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Ashlee Simpson and That Lip-Syncing Feeling

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, October 26, 2004; Page C01

Another embarrassing female "reveal" on live TV.

This time Ashlee Simpson was caught lip-syncing her "live" performance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

Ashlee Simpson performs during the Radio Music Awards show. (Ethan Miller - Reuters)

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This Milli Vanilli moment has caused great embarrassment not only for Simpson -- who initially blamed her band but later switched her story and blamed acid reflux disease -- but also for "Saturday Night Live," which for years has promoted the fact that its weekly live music acts are, well, live.

Simpson, the 20-year-old younger sister of Jessica, began to disassemble her career toward the end of last weekend's "SNL," which was hosted by Jude Law.

She was supposed to sing "Autobiography," the title track of her debut album. But when she started to gyrate -- a pop music tradition to signal the start of a song -- Simpson began to sing "Pieces of Me" -- which she had "sung" earlier in the program. Miraculously, while that was happening, Ashlee's microphone was at her side and her mouth was closed.

Momentarily confused, Simpson looked from band member to band member as if for a cue as to what to do. Then, being the pro she is, she did what she does best: She did a hoedown.

Yes, while her band gamely played through the mistake, plucking and banging to the recorded track, Simpson performed a very odd "Hee Haw"-esque dance for a few seconds that seemed like eternity before giving up on that strategy and skulking offstage. The show cut to commercial.

Oh, and here's one of those little ironies that make covering TV such an interesting and rewarding career choice: The director of that "SNL" telecast from hell, Beth McCarthy Miller, was director of the infamous Super Bowl halftime show in which Janet Jackson's costume "reveal" turned into a "wardrobe malfunction," thereby revealing her breast and leading to the moral decay of the children of America. Live television is a very rough racket.

"I feel so bad," Simpson whined at the end of Saturday's broadcast. "My band started playing the wrong song. I didn't know what to do, so I thought I'd do a hoedown."

Actually, she wasn't kidding. She was outed as a lip-syncer because her drummer hit the wrong button, according to various folk connected with the performance with whom we spoke yesterday, none of whom wanted his name anywhere near this column. Apparently the drummer's responsibilities included starting the backup track and there were two buttons he could push, one for the "Autobiography" track and, obviously, one for "Pieces of Me."

And yet, with straight faces -- at least they sounded straight over the phone -- many of these anonymous informants insisted that Ashlee had not lip-synced -- lip-sunc? -- the first song, only the second, and that because her voice was acting up. Like we were born yesterday or something. Hmm . . . wonder why there was a vocal track for "Pieces of Me." Just a coincidence, I guess.

Anyway, the official word from NBC yesterday was that "SNL" executive producer Lorne Michaels's position is that its musical guests perform live. To drive home that point, for the West Coast feed the network edited out Simpson's voice from the backup track that had taken her by surprise. Viewers in Los Angeles saw Simpson gyrate, appear to become confused because the band was playing the wrong song, and then walk off. Presto chango, no lip-syncing.

Walking into the Kennedy Center last night to pick up the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, handed out to one person each year for comedic excellence, Michaels was confronted on the red carpet by a bunch of reporters, including The Post's Joel Achenbach, who wanted to talk to him about Saturday's show.

Michaels confirmed that a band member hit the button for the wrong backup track.

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