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The road to musical success is a steep and tricky one, paved with danger and lined with skeletons. A lucky few prance along it with the nimbleness of the great god Pan. The rest, however, pay their dues at some school of hard knocks to toughen them up for the climb. In the past, this education has been picked up at ferociously bitchy art colleges, from the grim slog of "the road," through the harsh regime of "the street" and via the misery of poverty. From these diverse institutions have graduated much of the planet's finest musical talent, but to that list we must now add another academy: The Mickey Mouse Club.

Two of its most famous alumni-Spears, B. and Aguilera, C. - are currently vacumming up a good part of the nation's spare cash between them. But such is the power of the Mouse that it can even make stars out of those it turned its back on. And the day Mickey rejected the then 13-year-old Jessica Simpson was the day her education began.

"If I had got in, I'd never have signed with a record label at 13," claims Jessica, now 20. "What not making The Mickey Mouse Club did for me was put me in voice lessons, put me in acting lessons adn give me the determination to become a singer." It was an early lesson in ego management. "The Mickey Mouse Club people told me the whole time, 'You are our number one choice,' and I walked around thinking, 'Yeah, I've got it.' I dad this huge ego and then it was slammed in front of my face."

A year after the Mickey debacle, Jessica sang "Amazing Grace" at the religious camp run by her preacher daddy. Listening in the audience was a man about to launch a new gospel music label, and hallelujah, she had her first recording contract. When the label folded, Jessica jumped to Columbia Records and launched her first album, Sweet Kisses, which put her back up against her old rivals. "When Briteny and Christina came out, it was like The Mickey Mouse Club all over again," she says. "I had this huge fear. And, no I am not as successful as them. I haven't sold eight million albums like Christina and I haven't sold 21 million albums like Britney. I cannot put that pressure on myself even though the industry tries to put it on me. Magazines say stuff like, 'Jessica is coming in third.' I'm not as successful as them. I have to accept that, not be intimidated and say people are going to like me for me."

So was this photo shoot a deliberate bid to knock out your nicey-nicey, "butter wouldn't melt" image?
It's not an image. That's me-it's just who I am. But I will wear sexy clothes. I'm not ashamed of my body, and I am not afraid of showing it. I just do it in a tasteful way. I just turned 20 and I want to show my body, and that's OK because God gave me a body and I am proud of it and I work hard for it, dang it!

How would you feel if the next time you took your car in for repairs the mechanic had these FHM pictures pinned on the wall?
I'd be flattered. All women want guys to think they're sexy, or else they are just weird. If you spend $200 on a dress, you want to look hot in it. And I defintely want heads to turn. But I don't look at it like guys are going to hang it up on their wall and look at me every night. That to me is a little weird. I mean, I am not Pamela Anderson.

You're on record saying you love fried food. Do you work out like a demon?
Being on the go so much helps. The studio is a workout for me-my stomach gets sore every time I'm in there-but I do got to the gym every now and again. There is that pressure: People actually tell me, "You need to lose a bit of weight." Or I'll go on the computer, like an idiot, and look at some sites and people will be saying, "I went to Jessica's concert and her stomach was hanging over her pants." That's just to make them feel better about themselves. I know that, but still you can read it and think, "God, I have to go to the gym." I am a lot thicker than a lot of skinny funway models, but I don't want to look anorexic. I want to have something to grab on to. Guys would rather have somebody with more body; girls who like to eat. I think that's sexy.

You have said, "Don't look at girls in magazines. They are all airbrushed and everyone has cellulite." But would you ban any magazine from airbrushing pictures of you?
Oh, my gosh, no. I want to look as good as they possibly can make me. I know it sounds contradictory, but you don't want to see yourself on the cover of a magazine if your stomach is hanging over. I was talking about self-esteem: Girls wish they could look like the girl on the cover of the magazine. And I'm saying I've seen some of these models in person and they don't really look like that. Computers can do great things.

There has been a great deal of speculation regarding Britney and breast enlargement. Would you ever have anything done?
If she did have a boob job, she was way too young. And anyway, all of a sudden her boobs aren't as big as they used to be. I think people are giving her such a hard time about it she might have gone back to undo it or something. That's sad. Personally, I don't believe in it. I don't think you should get your nose or your boobs done-or your stomach tucked or cellulite taken out-just to walk down the street and make guys go, "Wow!" That is wrong. God made your body the way it is supposed to be.

You grew up in Dallas. Were you ever recruited to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader?
No, I was a cheerleader at school, but I hated it because of all the girls. I have so many more guy friends than I do girl friends. It's always been guys more than girls. I felt intimidated around other girls, especially in high school. I couldn't deal with all the petty girl stuff, all the jealousy and all the "he likes her and he doesn't like me, so I am going to spread this rumor about her" stuff. They just attach each other. It's crazy.

You're portrayed as being sweet and innocent. What's the baddest thing you've ever done?
I didn't do anything bad, and I never really got in trouble. I know that sounds like "wow!" But I never got arrested and I never smashed up my dad's car. I got grounded for stupid stuff, I can't even remember what. Maybe getting in 15 minutes later or something.

Is it true you were so nervous at the Mickey Mouse audition that you peed your pants?
I say that all the time, "I'm so scared, I'm gonna pee my pants," but I didn't literally pee in my pants. I was very nervous because everybody else had won Star Search, done commercials and had been off-Broadway. And I sang in church. I mean, I didn't even have a head shot, I had a a Polaroid. It was like I'd just walked into a room full of advanced people and I was like intermediate.

Are you chummy with Britney and Christina?
Britney is a great friend of mine. We are very, very cool with each other. Christina and I talk, and I think she's a great person underneath the facade. She is very big right now; she definitely knows she has sold eight million records and I don't really like that in people. I don't think you should act like that. I don't think you should block the halls off when you want to walk down the hall. It's important to stay normal, but people lose their heads in the business. They lose who they are as people. I knew Christina before her stuff came out and she a great girl, but-boom!-she has hit it so fast and some people just can't handle it. She is one of them. She has lost her sight of herself, but she's young and it will pass. I hope it will anyway, because she is hurting herself.

At 12 years old, you said you wouldn't have sex until you were married. Do you think you'll be able to stick to that?
Definately. It's about me sharing something with my husband that I've never shared with anybody before. I'm not saying he has to give me that, because he'll give me something he has never shared with me before. There are different things people can offer, and with me, it is my virginity and the innocence of that. It's a romantic thing. I believe in one true love.

You're dating Nick Lachey from 98 degrees. How's he holding out?
I am human and he is human. It's not that I am not a sexual person and it's not that I don't want that. Hello! Doesn't everybody? It is a natural thing, but I have self-control and so does he. Nick knew about my absitnence before we ever got together and it didn't change a thing. If anything, it made him fall in love with me even more. I'm not causing problems at all. Innocence is sexy. If I do get married early, it won't be because I am thinking, "I'm going to explode if I don't have sex soon."

So what do you two do when you get together?
We don't get to see each other very much, so when we do, we don't take a second of it for granted. It is beautiful. The sexiest way he sees me is with my hair pulled up, wearing one of his football jerseys and laying down on the couch watching a footbal game. That has always been his thing. Or me in a big sweatshirt. I love that. One of my favorite parts about our relationship is that we can just layon the couch together and I can wear no makeup.

FHM has a big lingerie issue next month. What kind of stuff do you go for?
My bra and underwear always have to match. I love that. I have lots of matching sets. When a girl wears pretty things underneath, she just feels better.

Has anyone ever bought you some sexy lingerie as a present?
My mom will buy me cute pajamas, but Nick never has because if I wear lingerie for him, we might get in trouble!

Do you gets lots of marriage proposals in your fan mail?
All the time. It's funny because all through high school, some guys wouldn't date me. They'd say, "I'll come back to you when I want to get married." I was always the girl everybody wanted to marry for some reason. I was like, "Why can't you just date me?" Well, probably because I wouldn't give them what they wanted.

The rest of this article will be up soon.


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