By Whitney Pastorek
Updated August 26, 2009 at 06:40 PM EDT
Mariah Carey
Credit: Markus Klinko & Indrani

EW’s Music Mix is searching for the Greatest Guilty Pleasure Musical Act of All Time. With 32 seeded contestants (see all the matchups), this tournament is sure to change hearts, minds, and lives for weeks to come. Read/listen to the following, and then cast your vote in the poll after the jump; reader comments will be used in subsequent rounds, so we encourage you to also post a comment explaining why you chose the way you did. Note: In case of a tie, please select the artist you feel more ashamed to adore. Thank you.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: This is the final matchup of Round One. All polls will close at the end of business Friday, and an updated bracket will be posted once the results are tabulated. Round Two starts next week.

Forget everything you know about her from the tabloids. Forget that she named her baby Bronx. And close your eyes real hard and try to exorcise that notorious Saturday Night Live performance from your mind. Now take a deep breath and read the following: Ashlee Simpson has made some really good music. Seriously.

Yes, you have to time travel back to 2004 to find it. That’s the year she released her first album, Autobiography. With stringy dark hair, a hook nose and boho clothes, Ashlee was only a couple of zits away from being that weird chick who smoked Camel Menthols in back of the high school. But something about her was relatable. She was angry. (Wait, I’m angry sometimes too.) She wanted someone to love her despite all her faults. (Wait, I want someone to love me despite all my faults.) And she was okay with not being perfect and blonde. (Wait, I’m okay with not being perfect and blonde!)

And unlike her sister Jessica, she knew how to sell a pop song: catchy hooks and Alanis-lite lyrics do it every time. (“Got bruises on my heart and sometimes I get dark,” she sang defiantly on the title track of the album.) She gained a little more confidence in 2005’s “I Am Me”, but didn’t lose her edge. To this day the lyrics from “Boyfriend — “Don’t put words up in my mouth. I didn’t steal your boyfriend” — is a pretty tart F U to a rival.

The surname Simpson — Jessica, Homer and Ashlee — is often followed by a punchline. But let’s give Ashlee some credit for the years in which she made pop culture a better place. — Henry Goldblatt

The TRL meltdown, the bad-idea marriages, Glitter (okay, especially Glitter) — there are so very many reasons to feel shame every time you troll iTunes for Mariah. But you can’t deny that voice. The woman has an octave range that borders on the operatic, and her multiple platinum albums and two-decade career would seem to suggest that people like it. And let’s talk about that career for a second — there can be no arguing that “Vision of Love” and the entire Mariah Carey album constitute one of the most impressive debuts in pop music. Plus, she makes very astute choices, like hitting with Butterfly as a way of kicking hubby No. 1 Tommy Mottola to the curb, or picking up The-Dream on “Touch My Body,” and completely revitalizing herself for a new audience. Plus, she nabbed a reported $49 million to leave Virgin Records. You can argue the whys and wherefores of that all you want, but in my world, leaving $49 million to the good sounds like she did something right.

Need some reason to hang on besides those sold-her-soul-to-the-devil pipes? Well, she’s hot, seems occasionally unstable, has weight fluctuations, and is ethnically vague — everyone can relate to her. She’s a mini-Oprah with longer hair and flashier thighs. (Mariah: She’s just like us!) Plus, Eminem seems to have some weird obsession with her, which just makes me feel like there’s something there. (I don’t know what, besides the crazy between the two of them, but something!) And for anyone who doubts her sincerity, the undoubtedly human aspect to her public persona, re-watch her performance at Michael Jackson’s memorial. She was, in a word, awful. But it’s the why that elicits sympathy: She didn’t know Jackson’s coffin would be directly in front of her, and reacted emotionally. I’m not sure I could’ve spoken on such an occasion. It’s no wonder she couldn’t sing.

What’s more, a new Mariah may yet emerge. She appears in this fall’s Precious, a gritty film about an unloved teenage girl. The movie is already getting serious notice, and is just the kind of low-key indie that someone who wanted to take acting seriously might attempt. Gotta wish her luck — as well all know, she has nothing but room for growth in that department.

Also: Butterflies are her spirit animal. Be gentle. — Alynda Wheat

Photo Credit: Carey: Markus Klinko & Indrani