
Though Simpson didn't make the cut as a Mouseketeer, she got her big break when she signed with Tommy Mottola and Columbia Records. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he launched Mariah Carey's career. Mottola and his team were hard on Simpson every step of the way, especially about her weight.
Through Columbia, she met two women who would change her life, Teresa LaBarbera Whites, her A&R rep, and CaCee Cobb (who Newlyweds fans know as Simpson's best friend). CaCee worked for Teresa and was assigned to keep Simpson on track, especially her GED studies and exam. Before reading this book, I had always assumed they were childhood friends from Texas!
There are several chapters that cover Simpson meeting Nick Lachey, their courtship, their marriage, their TV wedding and their experience shooting Newlyweds. I was particularly interested in these years, as I had been such a loyal viewer of the show. It turns out, by season three, they were barely speaking to each other.
It was around that time that Simpson was cast as Daisy Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard remake. On that set she met Johnny Knoxville. On page 201 she recounts, "I walked in to do a scene and saw Johnny. I immediately felt something I didn't understand, something literally attracting him to me. 'Jessica Simpson,' Johnny said, shaking my hand. I reflexively smiled at his voice and gentlemanly Southern manners. I didn't expect that from someone who had created the Jackass franchise. He was magnetic, and just so charming." She goes to share that they had an emotional affair that lasted for months and months, while they were both married.
As we all know, eventually Nick and Jessica would break up. She talks about how it felt to move into a home all her own after the split. On page 241, "I finally had my own home, not anybody else's. I didn't have to share it with the world or camera crews, my parents or a man. It was mine. It was in Beverly Hills, on Coldwater in a gated community. It felt safe, and it made sense that I was surrounded by high-profile single women who were also in transition and finding themselves. Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz. It made the gate a paparazzi resting place, but inside, we ladies of the canyon were free."
Though they had physically separated, their divorce wasn't final. Lachey's legal team was fighting hard for a bigger chunk of Simpson's earnings. At this point, in addition to her music, TV and movie career, she was also the face of one of the most successful celebrity licensing deals in the world. The Jessica Simpson Collection was thriving and he knew it. Simpson's dad (also her manager) didn't want her to give a penny more. Ultimately she decided, "Dad, this is for my freedom, and you can't put a price on that. Do it." She assured him, "I'll make it back. I promise, I'll make it back. And then I did, Give or take a billion." Mic drop!
Throughout the book, Simpson shares about her tumultuous relationship with her dad. He wore many hats - father, preacher and manager. Most days, those roles were in conflict. Eight years ago, she made the decision to seek new management. She explains, " . . . I had to fire him as my manager in 2012. He thought I was following my mother's wishes, but he had made some bad deals for me. Just stupid stuff that people promised to him and he believed. Bridges were burned, and I didn't know how many until I tried to cross them. It took about five times to really fire him before the message stuck. The first time I chickened out and did it in an email. I finally just said it to his face."
The back third of the book covers three major romantic relationships: John Mayer, Tony Romo and Simpson's current husband, Eric Johnson. I had no idea that her relationship with John Mayer was on-again, off-again for years. Years!
Simpson and Johnson now have three kids together - Maxwell, Ace and Birdie. In the acknowledgements at the end of the book, she writes, "Eric, you are the answer to every question, the completion to all equations. My love, you have helped me arrive to the pure abundance of soulful, connected ideas. You have grounded me with an extreme grace of patience while moving with the mosey of my steps as I get myself to the exact purposeful destination. You always trust my direction as God's because you can discern my heart's deepest desires. My sexual shaman, I give myself to you, fully. I will forever exist in your stratosphere. Your meditation with movement leads our family safely home, and loving you is like wearing a crown of light. I see life through you each moment, until the next, when we begin again. Thank you for giving me the miracle I have prayed for since I was a little girl, our children."
If you are wondering if the book covers the infamous chili cook-off and the resulting photos, yes. Yes, it does. Simpson also bravely shares her struggles with alcohol addiction, including the time she was supposed to perform at the Kennedy Center to honor Dolly Parton, but she was so wasted she forgot the words on stage.
I said it at the top of this review, but it's worth repeating - this book gives all the dirt. It's also available as an audio book, where Simpson herself does the reading. If you prefer listening, I've heard she does a fantastic job on the recording.