In a world before Keeping Up with the Kardashians on E! and Bravo’s Housewives franchise—and before celebrities appearing on reality television was ubiquitous and commonplace—there was MTV’s Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, which, if you’ll believe it, premiered 20 years ago this week. (!) In another bit of news that will make any millennial feel ancient, an entirely new generation of folks are discovering the show for the first time thanks to the power that is TikTok—but we bet they don’t know how Nick Lachey was the heartthrob of the boy band 98*, and how Jessica Simpson was a solo artist that had pipes that could rival fellow artist Christina Aguilera. We even bet that, when Lachey—sitting next to his second wife, Vanessa—said on the Love is Blind third season reunion last November that marriage “is always better the second time,” it flew over the young whippersnapper’s heads entirely.
But for some of us, from August 2003 to March 2005, Newlyweds was required viewing and became a pop culture phenomenon (four words: “Chicken…by the Sea”). After three seasons, the series wrapped on March 30, 2005; by the end of the year, Nick and Jessica had split after three years of marriage. Nick went on to marry the then Vanessa Minnillo, perhaps best known then as a host on MTV; Jessica is married to former NFL tight end Eric Johnson. But, for a brief moment in time, we had Nick and Jessica, and to honor the two decades since we first stepped into their private lives via reality television, let’s take a look back, shall we?
Before it became common knowledge that inviting cameras into your home is a death sentence for a marriage, Nick and Jessica had no idea that “they would become the poster exes for why it’s almost never a good idea for couples to do a show that’s going to focus mainly on the inner workings of their relationship,” E! News reports, and that “being married to the other was only a pit stop on the road to their real destination.” Seriously, if we thought any couple from the early 2000s was going to make it, it was Nick and Jessica, who seemed truly in love and wholesome, right down to Jessica (in)famously waiting until her wedding night to lose her virginity.
“It was the most amazing moment of my life,” Simpson told Blender of their wedding night. “I’m so lucky I didn’t lose my virginity in the back of a Jeep or something. Instead, I had this amazing, elaborate wedding and I topped it off with that.” (Jessica, by the way, has said she doesn’t regret doing Newlyweds “at all.”)
Nick and Jessica started dating in 1999, he the frontman of 98* in the era of boy bands, she a female pop solo artist in a sea of Britney, Christina, and Mandy. Nick later told CBS News in a joint interview with Jessica that “the first time I ever heard her sing, I got chills. And I told the guys [in 98*]…‘I’m going to marry that girl one day.’” For her part, Jessica added “we definitely knew—no ifs, ands, or buts—we’re totally in love.” Realizing how they sounded, Nick said “you know, it sounds kind of hokey and cheesy, but at the same time, it’s cool.”
The couple married in October 2002, and Jessica’s father-slash-manager Joe Simpson brokered the deal for the show with MTV; Jessica admitted that she thought the show would be a good way to promote her new album, In This Skin. Cameras came inside their Calabasas home (this is pre-Kardashians making the locale famous, remember), where Nick always seemed to be carrying Jessica around for whatever reason, or criticizing her spending habits.
“We were young and pioneering our way through reality television, always mic’ed and always on,” Jessica wrote in her memoir, Open Book. “We worked and we were great at it, but when it came time to being alone, we weren’t great at it anymore. We really got crushed by the media and by ourselves. I couldn’t lie to our fans, and I couldn’t give somebody hope that we were this perfect golden couple.”
Newlyweds producer Sue Kolinsky told 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; I think he’s seven years older than her. He wanted a family, and her father thought maybe she was too young. Her father was very involved in her life.”
After their split in late 2005, Nick said he felt “blindsided,” but was hopeful he’d find love again: “Do I believe that I’ll fall in love again one day? I certainly hope so,” he said. “I certainly hope I’m not going to be the jerk, uncle, bachelor the rest of my life. You know, it’s not what I envisioned for myself, but at the same time, when I got married, that was it for me, you know, that was my life.” Nick connected with his future wife Vanessa quickly after his divorce—she starred in the music video for his 2006 single “What’s Left of Me,” which is about Jessica. (“It’s not in any way vindictive or an assault on her,” Nick said of the song. “In a lot of ways, it’s more of an assault on me.”)
Jessica went on to have high-profile relationships with John Mayer and Tony Romo before settling down with Eric. She also released a record in 2006, A Public Affair, and covered Patty Griffin’s “Let Him Fly,” which she said made her and her sister, Ashlee Simpson, emotional: “We laid there listening to the song and just cried and cried like babies,” Jessica said. “In a lot of ways, my sister really gave me the strength to pull through this really hard time. And it was just lying there and being with her that got me through it. I knew everything would be okay. The song is about how sometimes you just have to know when to let something go. And that was that moment. And I had to sing it.”
Of their split, Nick told Access Hollywood in 2009 “it’s life, man. Why does any marriage end? There are probably more reasons than either one of us will ever understand or want to talk about. Sometimes people are in your life for a period of time for a reason and…that situation changes.” Nick noted at the time that he and Jessica were no longer in touch; when he got engaged to Vanessa the following year, Jessica told Ryan Seacrest on KIIS-FM that she was “extremely, extremely happy for him.”
“You know, our relationship was over a really long time ago, so it would be nice if everybody could move on with us and really just celebrate the love between him and Vanessa,” she said. “I do, and I wish them nothing but the best.”
Now happy separately, it seems impossible to believe that Nick and Jessica were ever together, and that the gem that is Newlyweds ever existed. Nick, speaking to Andy Cohen on Cohen’s SiriusXM show in 2021, said he had never read Jessica’s bestselling memoir, nor did he plan to. “I lived it,” Nick said. “I know what the truth is, so I don’t need to read it, read someone’s version of it in a story.” He continued “I am thrilled to be where I am in life. [His marriage to Jessica] was 20 years ago. It’s honestly the last thing on my mind these days except when someone brings it up…I understand why people want to ask, but it’s just so not a part of my life anymore that it’s not even on my radar. She is doing her thing and I am doing mine and that’s the way it should be.”
True—but we’ll always have Newlyweds…
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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.
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