NEW YORK - O.K., so Ashlee Simpson is not the first person who comes to mind when you think of great live performers.
But skeptics may be surprised if they catch the scratchy-voiced singer on tour this summer. At a performance in New York last fall shortly before the release of her second album, "I Am Me," Simpson had her young fans in a screaming frenzy as she pranced, strutted and sang - yes, sang - her way through hits like "Pieces of Me" and "La La."
Even Simpson is impressed at her development.
"I would say that it's a nine compared to a year ago," she told The Associated Press. "You grow so much in a year."
Simpson, 21, has had to mature in the spotlight since she came out of sister's Jessica shadow in 2004. Her quest to become a pop star and the making of her debut album, "Autobiography," was chronicled on an MTV reality series. Then album shot to the top of the charts and she became an instant multiplatinum star.
But along with her successes, her biggest stumbles were also put on public display - including the infamous lip-synching fiasco on "Saturday Night Live."
Simpson has worked hard to put her missteps behind her and prove herself a bona fide artist. She's been on tour overseas for much of the year and has been working constantly with her band (which also includes her boyfriend).
Simpson says the group has become stronger with each performance.
"Everybody has developed so much just being on the road," Simpson said in phone interview. "Last time it was my first tour and we had never gone on tour. Now it's been something that we've been doing nonstop and we've all grown and the music is better and I think everybody feels more confident."
Simpson also feels more confident to express herself in other ways onstage. For the first time, she is putting on what she describes as a "big theatrical show," instead of a bare-bones set.
"(It's) kind of got a cool bit of a Tim Burton-kind of feel, but it's kind of got my personality all added into it - it will be a bit of a party."
Though "I Am Me" has yet to match "Autobiography" in sales, Simpson says the album surpassed it in terms of her development as an artist - allowing her not only to show a youthful exuberance, but to tackle more serious moods.
"I wanted to start trying new things, and try different kind of styles as well," she said. "This album I got to do that, and it's so great to perform that live because there's diversity, and I get to dance around and also there's another side to me that has dealt with breakups and whatnots, and I get to kind of let that all out."
Not only has she had to deal with breakups in her own life, but she's had to live in the tabloid shadow of her big sister, as Jessica endures the bust-up of her marriage to Nick Lachey. With both Simpson girls in the gossip rags, Ashlee admits there's an added bonus to touring.
"I get to get out of L.A.," she chuckles. "I think that's another reason I love to stay out on the road... it's nice to not be in L.A. where the paparazzi are everywhere you walk."
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