How Jessica Simpson Went From Teen Popstar To Hollywood Superstar

This article contains references to child abuse, alcohol addiction, body shaming, and weight loss. 

When Jessica Simpson was a child, her father, Joe Simpson, was a Baptist youth minister. Her mom, Tina Simpson, helped him with his ministry while raising Jessica and her sister, Ashlee Simpson. In an interview with "Today," Tina revealed that she taught a church aerobics class called "Heavenly Bodies."

Money was tight and the family moved often before settling near Dallas. Over the years, Jessica developed a complicated relationship with the church. She discovered that she had a special gift while singing gospel songs, and on "The Gift of Forgiveness" podcast, she credited her faith for helping her forgive a family friend who abused her for years when she was a child. "I ran to church, to the people that were welcoming me with open arms and praying for me," she said of how she dealt with her trauma. However, on "The Drew Barrymore Show," Jessica revealed that she was also harshly judged by some of her fellow faithful, recalling how she was told to dress more conservatively than other girls while performing at church. "When I would sing, I would feel the holy spirit and get chill bumps, and apparently people would lust. So I had to cover it all up," she said.

She eventually found secular success as an entrepreneur and author, but an early encounter with another future pop star would shake Simpson's confidence in her capabilities as a performer. It was returning to those religious roots that helped her launch a career as a mainstream singer.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

An early encounter with Christina Aguilera

When Jessica Simpson was 11 years old, she was struck by a personal revelation while singing "Amazing Grace" at a church event: She wanted to be a professional singer. But according to Vanity Fair, her first opportunity to pursue her dream didn't come through the church. Instead, she auditioned for "The Mickey Mouse Club," which is where she first faced off against two of her future rivals for pop supremacy — Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. After surviving multiple rounds of auditions, she couldn't resist scoping out the competition, and seeing Aguilera sing made her feel so inadequate by comparison that she bombed her final audition.

Simpson was told that her acting was lackluster during the audition process, so she started taking lessons from "Walker, Texas Ranger" star, Chuck Norris. "He was a little tough," Simpson recalled on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." "... He told me I moved my eyebrows too much." However, it was singing that helped her break into the entertainment biz. Buster Soaries, a reverend and music producer who mentored Whitney Houston, saw her perform at church and signed her to his Christian record label, per Vanity Fair. Some of the label's executives thought that Simpson was a poor fit for the Christian music industry. "The two specific criticisms that I received — her dress was too short, and her gestures seemed to be too sensual," Soaries told CNN. The label shut down in 1996, which also threatened to derail her career. 

She was told to lose weight early in her career

Joe Simpson gave up his ministry to become his daughter's manager, and he made his own eyebrow-raising observations about how Christian record execs viewed her body. "Somehow, double D's don't really fit on the overall picture of what works in white Christian music," he said, per CNN. However, he still tried to help Jessica Simpson break into the industry by getting a $10,000 loan from his mother to produce copies of the album she had recorded for Proclaim Records. Joe was selling them at churches, but one of the CDs eventually ended up in the hands of Sony Music President, Tommy Mottola.

Jessica was nervous when she met with Mottola in 1997. "I knew he married Mariah [Carey] and had probably listened to her sing in the shower," she told Vanity Fair. The exec was impressed with Simpson, who recalled to E!, "He signed me on the spot." But as he helped launch her music career, he burdened the then-17-year-old with years of body image issues by telling her that she needed to lose 15 pounds. "I immediately went on an extremely strict diet, and started taking diet pills, which I would do for the next 20 years," she wrote in her memoir, "Open Book" (via People). According to D magazine, Simpson had already been struggling with body negativity. Her mother, Tina Simpson, explained, "She thought she was fat. But everyone in my family is busty. It's inherited."

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

She met her dream guy during a dreamy time

Per E! News, Jessica Simpson spent two years recording her debut album, so she hadn't released her first single when she met her future husband, 98 Degrees singer, Nick Lachey, in 1998. On "Larry King Live," Lachey revealed that he was first introduced to the young performer through their shared manager at the time. When he saw her later at the Hollywood Christmas Parade, he was there with a date but couldn't keep his eyes off of Simpson. "I was blown away. I thought she was beautiful," he confessed. As for Simpson, it took her only five minutes of being around the boy bander to determine that she wanted to marry him. However, they didn't start dating until after Lachey asked his mom for assistance at a later event — he suavely asked her to tell Simpson that he wasn't seeing anyone.

When Simpson dropped "I Wanna Love You Forever" in 1999, the romantic song peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard charts, proving that her vocal prowess was powerful enough for her to hold her own against Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. "The reason why I'm coming out with a ballad is to set me apart," she told E! News. Her debut album, "Sweet Kisses," soon followed. The record included a duet with Lachey titled "Where You Are," which dealt with the grief of losing a loved one. During an appearance on "TRL," Simpson revealed, "That's my favorite song on the album. I'm not biased."

The September 11 terrorist attacks changed her life

Jessica Simpson raised her pop profile by touring with 98 Degrees and Ricky Martin, and in 2000, she had another reason to celebrate. According to MTV News, sales of her first album had picked up, and it received a platinum certification. She also started work on her sophomore album, "Irresistible." Meanwhile, she was finding the idea of settling down with Nick Lachey forever pretty resistible. The couple split up for a few months, with Simpson later reflecting on "Larry King Live," "I didn't ever want to regret not ever dating anybody else ... You know, I never really dated at all."

Then a terrible tragedy changed the trajectory of their young lives in 2001. After terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, Lachey called his ex. "Immediately, I wanted him to come home ... that made me realize what I was about to lose," Simpson recalled. While the deadly attack brought the couple back together, Jessica's father was convinced that it had also hurt the sales of her second album, released just months earlier. "When those planes crashed into those buildings, it nearly demolished our career," he told Rolling Stone (via Vanity Fair).

Jessica told Billboard that she wasn't happy with a lot of the songs on "Irresistible," but she had high hopes for her slightly more personal third album, "In This Skin" — it even included a song about her time apart from Lachey titled, "Underneath."

The newlyweds embarked on their reality career

Nick Lachey asked Jessica Simpson to marry him during a romantic yacht ride in February 2022. "If I had known he was going to propose, I would have at least dressed up cute," she later complained to People. Her father didn't want her to walk down the aisle, but Joe Simpson soon found a way to monetize the marriage. Or, as Jessica put it to Entertainment Weekly, "When I got married, my career began." Footage of her wedding ceremony was featured in a VH1 special, including the moment that the minister reminded everyone that Jessica was a virgin.

The couple invited cameras into their lives again after MTV pitched a risky idea to Joe, per The New York Times. In 2003, the series "Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica" premiered, and its stars helped revolutionize reality TV as early adopters of a lifestyle that requires a high tolerance for a lack of privacy. The show helped boost the lagging sales of Jessica's third album, and Rolling Stone declared her "Housewife of the Year" on its cover — which featured the singer vacuuming in her undies.

Lachey played the role of the responsible adult in the relationship, while his wife told People, "Nick married a baby." Jessica's airheaded utterances were often ridiculed, such as when she pondered whether Chicken of the Sea tuna was shredded poultry, but she told the Herald-Tribune, "There's a big difference between being ditzy and dumb."

Her marriage crumbled as she built her business empire

Jessica Simpson seemed to be riding high after "Newlyweds" injected new life into her career. She began developing a line of edible beauty products, meshed her music and TV careers together for "The Reality Tour," and got cast as Daisy Duke in "The Dukes of Hazzard" movie — beating out Britney Spears for the role, per The Sydney Morning Herald. She also created what would become her most successful endeavor – The Jessica Simpson Collection.

But as she built her business empire, her marriage crumbled – Simpson and Lachey announced their divorce in November 2005. She later told ET that her husband being eight years her senior was a contributing factor to their marriage breakdown, but it wasn't the only issue. "Once I started to, you know, get covers and get endorsement deals that were separate from him — 'cause we did everything together — there was a little bit of tension," she said. During an appearance on "The Dr. Oz Show" (via Fox News), she revealed that she didn't regret marrying Lachey, but added, "I wish I would have signed a prenup."

Before the couple's split, Jessica told GQ that there was no truth to rumors that she had cheated on Lachey with her "Dukes of Hazzard" co-star, Johnny Knoxville. But in "Open Book" (via People), she admitted to connecting with the "Jackass" star on a level that made her uncomfortable. "To me, an emotional affair was worse than a physical one," she explained.

Jessica Simpson's troubled relationship with John Mayer

When GQ asked John Mayer about his on-again, off-again relationship with Jessica Simpson in 2007, the notorious lothario responded, "I'm at my happiest I've ever been." Simpson was also smitten, telling People in 2020, "He'd walk into a room and pick up his guitar and you'd swoon." However, she felt like she didn't measure up to her lover on an intellectual level, and she found herself stressing out over how Mayer perceived her. So much so, she used a pal to spellcheck her text messages to him. "My anxiety would spike and I would pour another drink,"  she wrote in "Open Book" (via People). "It was the start of me relying on alcohol to mask my nerves."

Speaking to "Today," Simpson estimated that she and Mayer broke up more than half a dozen times, one of which occurred right before she was supposed to perform a Dolly Parton tribute for the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2006. Simpson was unhappy with taped footage of her performance of the Parton hit "9 to 5," which she attempted twice, so she asked for it to be pulled from the show when it aired on TV. At the time, Simpson's rep told The Washington Post that she was busy filming the movie "Blonde Ambition," by way of excuse. But Simpson later confessed to "Today" host Hoda Kotb, "I drank before I went onstage."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The quarterback curse and the high-waisted hysteria

Jessica Simpson was living the dream life of many a cowgirl in 2008. She launched a country music career with a helping hand from Dolly Parton, who wrote and lent her voice to the title song of Simpson's album, "Don't You Know?" The country legend also told Elle, "Jessica's songs are better than some of the biggest stars on the charts today."

Simpson's love life was also looking better. She started dating Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Tony Romo in late 2007 after being introduced to him by her dad and she quickly became the NFL star's biggest cheerleader, per Vanity Fair. But Simpson was not embraced by the sports world — when the Cowboys floundered on the field, she was being blamed for their fumbles. Fans even started calling her "Yoko Romo." Simpson shrugged off the attacks, saying, "We don't let it affect our relationship."

But Simpson had a harder time coping with criticism in 2009, the year the media decided to body-shame her en masse. She'd hopped on the high-waisted trend early, but the mom jeans that she wore for a performance at a chili cookoff became an object of ridicule — as did her weight. The Boston-Herald sniped of her appearance, "Jessica Simpson looked a little porky." During a "Today" interview, Simpson said of the jibes, "[It] broke my heart." And it wasn't the only heartbreak she experienced, thanks to Romo. "He broke up with me on my birthday," Simpson said on "The Late Show."

While John Mayer told all, she found love again

In 2010, John Mayer shared TMI about his love life in an interview with Playboy, during which he compared his failed relationship with Jessica Simpson to an addictive drug — and a destructive substance of a different nature. "Sexually it was crazy. ... It was like napalm, sexual napalm," he stated. Simpson reacted to his comments on "The Late Show," joking, "I don't really want people to know that about me. I'm like the good girl ... He gave away my game!" She adopted a more serious tone on "Oprah," revealing that she didn't accept Mayer's apology for the remarks. "It made me so sad, and it was really discouraging because that's not the John that I knew," she said.

Still, the negative comments about her appearance inspired her to create a new reality series about global beauty ideals titled "The Price of Beauty." Plus, her breakup with Tony Romo allowed her to find love with a different NFL player. When she and former San Francisco 49ers tight end, Eric Johnson, met through a mutual friend in 2010, a flame was ignited. "We connected on all levels," Simpson wrote in "Open Book" (via People). She also described their instant connection in a post on Instagram that read in part, "I knew the night we met, the fate of you, locked the key to my searching heart and simply held my soul with love and honor."

Her parents' divorce cast a shadow on a joyous time

On October 31, 2011, Jessica Simpson shared a photo of her Halloween costume on her website underneath the words, "It's True! I am going to be a mummy!" (Bet you can't guess what she was dressed up as). The following May, she and Eric Johnson welcomed a daughter named Maxwell Drew Johnson. "This has been the greatest experience of our lives!" Jessica wrote on her website

Sadly, in "Open Book," she revealed that the time period leading up to Maxwell's birth wasn't exactly joyous. One week earlier, her father, Joe Simpson, decided to break the news that he was divorcing her mother. Jessica was in the hospital at the time, and she recalled how Joe tried to soften the blow by crediting his daughter with giving him the courage to walk away from his marriage. "'Great,' I thought to myself, 'I broke my own heart,'" Jessica wrote. "When he left the room, I broke down." 

On "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" she revealed that she fired her father as her manager not long after she learned about the divorce. At the time, business was booming for the star as Weight Watchers paid her $3 million to promote its diet program after she gave birth, per ABC News. However, she had to press pause on her dieting when she got pregnant with her second child in late 2012.

Jessica Simpson got married ... and had two tummy tucks

Jessica Simpson's clothing brand, The Jessica Simpson Collection, broke the $1 billion yearly sales mark in 2012, per Entrepreneur. The following year, she and Eric Johnson had yet another reason to celebrate when they welcomed their son, Ace Knute Johnson. In 2014, Jessica and Eric decided to tie the knot at a ranch in Montecito, California with E! News estimating that the couple spent around $1.4 million on their dream wedding. According to People, their daughter was their flower girl and Ace was the ring bearer. "My kids got standing ovations!" Jessica recalled.

Jessica had patched up her relationship with Joe Simpson somewhat, and she even asked her father to be her wedding officiant. In "Open Book" (via ET), she revealed that Joe brought a male model with him to the ceremony. "I reminded myself that I needed to accept my father for who he was as he worked it out in real time," she wrote.

While life was looking pretty rosy for Jessica, she confessed that she was unhappy with her appearance after giving birth twice, so she decided to get a tummy tuck in 2015. "I wanted to get rid of the stretch marks and loose skin," she revealed in "Open Book" (via Us Weekly). She ended up going under the knife twice, and her recovery after the second surgery was no cakewalk. "I got an infection — colitis — and was vomiting so much I thought I was going to bust my sutures," she wrote.

She started her sobriety journey

In May 2017, Jessica Simpson's bizarre behavior on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" caused a stir. She claimed that Eric Johnson massaged her while he was asleep, and she seemed to lose her train of thought while talking about the performers who had dressed like mermaids for Maxwell's 5th birthday party. "They had to be carried if they had to pee because they can't pee on my children," she said.

Simpson later admitted that she'd been drinking that day. "It was a weak moment for me," she said in a "Today" interview. "I had started a spiral, and I couldn't catch up with myself." But her wake-up call wouldn't come until a few months later. She threw a party at her house for Halloween, and photos that she snapped that day show her smiling while rocking a Willie Nelson costume and posing with her family. No one would think that she was dealing with alcohol addiction. 

However, Simpson confessed to having no idea who got her kids dressed in their costumes, and she revealed that she was so inebriated that she couldn't take them trick-or-treating. "I knew the next day, it was over. ... My relationship with alcohol was done," she said on "The Dr. Oz Show." Simpson also started going to therapy, and in "Open Book" (via People), she revealed that her husband showed his support for her decision to get sober by abstaining from alcohol himself.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

She welcomed her third child

In a February 2019 Instagram post, Jessica Simpson revealed that she was suffering from sciatica pain ahead of the birth of her third child, Birdie Mae Johnson, and she'd been battling bronchitis for almost a month. Near the end of her pregnancy, she became so ill that she had to be hospitalized and placed on a ventilator, but her first concern was for her unborn child. "Her oxygen levels were dropping. I couldn't breathe," Simpson recalled to Bloomberg Businessweek. She wanted doctors to perform a C-section, but Birdie remained in place a bit longer. In early March, the star gave fans an update on her health, revealing that she had been hospitalized for the fourth time since getting sick. "Coughing with Birdie has been a crazy painful journey," she wrote.

When Simpson finally gave birth later that month, the mother of three revealed that Birdie wasn't exactly bird-like — she weighed 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Once she got healthy again, Simpson set out to lose her baby weight. "I have been doing a lot of walking," she told People in July 2019. She also started eating healthier, revealing that she had become rather fond of the many foods cauliflower could be disguised as. By October, Simpson had lost 100 pounds. Harley Pasternak, her personal trainer, told ET that Simpson had eventually worked herself up to walking 12,000 steps daily, and had also eliminated sugar from her diet.

Jessica Simpson became an author

When Jessica Simpson published her memoir, "Open Book," in 2020, she told Glamour that the project had been percolating for a while. However, she waited until she got sober to fully tell her life story. She'd been keeping journals since she was a teen, which helped her throughout the process. With distance, she was able to reflect on some of her more painful experiences with wisdom and clarity. She was also able to share her story in a way that might benefit others. "I have always felt that one of my God-given purposes in this life is to inspire people," Simpson told People.

Her autobiography dives deep into past relationships, childhood trauma, her struggles with addiction, body image issues, and the ups and downs of her career. But she admitted that she didn't bother reaching out to some of the people who are central figures in her story, including John Mayer. "I don't think he'll be shocked. He knows these stories," she told The New York Times. Simpson's honesty and wit helped make "Open Book" a best seller, and it certainly didn't hurt that she delivered on the title's promise. "Even with horrible headlines and fat shaming and you name it, I've always been comfortable being open," she said. In the book's prologue, she revealed that one of her friends had suggested the alternative title, "I Know It's Chicken" — but if there's one life lesson Simpson has learned, it's that its tuna.

She clapped back at critics while planning a big project

In 2022, Jessica Simpson was still being forced to face off against critics of her appearance. After viewing a promotional video for Pottery Barn on her Instagram page, some of her followers opined that she looked thin and unwell. In a separate post, Simpson wrote, "Peoples' comments and judgements can still hurt deeply with their incessant nagging 'you will never be good enough.'" She also informed those who suggested that she seemed drunk that she was five years sober. The situation might give some of her fans a sense of déjà vu — just as she's done in the past, Simpson was making big career moves while her critics went on a fault-finding mission. 

Back in 2004, Simpson partnered with ABC to develop a sitcom centered on a ditzy star, per Today. Her name? Jessica Sampson. The show never materialized, but once she had a lot more story to tell, the star got another shot at creating a semi-autobiographical series. In 2022, she announced that filming had wrapped on an Amazon Freevee pilot based on "Open Book." Per Entertainment Weekly, Katelyn Tarver was cast as Simpson's stand-in, singer Sadie Sparrow, while "Full House" star John Stamos played the role of an older musician who falls for her.

Simpson was also busy rebuilding her clothing label after regaining complete control of the company. "I'm my best investment to myself," she told CNBC. "I believe in big things. I don't think anything is impossible."