Jessica Simpson has made a thoroughly postmodern career of living her personal life for public consumption. One assumes she didn’t set out to do so, but even from the very start of her teen pop career, she was better known for her public declarations of virginity than for her music. (When’s the last time you spun “I Think I’m in Love With You” on the old iPod?) Then she finally hit superstardom as a reality star on MTV’s surprise hit Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, and all bets were off. She was so watchable as her unvarnished self that even her god-given voice would never again be able to compete with the prospect of, say, hearing her debate the difference between chicken and fish.
Now, five years, a divorce from Nick Lachey, and countless tabloid covers later, her life still trumps her work. Case in point, her announcement this week that she’s engaged to her boyfriend of five months, ex-NFL player Eric Johnson. The woman, you must admit, has an uncanny knack for timing: Not only does the surprise betrothal come just as she’s releasing a Christmas album, but also a week after ex Lachey popped the question to his longtime love, Vanessa Minnillo. Gossip blog speculation has run predictably rampant, analyzing everything from whether she bought her own ruby engagement ring to whether she’s trying to beat Lachey to the altar to whether she’s headed for financial ruin for reportedly not wanting a prenup. I choose to believe in true love and thus hope for nothing but the best from Simpson’s impending union; but if cynics were right, and this were some kind of publicity move, it would be pretty brilliant. And it wouldn’t be the first brilliant PR move from her: She turned mean media scrutiny of her weight into several magazine cover stories about body image and even a VH1 documentary show, The Price of Beauty. She cemented the media-dating-industrial-complex of John Mayer. She convinced someone a line of edible beauty products was a good idea. She designs surprisingly great, affordable shoes.
The real question: Is there any chance for her entertainment career to reflect the same brilliance at this point? Could she ever be known for an actual body of work, given that her love life and personal struggles have overshadowed every attempt at acting (The Dukes of Hazzard, Blonde Ambition, Private Valentine) and recording she’s made? She’s beautiful, likable on camera, and full of vocal talent, so what could she do with all those qualities that would hold our attention as much as her choice in men and rings and high-waisted jeans does? I’d watch her in another reality show, no doubt — though that wouldn’t do much to pull her out of the mandatory-self-revelation vortex. I was glued to the TV when she was on Oprah a while back to promote The Price of Beauty: Could she be a contender for the young-talk-show-host seat now vacated by Tyra Banks? Maybe even on Oprah’s new network? Or she could go the Lauren Conrad route, writing best-sellers. Fictionalized versions of her life would be fun; advice-y books would be even better. Young marriage, dating bad boys, weight struggles are all fair game, and if there’s one thing she could truly write the book on, it’s how to make the most of fame.
What do you think, PopWatchers? Could Jessica Simpson still have a shot at being famous for anything other than her personal life? What kinds of entertainment projects would you like to see her take on?