Jessica Simpson and I spent this week in Washington. Well, not entirely the week. And not exactly together. In fact, not together at all. But this being Washington and a story about a celebrity, I am forgiven a little embellishment.
Jessica – I call her by her first name because I feel so close to her after this week – was in Washington to do a little number at a top-society soiree that paid tribute to Dolly Parton, Smokey Robinson, Steven Spielberg, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Zubin Mehta.
Jessica, wearing a backless black dress, took center stage at the Kennedy Center in the coolness of a star-studded, Politico Hollywood-style crowd. Bundled in an overcoat, I was at the epicenter of an affirmative action rally on the steps of the Supreme Court covering hundreds of demonstrators who shivered, chanted and marched as they joined the Supreme Court justices in making front-page headlines.
Jessica made headlines of her own by singing “Nine to Five” in honor of Parton, one of her self-proclaimed idols. But, hello Dolly! Jessica actually made headlines when she became so nervous and awe-struck that she didn’t sing after a few lyrical mumbles and simply walked off the stage to thunderous silence.
In this town, you would think people would be grateful for that rarity of a speechless celebrity or politician, but Jessica’s plight made headlines, some of them not so kind including tabloids who said the real problem was that she nearly fell out of that dress.
Whether she was “overcome with emotions” as her publicist said or on the verge of popping out, she attracted headlines albeit smaller ones than the front-page variety garnered by a Supreme Court dealing with the complex issue of race rather than the simple pain of a Hollywood star. But didn’t Michael Richards show us there can be a nexus between race and the much publicized pangs of a Hollywood celebrity? If only he had been the one to shut up and walk off the stage.
But, you’re right, Jessica is no Kramer. And this was a different stage, a different town, a more commercially topical star.
I must confess that I am one of those who is still trying to figure out what exactly drives Jessica’s stardom. But the interest is certainly there.
On the morning after the Supreme Court story was all over the news, I was riding a crowded Washington bus and overheard two commuters talking about the big news of the day.
“Did you hear what happened to Jessica Simpson at the Kennedy Center the other night?” asked one woman standing nearby.
“No,” her friend responded excitedly. “What happened? Did her top fall off?”
No, no, no! I wanted to scream from my scrunched-down seat on the bus. That was Janet Jackson, suspiciously, at the Super Bowl! This was Jessica at the august Kennedy Center. And while Jessica does parade herself on movies and TV commercials like a job-wanted ad for Hooters, she only lost her nerve and not her top.
But I remained silent as the bus rider corrected her friend and gave her the gossipy but sympathetic story that would have made Jessica’s publicist proud. They never did get around to talking about the news from the Supreme Court.
Then again, perhaps, I should have known better. Jessica has fans everywhere even among those of us who stride about town with the mien of serious journalists. The Washington Post reminded us of that when their reporters described how Jessica “hightailed it” after her non-performance.
“All that was left was the memory,” wrote the Post, “and the photo that Bob Schieffer had captured of himself with her in his digital camera, which he was proudly showing to Karl Rove.”
Schieffer and Rove cherishing a fan photo of Jessica Simpson? Now that’s a media-political-Hollywood nexus that shudders the imagination.
Of course, when the Kennedy Center performance is aired on CBS on the day after Christmas, you won’t see Jessica’s gaffe. She was allowed to redo the song for the television cameras, which admittedly is not uheard of in a city where presidents and other politicians recast themselves to excise past mistakes.
Meanwhile, I suppose my brief image as a disheveled-looking, wind-blown reporter standing in the background of the news conference on the Supreme Court steps remains archived on CSPAN. Then again, I should be happy. After all, those are the only snapshots of the week I spent in Washington with Jessica as one of us made headlines and the other wrote them.