When Dolly Parton joined director Steven Spielberg, Motown icon Smokey Robinson, Broadway composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and conductor Zubin Mehta as Kennedy Center honorees on December 3, she expected to receive the typical high-gloss star tribute to her career that the prestigious black-tie gala has given its arts and entertainment legends since 1977. Instead, Parton’s salute was indelibly marred by tabloid pop star Jessica Simpson, who was supposed to serenade Dolly with Parton’s “9 to 5” but muffed the lyrics, froze on stage, muttered something about being nervous and ran into the wings weeping. Apparently, Simpson had also missed the dress rehearsal and failed to learn the song, necessitating the use of cue cards during the performance, not that they helped her very much. It all added up to a disgracefully unprofessional performance by Simpson that was every bit as embarrassing as little sister Ashley’s infamous meltdown on Saturday Night Live, when her response to a technical glitch in her musical accompaniment was to do an impromptu hoedown and bolt off stage.
According to the celebrity gossip website TMZ, Simpson’s uber-stage mother Tina gave the star of “The Dukes of Hazzard” film a scathing reprimand, telling her that if she couldn’t be more professional she should get out of show business.
Mom was quite correct. For a professional performer to behave as Simpson did is the equivalent of a commercial airline pilot freaking out during a thunderstorm in flight, or a commanding general sucking his thumb under a bed as his troops engage in battle. She is paid millions of dollars a year to perform, and her inability to deliver a polished performance in a prestigious event in front of a distinguished audience shows that she is a fraud. Professional performers know how to perform, nervous or not, and Simpson showed that she is no performer. Maybe, with hard work and the development of better work habits, she can become one in the future. If she does, she will be indebted to her mother for giving her the ugly truth now.
Yet Dolly Parton, whose tribute Simpson spoiled, graciously chose to leave the tongue-lashings to Mom. She declined to criticize the young “singer” (Uh, actress, perhaps? Mmmm, no, that can’t be right celebrity bubble-head?) and chose to give her some much needed kindness, generosity and forgiveness. “Jessica is so talented that I’m sure that someday they will be paying tribute to her, and I would be honored to perform for her,” Parton said. “But I’ll probably be so nervous that I’ll forget my wig!”
Thus did Dolly Parton, the consummate professional whose work-ethic and dedication are the antithesis of Simpson’s, prove that her ethical instincts are as impeccable as her talents. She employed the Golden Rule in its purest form, extending kindness to a person who had harmed her.