In a review of a November 1999 Ricky Martin appearance at the Pepsi Center, I described opening act Jessica Simpson, whose debut disc had been released three weeks earlier, as "a cross between the first woman to die in a slasher flick and a third-rate Mariah Carey: Mariah Scary, if you will." Forced to perform without the aid of an actual band, she sang virtual karaoke to backing tapes as dancers spun around her -- and although her between-tune banter made her seem dumber than Rin Tin Tin (a lot dumber), she wisely dropped the headliner's name every chance she got, thereby making a positive impression on a throng that was mainly interested in hearing "Livin' la Vida Loca." Nearly five years later, Simpson has perfected a similar blend of overt idiocy and show-biz savvy, using the comely dunce persona she acts out on the MTV "reality" show Newlyweds to fuel sales of the awesomely generic pop music she made for last year's In This Skin. Such a shtick may not impress feminists, who've been waiting in vain for the bubbleheaded-blonde routine to lose its allure since the first bra burning, but there's no denying its effectiveness. After all, Martin couldn't have a lower profile if he traded places with Jimmy Hoffa, whereas Simpson's a genuine TV and music star. She's livin' la vida bozo.
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