Ashlee Simpson doesn’t have to worry about being in the shadow of her older sister Jessica anymore.
The 19-year-old’s debut album “Autobiography” is No. 1 and probably will hit platinum this week. Jessica, 23, has never had an album reach No. 1, though her latest, “In This Skin,” has sold more 2 million copies.
Both sisters have popular reality shows on MTV, and they air back to back.
But both insist they aren’t competitive.
“We’re sisters,” Ashlee Simpson gushes. “For us it’s not about competition. If she succeeds, then I’m happy, and if I succeed, then our family wins no matter what.”
Dad Joe Simpson manages both daughter’s careers, and suggested the reality show for Ashlee, who spent two years as a supporting character on the WB’s TV series “Seventh Heaven” and recorded a song for the film “Freaky Friday.”
“I wasn’t that wild about having the cameras in my face, but my dad thought it would be a good way for everyone to get to know me as me, and not as Jessica’s little sister,” Ashlee says.
The reality show deals mostly with making the album, her struggles writing songs and working with different producers, as well as the everyday teenage drama of boyfriends and breakups.
“There’s no question that it really helped expose her and her music,” Geffen Records President Jordan Schur says. “She’s got a tremendous personality; people gravitate toward that. They want to watch her and listen to her music.”
Simpson and Schur scrapped a couple of times on the show, because she feared he wanted her to sound too much like Hillary Duff. In one episode, Geffen records executives say she needs to sound “nicer.” Schur didn’t like her first demo tapes and forced her to work with new producers.
“I don’t know how else to say it, but that’s just not me,” she says of the bubble gum pop style of Duff. “I think it’s great, but I’m just drawn to different stuff.”
We are familyCritics say “Autobiography” still ends up sounding more like pop than rock, and has gotten mixed reviews. Still, they say, it’s catchy and Ashlee Simpson does achieve a sound different from her sister’s.
“Teenagers who know less about rock ’n’ roll than Ashlee Simpson are the ones buying her album,” says Jenny Elsicu, an associate editor at Rolling Stone magazine. “If they are told ‘Here, she’s rock,’ then they’ll believe it.
“There’s an immediate marketing angle for Ashlee that didn’t exist for Jessica, which is that she’s the punkier sister, the hip sister. It’s a clever position her dad put her in.”
Simpson said her dyed brown hair and punkier ways are not a marketing ploy.
“I’m not going to not do music just because my sister sings. The Jacksons did it. It runs in your genes,” she says. “Our personalities are so different it reflects in our music.”
For example, when she was in junior high school, she wanted to go to Alanis Morissette’s concert but her mother wouldn’t let her because of the expletives in the song “You Oughta Know.”
“So I kept saying (expletive) to make her mad and I got my mouth washed out with soap,” she giggles. “But my parents really weren’t that strict. They know I’d go off the wall if they were.”
Jessica would never have done that, she insists.
Ashlee realizes that she had it easier than others when trying to get a record deal. “I feel incredibly lucky, I don’t think I deserve this at all,” she says.
Still, she says she has worked hard and there have been struggles — but Jessica isn’t worried about Ashlee.
“Ashlee doesn’t need any advice, and Ashlee is very much an observer,” Jessica Simpson says. “She sees decisions that I’ve made that are good, and decisions I’ve made that are bad. She’s definitely well set up.”
The sisters aren’t planning to perform together any time soon. For now Ashlee is planning to tour with her band and enjoy the success of her new album first.
And once they do sing together, Ashlee wants them “to do something different for both of us. Maybe blues or something where we can both step out of our styles.”