Ashlee Simpson Says Her Infamous 2004 ‘Saturday Night Live’ Lip-Syncing Gaffe Taught Her the Power of the Word “No”

Simpson experienced vocal issues before the show but took the stage anyway, against her better judgment.

Ashlee Simpson
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It was one of the biggest headlines of the year and, no question about it, not the way she wanted to make news—but Ashlee Simpson’s infamous Saturday Night Live lip-syncing blunder in 2004 taught her so much (as our lowest points in life so often do).

If you remember, you remember, but just in case you weren’t watching SNL 20 years ago, Simpson was the musical guest on an October 2004 episode, and was taken aback when she began facing vocal issues before the show, discovering she had “two nodules beating against each other,” causing her to lose her voice, Simpson said, per Us Weekly. Despite initially saying she wasn’t going to perform, she claimed she was asked to do so anyway, using pre-recorded vocals.

“My band has never practiced this,” Simpson recalled thinking on an episode of the “Broad Ideas with Rachel Bilson and Olivia Allen” podcast. “I can’t do this.”

Ashlee Simpson on SNL

Simpson during the infamous 2004 "Saturday Night Live" performance

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Simpson first sang “Pieces of Me” with no issue. As she and her band cued up her second song of the night, though, the vocal track for “Pieces of Me” began to play again instead of “Autobiography.” While the song cut out within seconds, it was obvious—Simpson had been lip-syncing. She “danced a jig to cover the snafu and walked off stage,” People reports, adding that Simpson “remains the only musician to walk out of an SNL performance.”

“I’ve never talked about or said, but it’s like the other thing is, learning as a woman, when you say no or as an artist or a human or whatever, that say I said, ‘I will not go on, I don’t care, I can’t speak,’” Simpson said. After going on anyway against her better judgment, Simpson said that moment taught her “the power of my no” and “the power of me saying absolutely not.”

“I feel like it was a humbling moment for me,” she said. “I had the No. 1 song, it was, like, everything was about to go, like, somewhere and then it was just, like, woah. The humility of not even understanding what grown a— people would say about you, awful, awful things.” She added “If I would’ve had that power to really have been like—which I would have now, or looking back—I’d be like, ‘I won’t be showing up. Period.’”

Ashlee Simpson

Simpson said that if the "SNL" performance happened today, she would have said no and never taken the stage

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Simpson admitted that the situation was “hard” and added “I wrote all these songs, and I did all this and almost to have your credit completely taken from you and you’re like, ‘No.’”

Through the low moment, Simpson said she learned how to tune out her detractors and found her strength through the process. She added that the experience taught her “how to get back up and go again,” and, thankfully, she ultimately didn’t have to have surgery thanks to a vocal coach, who Simpson said “saved [her] life.” 

“I think having to find at a young age that strength to be like, ‘I am good at this, and I will keep going, and I will keep fighting,’” she said.

After her 2004 gaffe, Simpson actually returned to SNL a year later, in October 2005, but the performance is nearly impossible to find, she said. “I went back to SNL with my second album, and I can’t find it anywhere,” she said. “I’ve searched and searched for that performance. I was really nervous when I was on there and I can’t find it anywhere.”

Simpson’s debut album, Autobiography, came out in 2004, followed by I Am Me in 2005 and Bittersweet World in 2008. She released the single “Bat for a Heart” in 2012 but hasn’t had an album release in over 15 years. In honor of Autobiography turning 20 years old this year, Simpson told Us Weekly that she was “starting to work on the rerelease,” and teased that she might add additional songs to the record. “I’m going to celebrate that album,” Simpson said. “Maybe I’ll go in and redo some of the songs, but I’m definitely going to do a performance around the anniversary.”

Ashlee Simpson

Ross and Simpson

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This week isn’t the first time Simpson has discussed the SNL performance. On the E! reality show she shared with her husband, Evan Ross, called ASHLEE+EVAN, she said “All of [a] sudden, you know, s—t happened, and it was like ‘Boom.’ And the world hated me for this SNL moment I had. For me, it was the most humbling experience of my life, because the whole world thinks everything that you just put your heart and soul into writing is a joke. And that sucked.”

Simpson told People that it was a “defining” moment in both her “life and career,” but that it made her “stronger”: “I was such a young girl, and the world can be a cruel place,” she said. “But I learned at that time in my life to believe in my work and in my album and to get up and keep fighting and carrying on.”

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.