Hundreds of hopefuls make their way to Nashville every year, looking to stake their own claim to fame in country music. Some arrive with nothing more than a guitar and lyric-filled notebook under their arm, everything they own packed in the bed of a rundown truck. Some, discovered in a honky-tonk or roadhouse in their home town, ride in on the promise of a publishing deal or recording contract, visions of gold records and tricked-out tour busses dancing in their heads.
Very few, however, arrive in Music City with as much baggage as Jessica Simpson. Not since 1970 when Hank Williams, Jr. signed the biggest recording contract in MGM history has so much doubt and criticism faced a young artist. Unlike Williams, who was burdened by the ghost of his legendary father, the shadow Jessica is trying to escape is largely her own. Preconceptions based on her tremendously successful career as a pop singer, a brief marriage on display in a reality program, the subsequent post-marital tumult, headline generating relationships and awkward professional stumbles have woven a tapestry of misconceptions around her.
The news last year that Jessica planned to come to Nashville to make a country record was met with a resounding scoff by a chorus of naysayers, many of them members of the very industry she was hoping to join. And that was the polite response.
The quietest voice amid all the din has been that of Jessica Simpson herself. But with the release of Do You Know, her first album on Epic/Columbia Nashville, the doe-eyed Texas beauty makes it perfectly clear she not only has a voice, but a point of view colored by life experience beyond her years, and plenty to say. She hopes to not only quiet her critics, but give the country music industry and audience something else to talk about---her undeniable talent and gift as a country singer/songwriter.
"There is a perception of who I am out there that has little to do with me," she says quietly but with conviction. "I appreciate the fact that there are skeptics out there, that people may be doubtful and may not trust this effort. But what I want people to know and understand is, I don't have one foot in pop and one foot in country. I have made the commitment to country music. I look forward to reviews, no matter what they are. I look at it as constructive criticism. If anything, it just pushes me to do better the next time."
Jessica has been pushing herself her entire life, frequently through devastating disappointment and heartbreak. While it is clichéd to tag failure as the starting point for success, the public would be surprised to know how many times the girl who seems to have it all was left empty-handed. Through it all, her family and faith have provided a rock solid base from which she draws strength and inspiration.
Like many country singers, her first musical exposure and singing experience was in church. "My father was a minister and evangelist, so growing up, I was surrounded by gospel music. Living in Texas, we also had a lot of country music. In our home, there were records by Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson, and records by CeCe Winans and Amy Grant. When I was little, I would sing at the places where my dad spoke. We were a duo!"