This genie is definitely out of the bottle: Christina Aguilera can SING, unlike some of her teen-pop contemporaries. Listening to her self-titled debut album, you’d be hard-pressed to guess her age (18) or small stature (see below). But don’t worry — she’s not too preternaturally mature for her age. In person, she comes off as just your everyday teenager who happened to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts with her first single and album. Aguilera recently retraced her short trajectory to the top with EW Online.
A lot of people who’ve heard you before they’ve had a chance to see you are probably surprised that you’re not either older or bigger than you are.
Yeah. It’s sort of my hook: It’s still the ”little girl with the big voice” thing I had when I was a kid. Because I am a petite person, and when I open my mouth, people are surprised by what comes out. But don’t underestimate — big things come in small packages!
How tall are you, anyway?
5’2”? I don’t know, I haven’t measured myself. I should go do that after we’re done!
On the ”Mickey Mouse Club” you shared a dressing room with Britney Spears, and two of the guys from N’Sync were on the series then, as was Keri Russell of ”Felicity.” You’ve said you thought then that you would all make it big someday. But really, what were the odds of that happening?
I know. It’s weird that we all came out around the same time too. When you think about it, ”Mickey Mouse Club” is only a few years ago for us. We were 12 and 13, but I’m a year older than Britney, so she was 11 and 12. Still, I’m not surprised. They were all really hard-working and driven. So it’s good to see them out there. But I really couldn’t wait till it was MY turn, finally. Because I’d be recording my album and whatnot, and I would watch Britney and the N’Sync guys on ”TRL” [”Total Request Live] and I’d feel proud of them, but also, part of me was like ”Okay, when am I finally gonna come out?”
Is it hard talking about yourself all the time?
[laughs] I’m a deep thinker, and a lot of times all I really do want to do is think to myself, and that can sort of make me seem quiet sometimes. But really, no matter what I’m doing, I always have this need to be in the spotlight. I AM an outgoing person, and I’ll always have something to say here or there. I’m really hammish. I always want to be the center of attention.
It’s unusual that you got signed to sing ”Reflection,” the theme from ”Mulan,” based on a recommendation from RCA before you even had a recording contract with them.
Yeah, it’s so cheesy how I got it, but it was really cool. My manager gives me a random phone call out of the clear blue one day while I’m just hanging out in my hometown of Pittsburgh. He’s like, ”Can you belt the high E above middle C?” And now this is known as the note that changed my life, because basically I had to prove that I could belt this note — like, full-on belt it — by Fed-Exxing out, overnight, a karaoke tape of [singing over] Whitney Houston’s ”I Want to Run to You,” which has that note, just like ”Reflection.” And I had to sing this in my bathroom for the acoustics, and I had to do it into a tape recorder like yours. How much is that tape recorder?
This Radio Shack special? Probably 35, 40 bucks.
It was cheaper than that, then. [laughs] Mine was like 15, 20 bucks. But it worked, because I got a phone call the next day asking me to immediately fly out to Los Angeles. I did, and I got the job right on the spot. And I got the RCA Records contract deal within the next two days. So I was signing contracts right and left that week.
I heard you had to cut a special version of ”Genie in a Bottle” for the Radio Disney network to allay their fears about how suggestive it is.
Yeah. [laughs] They totally perceived it, like a lot of people do, as a sexual song, because of its lyrical content — ”You’ve gotta rub me the right way.” But it’s wordplay, and you don’t have to take it as literally as it sounds. It’s about ”treat me the right way,” really; the ”rub me the right way” just because I’m singing about being genie — it just makes sense, it’s a cute twist. But it’s a song about self-respect. It’s almost like a female-empowerment song, but still keeping it fun, though, and not like in your face. It’s all about just waiting and playing hard to get, which I think is a great message for girls.
You’re being viewed as a ”teen pop” artist, but I know you want to be taken for a more sophisticated singer. RCA sees you as being more of a Whitney or Mariah, but they don’t want you to be so adult that kids aren’t into you right now.
Yeah, and that was a little bit frustrating, because I grew up listening to Mariah, and I sort of wanted to come out with a song that really showcased what I could do vocally, like a ”Vision of Love.” And at first I didn’t want to even put out ”Genie in a Bottle” as a first single, because I thought it fit in TOO well with everything that’s going on in music right now. I’m sort of disappointed sometimes in the way music is right now, and this phase it seems to be going through, because it’s all about the melody, the hook, not really the emotion or real feeling anymore. Which is why I’m a big fan of Lauryn Hill, because I think she maintains that so well throughout every one of her songs, and she really sings…..
But ”Genie” hasn’t been a bad way to launch your career.
It’s got a memorable hook, that whole radio-compressed sort of sound that we put on my voice for the little speaking parts, which was actually my idea. I mean, it’s a great song, it was No. 1 for weeks, so I’m not complaining. No regrets. But I can’t wait to get [my first] ballad out there!