Christina Aguilera: Michael Caulfield/
January 28, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Turns out words really CAN’T bring Christina Aguilera down. ”Beautiful,” the latest single from her album ”Stripped,” is dominating pop radio and appears to have salvaged its singer’s image from the damage done by the live-sex-show video for her so-so first single, ”Dirrty.”

”’Beautiful’ is hands-down a runaway number one record,” says Paul ”Cubby” Bryant, music director of influential New York top 40 station Z-100. ”It’s taken her to the next level and given her more respect in the adult community. It’s just a classic ballad.” Thanks to the song, Aguilera’s album, which dropped out of the top 10 last month, is back, recently reaching as high as No. 5.

The piano-and-string-driven ballad’s success (it’s at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and No. 1 on airplay charts) also marks another triumph for its author, Linda Perry, the former frontwoman of one-hit-wonders 4 Non Blondes, who morphed into a big-bucks producer after teaming up with Pink on ”M!ssundaztood.”

”I’m truly proud of that song,” says Perry, who never imagined Aguilera as its singer. ”To me it almost sounds like a Beatles song. I was trying to write a song that affected everybody — this almost desperate cry that ‘I am beautiful, no matter what you say.”’

After a shaky start, Aguilera appears to have found her post-teen pop footing. She recently announced a national tour with fellow former-Mouseketeer Justin Timberlake. And even as ”Beautiful” soars, the much-mocked ”Dirrty” has found a second life on radio. ”We were close to dropping it, but then it got big for us,” says Pete de Graaff, music director of Orlando’s Top 40 station WXXL. ”Listeners started requesting it.”

But de Graaff says that Aguilera’s next single will be all important in determining the album’s ultimate fate. ”’Dirrty’ wasn’t the same as ‘Beautiful,’ and the next single shouldn’t be the same, either,” he explains. ”Avril Lavigne is a good example of someone who was hot with three very different sounding songs.”

A spokesperson for Aguilera’s label, RCA, which recently came under the control of industry legend Clive Davis, says they have yet to make their pick for single No. 3. Luckily, the 78-minute-long ”Stripped” has no fewer than 20 tracks from which to choose.

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