When you turn on your TV this fall, remember: You haven't accidentally gone back in time. Old 2000s reality show favorites like The Hills and Ashlee Simpson really are back on your screens, but their stories won't sound familiar. If anything, Simpson's return to the small screen in Ashlee and Evan (she's joined by her husband Evan Ross) is a re-debut of the artist, who faded out of both public life and, for some reason, favor after she was caught lip-syncing during a 2004 performance on Saturday Night Live.
Over ten years later, Simpson sits across from me totally ready to talk about that night. She also has some new things she'd like to add to her public resumé. There are are children: her son Bronx from her previous marriage to Pete Wentz, and her daughter, Jagger, whom she shares with Ross. Then there's also her new music, which she's been working on with Ross. As part of the Ashlee Simpson revamp, she'll premiere a new song with each episode of their show.
That's what the show was originally supposed to be about — an inside look into the creation of their new album. But, to get a full view of the couple's art, they needed to share more about their lives. Ashlee And Evan joins the couple for their one-on-one talks, where they'll dissect their music — it will also take viewers to full-blown Ross family meet-ups (which, yes, will include appearances from Diana and Tracee Ellis Ross) and outings with friends. Ahead, the couple spoke to Refinery29 about what it was like for the family to open themselves up, and how Simpson has adjusted to being back in the spotlight.
Refinery29: Whose idea what it to make a reality TV show?
Evan: "I don’t know if it was anyone’s idea, really. I think it was an interesting thing."
Ashlee: "We wanted to do something — it wasn’t, like, reality. We were like, ‘Oh we should do a documentary or something.’"
E: "We were filming us making our music. But what was interesting was what we saw when we were shooting was that it’s kind of boring to just watch people in the studio."
A: "[We wanted people] to be able to tap into our lives. For me it’s been a long time and we did want people to be on the journey with us. I feel like you can know people a little from Instagram — not me that much — I’m getting better! I’m getting so much better at it!"
E: "It’s a work in process."
A: "But I feel like it’s been a minute and I feel like we wanted to share who we were and our love story and our process of making this album."
If I’m doing this, I really have to open myself up.
Evan, you're an actor but you've never done reality TV before. Was it a difficult adjustment?
E: "I was a little hesitant just in general, more of the idea of what it was. Because this was something that I was producing with Ashlee alongside my good friend [film director] Jessy Terrero. The idea was that we would do something that felt different and it wasn’t something that was just the stuff that you see everyday. Cinematically, we got people that have done documentaries and things like that. It looks different. The vibe’s different. It’s real. They weren’t manufactured moments."
For you, Ashlee, it’s a return to reality TV. Was opening up again nerve-wracking?
A: "Definitely. At first I think I was a little hesitant about it. I was like, ‘Ah, what are we doing?’ And then after two days of shooting I was comfortable. Actually, the first day. It was like, okay."
E: "And we’re so proud of it, too."
A: "Yeah, we are. I was like, 'If I’m doing this, I really have to open myself up.'"
E: "That was something she had to tell me, too."
A: "Because you can tell if you’re not."
Was there other reality TV advice that Ashlee gave?
E: "I think that was probably one of the biggest ones."
A: "Yeah, just opening yourself."
E: "It is true and truthfully, when you see back, it is us and there’s a lot of love there and I think it’s giving off the right message. The whole idea with the album was...I think the world needs a lot of love now. Show young people that you can have a family and all these things and still have a career."
What did you think when you watched everything back?
E: "We were impressed."
A: "We’re proud of it. All of our friends that we love are on it."
E: "Our family. The support was really amazing."
Family is really central to the show. Was everyone immediately on board to appear in it?
A: "They trust us."
E: "They trust what we were making and they knew we weren’t doing something that would make anybody look bad. We didn’t know when we started if anyone was going to be involved that wasn’t part of the [music] and we hoped they would. People were so supportive and really excited about what we’re doing. I was surprise my mom did it."
Your children appear occasionally. What is your philosophy towards having your children on screen?
A: "They’re separate. They’re there a few times because they are there and they’re always there anyway."
E: "Or they wanted to."
A: "Yes, if they wanted to."
E: "The storylines don’t really go around them but they are there. Truthfully, they’re a huge part of the inspiration of what we’re doing with the music and everything so it made sense."
A: "For me too, getting to do music, my son’s 9, he’s almost 10, he’s never got to see me perform until now, which is so cool and so special to me."
E: "He was in rehearsal with us the other day and he’s so proud of his mom."
A: "It’s so nice to share that side of myself with the kids."
E: "It know it’s like her favorite moment."
Would you be happy if your children decided they also wanted to be in the entertainment industry?
A: "I want them to do what they are passionate about...I want them to do whatever they love to do and I’ll support that."
E: "I agree, I think it’s an amazing thing to be able to be creative and make a living out of it. We have such an amazing job. It’s a beautiful thing."
A: "Who knows what they will be and want to do!"
E: "I have a feeling that Jagger for sure is going to…"
A: "Yeah, she comes to our rehearsals and is like, ‘I want the microphone.’"
Evan, you are the child of parent who is famous. Now, being famous yourself, has that affected your parenting at all?
E: "It’s definitely the only life I’ve ever known, but I feel like at the same time my mom was very good about doing things in the right way. We grew up not in LA but we were back and forth and, more importantly, my mom took us with her everywhere. I think that was important. We always had a mom there. I think [that was] part of even the decision of doing this show: being able to do work where we’re actually with our family and kids so I don’t have to be somewhere shooting all the way far away. Because I think that’s the hard part — not being able to have enough time with your kids."
Were you ever scared your lives wouldn’t be dramatic enough for reality television?
A: "We have our moments."
E: "Again, we’re artists. So, we can argue. But half the time we’ll argue and just start laughing because it’s like…"
A: "I usually look really stupid when I get mad."
E: "I think in anything when you decide that you’re going to work together there’s going to be a lot of great things but also it’s a lot of compromise and figuring out how we’re doing stuff because we have a different way of working. I want to be up until five in the morning in the studio."
A: "I want to be asleep."
Were there any shows or movies that you looked to as inspiration for this project?
A: "We loved Lady Gaga’s documentary."
E: "We loved cinematically how they shot it, that was an inspiration. There’s been a lot of inspiration. Even the music idea that we have a record coming out per episode. I just thought was a really interesting idea because it felt like fans got to live with you in the process of whatever that storyline was going into that song. So that was something. Definitely cinematically, the Gaga."
Do you think the reputation of reality shows has changed?
A: "When I had done it, there weren't many shows. There were a few. Now it’s a thing."
E: "I think the stigma is going away a little bit."
A: "I mean listen, everyone’s on Instagram like ‘I’m walking to the store.’ And I don’t do that."
E: "It’s an interesting thing to get your head around."
A: "And it’s fun to watch people’s Instagrams!"
E: "You think in the beginning it feels like it’s something that should be looked at differently but it’s now turned into the way artists release things. You kind of have to do it. I think it’s different from my mom’s time, too."
Looking back, I would have handled it differently or whatever, but I don’t think that the media would be as crazy about it now.
Do you think, knowing what we know about the treatment of women in the entertainment industry and Time's Up, the Saturday Night Live incident would have gone down the same way now?
A: "I think what was so hard was...look, things happen. I lost my voice. Something happened to my throat. I had nodes. It was something I needed to take care of. I was a new, young singer so shit happens. People fall on stage. People have issues. It happens. Looking back, I would have handled it differently or whatever, but I don’t think that the media would be as crazy about it now. I look back on myself and I’m like, ‘Oh I just want to give her a hug.’ I was so young and so sad. But it made me stronger and dealing with the world in that way and learning self love and value and knowing I was the artist I was and those were my songs that I was writing and having to find the strength to get up and go perform and go on tour, it made me a stronger person, absolutely. It definitely taught me how to block out negativity and how to face those kinds of things. Being able to say 'Nope, I’m not going to go. I don’t care if it’s the biggest show ever. I can’t talk, I have no voice, I’m not doing it.' Now, I would say no."
Has there been anything in the Time’s Up movement that's really resonated with you?
A: "I think it’s nice that it’s a conversation. I think it’s nice to see women stand up for themselves. And it’s time to. It’s well deserved and it’s good to see women come together and support each other."
The show is about your life and your music but it also has more serious moments, like when your friend got emotional during your self-defense class. Was it important to you for the show to touch on serious topics?
A: "That moment just happened. I was like, you don’t have to talk about this right now, we can stop this. And she opened up her heart and did that. I think that it’s important that things are talked about like that. And we had just gone to the self defense class because we were like, 'This is cool!' Our friend, Nia, teaches it. I was like, 'Let’s do that, this is something fun and we should all do this anyway.' It’s something I never even really thought that I should know. It’s important. Something I’ll definitely have my daughter do."
There are also moments, sometimes playful ones, that talk about race. Is that something the show will explore more? The experience of raising a mixed family?
E: "I think it’s a real thing. It’s normal, and it should feel normal. It’s a beautiful thing."
What are you most excited for fans to see?
E: "There’s so much. I’m excited about my brother and some of the stuff that’s in there with me and him and I really am excited about our performance."
A: "Just our whole journey was fun and our performance and our discovery of working together. For me, I go through this serious balance thing throughout the whole show. How do I balance career, kids? Because you can’t give 100% of yourself all the time to everything so it’s just an interesting thing that I go through."
Ashlee And Evan premieres September 9 on E!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.