HomeEntertainmentNick & Jessica' premiered 20 years ago. How Jessica Simpson went from...

Nick & Jessica’ premiered 20 years ago. How Jessica Simpson went from being the joke to getting the last laugh.

Jessica Simpson may not have known the difference between tuna and chicken when Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica — the MTV reality series co-starring her and her now ex-husband, Nick Lachey — premiered on Aug. 19, 2003, but it ultimately worked in her favor.

For its 20th anniversary, we rewatched the first episode of the show that catapulted them, especially her, to superstardom. While there’s no doubt she was the punching bag in a lot of ways, it ultimately paved the way to bigger and better things, like a billion dollar fashion empire and best-selling book.

In 2003, Nick and Jessica were B-list pop stars — and then… boom

Simpson was a pop tart rising at the same time as powerhouses Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, but it was the aughts — a time of relentless scrutiny of female celebrities — and they were pitted against each other. Jessica, managed by dad Joe Simpson, was shaded as a Spears copycat and was a rung below the others, including in record sales and popularity. She kept singing though and leaned into her Texas roots and Christian faith. Much was made of her being a virgin before walking down the aisle with Lachey in October 2002. (A headline about their engagement: “Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey to go all the way.”) “Papa Joe” made a deal to sell their wedding and life as newlyweds to capitalize on the then “new” reality TV genre pioneered by The Osbournes.

Channeling their inner Danny and Sandy from Grease, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey perform “Where You Are” on TRL in 2000. (Scott Gries/ImageDirect)

Her groom was slightly more famous at the time with his boy band pedigree with 98 Degrees. But in a similar place professionally as Jess — a step below Backstreet Boys and NSync. The Cincinnati-bred crooner stood out in his group, along side his brother Drew, for his voice and being the one with the 98 Degrees sun tattoo on his bicep, which was always on display because if there was one thing he loved more than the Bengals, it was a tank top.

Stuck on the fringe of big success, Jess and Nick drew more interest as a twosome after they started dating in 1999. They’d perform together (see: “Where You Are”), sometimes in coordinating outfits, and there wasn’t a red carpet they didn’t smooch on. The B-list pop stars hoped a reality show would boost their music sales, and timed the release of new albums — her third, In This Skin, and his solo debut, Soul-o to the show’s premiere.

Rewatching Newlyweds — and tuna-gate 20 years later

From the jump, Jess was depicted as an airhead and a princess, which she admittedly leaned into. After all, the very first episode includes her “chicken or tuna” moment, which led to memes and mockery (even her own).

See also  Chris Evans dances while dressed as a life-size drug dispenser in 'Pain Hustlers' teaser

But let’s start at the beginning: After the show opening, sung by bigger star Nick (“This I Swear”) as footage plays of him carrying Jess over the threshold of their Calabasas, Calif., “love nest,” there’s a glimpse into their beautiful, MTV-funded and Mindy Weiss-planned wedding held in Austin, Texas.

They were mere babies — she was 22 and he was 28 — as they talked about falling for each other. (“After I met him, I went on the computer and looked up what his favorite soda was,” a pre-iPhone era Jess gushed. Nick said Jess was different from “other girls.”) She looked stunning in custom Vera Wang, with ex stylist Ken Paves helping with the finishing touches. Her sister, Ashlee Simpson Ross, was in the large wedding party, and Joe walked her down the aisle.


“Papa Joe” Simpson looks close to tears as he walked Jess down the aisle. In her book, Jessica wrote her dad tried to get her to change her mind minutes before she married Nick. (MTV)

We now know so much more about the wedding, thanks to Jess’s 2020 memoir, Open Book — like Joe trying to talk her out of getting married minutes before the ceremony and prenup drama (Nick wanted the prenup, not her) — so it was wild to watch it play out as if everything was perfect. Perhaps not as wild though as Jessica’s virginity being incorporated into the ceremony. Her childhood friend Brian Buchek officiated the ceremony and said: “Jessica can stand up here in this white wedding dress because a long time ago, she committed her purity to God, and she stuck with that commitment.” When Jessica cried after saying “I do,” we can’t help but wonder if they were happy or sad tears.

The show picked up three months after their wedding and honeymoon in Fiji. The couple had never lived together prior, so the episode saw them adjusting to married life. It was about Jessica — who lived in hotels with maid service since she got her first recording deal at 14 — having trouble cleaning up after herself and begging Nick to get a housekeeper. Meanwhile, down-to-earth Nick was shown packing up and moving out of his bachelor pad without professional movers.

Jessica's infamous tuna or chicken debate was in the very first episode. (MTV)

Jessica’s infamous tuna or chicken debate was in the very first episode. (MTV)

As the show took off, Jessica talked about being “ditzy” and “clumsy,” but “not dumb.” However, MTV pushed all three in the narrative. The first scene in their home was tuna-gate. Jessica, eating a bowl of canned Chicken of the Sea tuna, asked, “Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish? I know it’s tuna but it says Chicken by the Sea.” Nick just looked at her. “Is that stupid?” she asked. After shaking his head, he replied, “You act like you never had tuna before.” The moment went viral and really almost overnight made the show a pop culture phenomenon. The bubblehead blonde thing was heavily played up for the remainder of the series.

See also  Travis Barker Leaves Blink-182 Tour Due To "Urgent Family Matter"

The first episode also painted her as a princess who couldn’t even change the water in a flower vase without disaster and needing Nick’s help. She couldn’t manage her own laundry, which was piled in the foyer with MTV cameras zooming in on dirty socks and bras. Her parents made a cameo with Tina offering to wash her daughter’s clothes. Nick seemed to have zero patience for any of it, sighing, not speaking or even scolding her. She was playful back though, making fun of herself for not knowing they owned a mop.


Jessica, who was only 22 when she married Nick, was depicted as a ditzy and spoiled blonde who couldn’t even handle doing her own laundry. (MTV)

It took budget conscious Nick the whole episode — and having to maneuver past mountains of clothes —to agree that they needed a housekeeper. But then he complained to Drew about having to pay the poor woman $20 an hour to pick up piles of dirty underwear off the floor. Jessica did seem clueless and spoiled though at times, asking a friend via phone at one point if there was a special maid service that celebrities used.

On the other hand, trophy husband Nick was portrayed as this strong, capable guy, who showed off those tattooed biceps at every opportunity. He insisted on moving his own furniture out of his old condo, renting a U-Haul and carrying it himself. While doing so, he and Drew made a joke about a stained mattress. (Gross). Also not aging so well was Nick — having a disagreement with Jessica over where they should put furniture he was carrying — muttering to Drew, “It’s in these moments I’m glad I don’t have a gun. Cause I would shoot myself.” Drew chimed in, “Why would you shoot yourself?”

Nick, right, was depicted as down to earth, renting a U-Haul to clean out his bachelor pad in episode one. (MTV)

Nick, right, was depicted as down to earth, renting a U-Haul to clean out his bachelor pad in episode one. (MTV)

Perhaps our favorite part of the whole rewatch was looking in the background at things. There were a few sightings of Jessica’s Louis Vuitton x Murakami bag, which is such a sign of the times, she also rocked Juicy Couture and talked on her flip phone. Also just playing “Count How Many Times Nick Shows His Arm Tattoos,” which was basically every scene but the wedding, kept it light.


Nick’s arm tattoos got a lot of airtime. (MTV)

From Newlyweds to divorcees in no time

The cameras obviously exposed the cracks between the pair, two very different people dropped into a fishbowl. While they started promoting the show as a package deal, her viral moments really stole the show, and she quickly became the bigger star. Just three months after the show debuted, she appeared solo — in her undies holding a Swiffer — on the cover of Rolling Stone. In her memoir she revealed that the star-making “Housewife of the Year” cover was initially supposed to include Lachey, but at the last minute the mag said they wanted her alone. It caused tension in their marriage, leading to fights and spending more and more time apart.

See also  Clarence Avant, 'The Black Godfather' of music, dies at age 92

Newlyweds producer Sue Kolinsky recalled in a 2017 interview with Complex, “You could feel there was tension between the two of them. They were very different people. He was a blue-collar guy — he did a lot of things himself, like he and his brother would build things. He was frugal, and she had excessive taste. In the end they weren’t suited for each other. The only thing they really had in common was their music. She was really young… He wanted a family… Her father was very involved in her life.”

Rolling Stone

Jessica Simpson became the star of the show, which didn’t bode well for their marriage. (Rolling Stone)

The truth was, she was inundated with great offers (she turned down The Notebook), taking the part of Daisy in Dukes of Hazzard and rocking those Daisy Dukes. Back at home, the rare times they were together, they felt paranoid (like they were being bugged) as the tabloids obsessively ran stories about them having problems. The last episode of their show aired March 30, 2005, and they pulled the plug on their marriage that November. By that point, she was having an emotional affair with Johnny Knoxville, and Nick spent more and more time away with his boys. She stealthily moved her stuff out of their house while he was away. They had one last tryst, but Jessica saying she could sense his “hate.” There’s no love lost between them to this day. For him, that seems to span to the whole Simpson family.

Happily ever after — though not with each other

While their romance was over, the show was very lucrative for Nick and Jessica, but especially her. She launched her Dessert edible beauty line in 2004 and while it didn’t last, she banked the business savvy and went on to build what is now her Jessica Simpson Collection brand, a fashion empire that has brought in more than $1 billion in sales. (She is not a billionaire, but she did fully buy back her business, owning it outright.) Her 2020 memoir was a massive hit, spawning a multi-media deal with Amazon and a pilot that fizzled but she continues to shop. She hasn’t given up on music either.

However, in the aftermath the show, Jessica really couldn’t shake that bubblehead image. It’s as if Newlyweds 20 years ago has forever given people permission to mock her, which we’ve seen over and over, whether it’s the mom jeans, cruel weight comments or her looks. (She’s been candid about plastic surgery.) Look no further than her Instagram comments for proof. But she’s thrived — and not just with her business. She’s been sober for nearly six years after problems with alcohol and pills. She and former NFL player husband, Eric Johnson, married in 2014 (after that John Mayer fiasco) and have three children.

Jessica married Eric Johnson in 2014 and they share three children. Nick also has three kids — with his second wife, Vanessa Lachey. (Photos: Getty Images)

Jessica married Eric Johnson in 2014 and they share three children. Nick also has three kids — with his second wife, Vanessa Lachey. (Getty Images)

As for Lachey, he has MTV to thank for meeting his second wife, former TRL host Vanessa Lachey, with whom he shares three children. She appeared in the video for his post-Newlyweds song about Simpson, “What’s Left of Me,” and things got romantic. They frequently work together, like co-hosting Love Is Blind, with mixed results. Meanwhile, 98 Degrees is celebrating its 25th anniversary and they still tour.

So all’s well that ends well for the Newlyweds, this we swear.

- Advertisement -


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments