June 04, 2001 12:00 PM

Jessica Simpson (Columbia)

Poor Jessica Simpson. She sold a mere 2 million copies of her 1999 debut, Sweet Kisses, was romanced by chiseled heartthrob Nick Lachey of 98° and scored major brownie points with parents across America by pledging to remain a virgin until marriage. And yet the 20-year-old is still playing catch-up with those other two fair-haired pop princesses: Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

But there’s nothing on her sophomore disc that is quite as irresistible as Spears’s “Oops!…I Did It Again” or Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants.” And while Simpson is a more robust singer than Spears and a less showy one than Aguilera, her vocals still aren’t as distinctive. Even so, Irresistible has its moments: “Imagination,” “I Never” and the peppy title track. At least Simpson’s ballad with Latin singer Marc Anthony, “There You Were,” bests Aguilera’s recent duet with Ricky Martin, “Nobody Wants to Be Lonely.”

Bottom Line: A diva still in training

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