September 17, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Genie in a Bottle

Current Status
In Season
Christina Aguilera

Recent high school grad Christina Aguilera, who had to be home-schooled while cutting a record this year in L.A., did go back to her hometown of Wexford, Pa., for her senior prom. ”I wasn’t going to, because I knew I would be treated a little different,” she recalls, ”but finally I called my friend Marcy and said, ‘Let’s just have fun with this. Set me up with a really cute blind date.’ But then a friend of mine was hurt because he wanted to go with me, so I ended up having two dates for the prom!” That helped make up for lack of interaction with those of her own gender. ”I got along better with the guys than the girls. Only two girls came up to talk to me. Later I found out they were telling their boyfriends, ‘If you talk to her, I’ll kill you.”’ She pauses for understatement. ”It’s always rough with that high school thing.”

Hey, tell us about it. And we didn’t even have the burden of graduating as our first single was on the cusp of a five-week run at No. 1. ”Genie in a Bottle” sold more than 1.3 million copies before RCA withdrew it to shift attention to Aguilera’s just-released self-titled album, which bested Puff Daddy to debut atop the Billboard 200. Peer relations aside, she’s been rubbing fate the right way.

Even before joining The Mickey Mouse Club at 12, Aguilera was long known to locals as a micro-diva. And, as she chucklingly admits, ”it’s still the ‘little girl with the big voice’ thing,” given that she’s about 5’2” and — baring her navel, Barbara Eden-style — appears to have a waist of, oh, roughly 10 inches. But if her persona is 18 going on 16, her virtuosic voice is more like 18 going on Mrs. Robinson, full of rich, throaty experience no one would immediately mistake for an adolescent’s — or bother to compare with Britney Spears’ far less considerable vocal chops. Most teen pop comes with an expiration date, but Aguilera has such range and talent for phrasing, it’s conceivable they could be playing her hits at her children’s proms.

Executive producer Ron Fair calls her ”a God-given genius of R&B riffing. It’s almost like she has superpowers and doesn’t know how to use them yet. I see her as baby Barbra.” Aguilera admits she and Fair ”had disagreements” because ”I wanted to come out with a first single that showcased more of what I could do vocally” than ”Genie” — though she has no regrets — and because, in the studio, she was inclined toward full diva-style throttle. ”I wanted to start belting with the first verse, and he did teach me how to not let the cat out of the bag too soon, how to keep it soft at first.” Which is a good philosophy for a song, if already past being a career option.

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