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Ashlee Simpson has appeared as a musical guest on the television sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live on two occasions. The first was on October 23/24, 2004, and the second was on October 8/9, 2005.
As is customary for musical guests, Simpson was scheduled to give two performances, the first of "Pieces of Me" and the second of "Autobiography". Simpson's "Pieces of Me" performance proceeded without problems. As she was beginning the second performance, however, a recording of "Pieces of Me" started playing before she raised the microphone to her mouth. The vocal track faded out, but Simpson, uncertain of how to react, looked around at her band members performing the song. She then danced nervously around the stage and left just before the song's chorus began. The band continued to play the chorus, after which the show's producers cut to an emergency commercial break. Simpson appeared again during the show's closing with the guest host of the night, actor Jude Law, who was promoting his forthcoming films Alfie and Closer. Law said, "Ladies and gentlemen, what can I say? Live TV", and Simpson said "Exactly! I feel so bad. My band started playing the wrong song, and I didn't know what to do so I thought I'd do a hoedown". After laughs emanated from the cast members of the show present on the stage, Simpson added "I'm sorry...these things happen. I'm sorry". The show's closing credits began, and SNL cast members Amy Poehler and Tina Fey could be seen comforting Simpson. Some criticized her for what they saw as evidence that she was lip synching.
On Monday, October 25, Simpson called in to Total Request Live, a widely-viewed U.S. top ten music video show, and explained that she had been having trouble with her vocal cords due to acid reflux and could not sing well, and thus had no choice but to perform with a guide track. For the second performance, Simpson said that her drummer had hit the wrong button and consequently the wrong track played.
Prior to the incident, Simpson expressed her distaste with lip synching in an interview with Lucky magazine: "I'm totally against it and offended by it. I'm going out to let my real talent show, not to just stand there and dance around. Personally, I'd never lip-synch. It's just not me."
During the October 25, 2004 Radio Music Awards broadcast, Simpson made fun of the SNL mistake by pretending at first to be caught in the same mistake with "Pieces of Me" as before, before saying "Just kidding, you guys!" and going into a performance of "Autobiography." On the morning of October 26, she discussed the incident with Katie Couric on The Today Show, and on October 31, the CBS news program 60 Minutes aired footage from Simpson's rehearsals before the SNL performance, in which she was shown having trouble with her voice and being visibly upset.
Simpson was scheduled to give two musical performances The foibles of live television were exposed in October 2004 when at the start of singer Ashlee Simpson's second musical performance of the show, a pre-recorded backing track for the wrong song was accidentally played. Simpson's father (her manager) had decided to use a vocal guide track because her voice had been weak in rehearsal due to acid reflux. During the performance the vocal track was shut off but the musical track continued and Simpson walked off the stage. She subsequently apologized for the error during the show's closing—the incident served to highlight the always precarious nature of live television, as noted by the night's host, Jude Law. It appeared to viewers that Simpson had been lip synching and the incident received widespread coverage in the news and as an Internet meme. The following week the incident was the subject of several skits.
Coincidentally, a team of reporters from the CBS news program 60 Minutes led by Lesley Stahl had been taping and interviewing during the production cycle, and recorded both the rehearsals and the immediate reactions by Lorne Michaels and others. Michaels said immediately afterwards that he had never been asked about using a vocal track, and would not have allowed it. However, since then the production practices of SNL have been scrutinized by reporters and Michaels has admitted that backing tracks are sometimes used. The 60 Minutes report also revealed the intense writing frenzy that goes on during the week leading up to a show, the involvement of the guest hosts in developing and choosing their skits, and the rule that all skit dialog is performed as-written, with no improvisation allowed on camera.