Jessica Simpson: Disaster of Epic Proportions?

Jessica Simpson | Katie Couric | Mariah Carey | Michael Jackson

Jessica Simpson: Disaster of Epic Proportions?

Jessica Simpson may have a rude awakening when sales figures are counted for last week’s CDs today.

Simpson’s "A Public Affair" stood at No. 52 last night on, well below still-unreleased albums by her generational peers Beyonce and Justin Timberlake.

Even worse, most of the reviews written by fans and customers on the page for "A Public Affair" give the album one or two stars and are heavily critical.

Click Here for the Jessica Simpson Celebrity Center

It could be that Simpson, like Paris Hilton, has finally oversaturated her market with style (so to speak) over substance. Hilton’s crummy debut album was hovering around No. 95 last night on Amazon.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the only reference point for sales of pop CDs, but it’s a fairly good measure of consumer interest. Right now, Bob Dylan’s "Modern Times" is lodged at No. 1 with no signs of slipping. The great American musical icon has received countless kudos for his latest offering.

If Simpson, like Hilton, actually has tanked with this release, we can expect serious repercussions at her label, Epic, a division of Sony.

In the last week, both the company and Simpson’s people tried to stir up interest in the divorced newlywed by giving both People and Us Weekly “exclusives” on her “romance” with another Sony artist — the actually talented John Mayer.

But the people I spoke to at Sony told me on Friday that they had no idea if such a thing were true, and that no one had ever seen the two together.

“I think a date constitutes being seen in public at dinner or something,” laughed one insider. “So far, that hasn’t happened.”

Simpson has never been a heavyweight as a singer, but made her reputation as the comedic foil to ex-husband Nick Lachey on MTV’s "Newlyweds."

Like many of today’s performers, she seems more interested in generating publicity than in doing anything remotely linked to artistry. Consequently, we’d be hard-pressed to name a Simpson song, let alone hum a few notes. Her new album, "A Public Affair," doesn’t do much to dispel that idea.

One last-ditch effort has been made to save Simpson’s album, however: The next single from the album, called “I Belong to Me,” was originally left off the CD — it was a bonus track for Wal-Mart customers — because Simpson didn’t like it. But in a poll, fans voted it their second favorite track after the title song, so it’s back.

Luckily, Epic won't have to worry if Jessica goes south. Its Shakira/Wyclef Jean record, "Hips Don't Lie," is the biggest hit of the year. And rock group The Fray is about to break through courtesy of exposure on "Grey's Anatomy."

Katie's News: Star Power Will Help

Katie Couric takes over the "CBS Evening News" tonight with a little help from her friends.

All things being equal, it will be Walter Cronkite’s sonorous tones that will introduce Katie this evening in a pre-taped announcement. It’s unlikely that Cronkite will appear on the program. Since he left the anchor chair in 1981, he’s returned only once or twice — and that was long ago.

Katie will get star boosts during her inaugural week from a bunch of well-known names who will file 90-second “free speech” segments or mini-editorials.

Rush Limbaugh, Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and possibly even political comedian Bill Maher are said to be among the early bylines. The Drudge Report broke some of this news over the weekend.

In addition to all this brouhaha, Couric also gets a double shot of President George W. Bush when she airs a portion of a prime-time interview with him on the evening show.

A longer interview with Bush will be part of a Wednesday night show devoted to the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Even with all that, most critics and viewers will probably focus on Katie’s hair, makeup and dress tonight.

Mariah 'Nails' Her Long Island Comeback

Yes, we went to see Mariah Carey perform at Jones Beach on Sunday night — it was her local-girl-makes-good show, you know. Mariah is a proud Long Islander (and so are we, in part, so we can identify).

The Jones Beach Amphitheater is an outdoor venue, but that didn’t stop Miss Mariah from wearing what was basically a black peignoir set for the first few numbers.

Yes, this is lingerie, but it showed off her very toned body. The difference between Mariah and Madonna: yoga. Mariah doesn’t do it, Madonna does. Take your pick.

Even when she’s hoarse or losing her voice, Mariah still sings like a bird and performs vocal tricks that no one should attempt at home.

There’s no augmentation — what she has at the moment is what the audience gets, and even with the wind blowing and her midriff bared, Carey managed some gorgeous notes that were right on target.

It’s fascinating to watch her try and miss them, too, because her mistakes are often more interesting than her accomplishments.

Sunday night’s show was also very much about Mariah’s personality — a little eccentric, kind of loopy and happily goofy. She’d changed the entire set list from her previous shows and didn’t know which song was next.

Some of it seemed like a surprise, even to her. This was kind of a welcome relief from all the pre-packaged performances of late (hello, Justin!)

She brought out Trey Lorenz for the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” and a medley of some other hits, including “One Sweet Day.”

Mariah’s original hits, “Vision of Love” and “Dreamlover,” are still best, and the worst ones — things like “Honey” — remain insurmountable heaps of hip-hop junk that really serve more as filler than anything else.

Certainly, all of that late Sony/Tommy Mottola stuff is far inferior to the material from her recent mega hit, “The Emancipation of Mimi” album. And that’s thanks to producer/musical chief Randy Jackson, who doesn’t get enough credit for pulling Mariah out of that rut.

Funny moments: Carey’s long riff about not getting her nails done in time for the show, and telling her local pastor — who performs in the gospel number “Fly Like a Bird” — that she won’t be wearing the revealing dress from the show when she sees him next in church.

The whole thing works: She’s a diva who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Mariah is the anti-Madonna, which only means there has to be a Madonna somewhere out there in this universe to balance her out. And that’s OK, too.

Flashback: We Told You First

The New York Daily News is "exclusively" reporting today the court battle between Jordan Chandler — the young man who, in 1994, settled with Michael Jackson for $20 million — and his father, Evan. We reported it first last month.

Click here to read our Aug. 19 report.