Season 30 of SNL. It’s when Jimmy Fallon left, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey became the show’s first all-female Weekend Update team, and everyone from Tom Brady to Paris Hilton hosted. All in all, it was a fairly unmemorable year (even the 2004 presidential election wasn’t a fountain of creativity, like in 2000 and 2008), with one major exception: Ashlee Simpson’s hoedown.
In 2004, the Simpsons — Jessica and younger sister Ashlee — were as prevalent as the Kardashians are today. Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, with its culture-clutching talk of chicken or fish, was still on MTV, which also gave Ashlee her own program, The Ashlee Simpson Show. That bit of televised fluff followed the future ex-girlfriend of Lucky Luciano as she recorded her debut album, Autobiography. Three singles were released, but I can still only sing every word from one: “Pieces of Me,” the best brat-pop song Avril Lavigne never recorded.
It immediately climbed the Billboard charts, and on Oct. 23, 2004, Jude Law hosted SNL with Ashlee as his musical guest. The episode began with a Hardball parody, followed by Law’s musical monologue (of course) and before Weekend Update, a performance of “Pieces of Me.” After a bland Jane Eyre sketch, Ashlee and her band took the stage again, and this happened:
Yup, still hard to watch. I don’t know which is worse: Ashlee’s deer-in-headlights dance, or when she walks off stage, leaving her band alone while they jam into the commercial break? During the end of episode farewell, a Home Alone-looking Ashlee stood next to Law, who said, “Ladies and gentlemen, what can I say? Live TV.” Ashlee responded, “Exactly! I feel so bad, my band started playing the wrong song and I didn’t know what to do, so I thought I’d do a hoedown.”
Doing a hoedown is never the right call. That was excuse No. 1: Her band played the wrong song. Two days later, her father Joe provided another answer:
Her father Joe Simpson, who manages the careers of both Ashlee and her older sister Jessica Simpson, said it was his decision to use the pre-recorded music, called backing tracks, for vocal support when it became apparent during dress rehearsals that acid reflux disease had swollen Ashlee’s vocal cords.
Everyone on the show was stunned by what happened, including Michaels, who told us he didn’t know Simpson was planning to lip-sync. (Via)
Years later, Ashlee spoke to Entertainment Tonight and told them, “I think my drummer got, like, really excited and maybe a little bit nervous and he pressed the wrong button. I was like okay, I think I’ve done the hoedown long enough — maybe I should walk off.”
Director Beth McCarthy-Miller also revisited the flub, informing the Archive of American Television that “during sound check, she did something where she felt like she popped something in her throat. And in dress rehearsal, she sang the first song and in the middle it popped again. So the second song, she lip synced it because she literally couldn’t sing it. Meeting between dress and air, someone came up to me and said, ‘This is the deal, we can give her a Cortisone shot in the throat, and see if that works, or we can have her lip sync.’ So they decided she would lip sync.”
The fallout was brisk. Ashlee was tsk-tsk’d by Lorne Michaels (who, surprisingly, invited her back for a repeat performance), compared to Janet Jackson’s boob, and loudly booed at the 2005 Orange Bowl. Her next album, I Am Me, released a year after Autobiography, debuted at No. 1, but only sold a fifth of what her debut did. She wouldn’t put out another album until 2008’s skillfully titled Bittersweet World. She’s apparently working on new music, though, with her husband Evan, Diana Ross’ son. Ashlee has also continued to act. Her part in 2005’s Undiscovered — which holds the record for the biggest second weekend drop ever — earned her a Razzie nomination, and she snagged a lead role in the CW’s Melrose Place remake.
She will not be appearing in SNL 40.