Christina Aguilera's image rehab
After a string of public embarrassments, can a new gig as a judge on 'The Voice' put the singer back on top?
Hitting the highest of high notes is important to a diva’s career, to be sure. But just as inevitable? Hitting the lowest of the lows. Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston — they’ve all fallen from grace, and then embarked on the very public (and often personally painful) journey to redemption. It’s in this precarious stage of the diva life cycle that big-voiced ”Beautiful” singer Christina Aguilera currently resides.
Just last week, on March 1, the 30-year-old pop star was detained at a West Hollywood police station on suspicion of public intoxication. (She was in the passenger seat when her boyfriend, Matthew Rutler, 25, was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence.) The incident might have been brushed aside had it not followed the most tumultuous period in Aguilera’s career and private life. In the past year alone, the singer has: released a much-anticipated but low-selling studio album, Bionic; filed for divorce from her husband of five years, marketing executive Jordan Bratman; starred in the critically panned movie musical Burlesque; screwed up the lyrics to the national anthem at the Super Bowl; and taken a much-discussed tumble during the opening number at the Grammys. (That’s not to mention all the reports about her allegedly drunken behavior at Jeremy Renner‘s birthday party.) And on March 6, there was more bad news: Her label, Sony Music, was sued over a sample used in the singer’s 2006 hit ”Ain’t No Other Man.”
Other than some flak for her questionable fashion choices (remember the ”Dirrty” chaps?), Aguilera has, until recently, maintained a ”squeaky clean” image, says talent manager Jeff Rabhan, who has worked with Kelis and Kelly Rowland. ”She was one of those amazing stars who came up through the business and remained like a Teflon doll. But clearly she needs a little polish right now.”
Like magic, though, just a day after the drinking mishap, a plan to rehabilitate Aguilera’s public image began to materialize: NBC confirmed that the blonde would sit on the judging/coaching panel of its new singing competition series, The Voice (coming this spring), alongside Cee Lo Green and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. (Country star Blake Shelton was later added to the panel.) ”Christina was on our priority list from the very first minute we started thinking about this show,” says Voice producer Mark Burnett. ”All the various press things [with her], it’s like we were sailing on a ship and a little breeze came and went and we didn’t even notice.”
It’s certainly possible that The Voice will help humanize Aguilera in the same way Idol has given a boost to Jennifer Lopez, whose new single, ”On the Floor,” is her first hit since 2005. (Not everyone is convinced, however: Rabhan thinks the move ”reeks of desperation.”)
No matter how The Voice pans out, it should be noted that Aguilera’s claim to fame has always been her powerful vocals. ”Artists like her make the best music from personal experience and hard times,” says Claude Kelly, a songwriter who contributed tracks to both Bionic and the Burlesque soundtrack and who says her last album bombed because Sony chose the wrong lead single (”Not Myself Tonight”). ”All the media attention she’s getting, I guarantee it’s going to inspire her to release music that shows the world that it’s not over.” (Aguilera declined to comment for this story.)
And when she does head back into the studio, some in the industry say we shouldn’t rule her out. ”A lot of radio people learned their lesson with Mariah Carey,” says Michael Chase, music director for Star 94 in Atlanta. ”Everyone thought her career was done. If Christina can find her ‘We Belong Together,’ who knows what can happen?” Adds Kelly: ”We’ve spoken through e-mail a few times. The worst is behind her, and I think this is the beginning of her upswing.”
Xtina’s Bad Breaks
In addition to her run-in with the law, Aguilera has had a series of personal and professional slipups.
Grammy Stumble: She sang great, but slipped on stage at the Feb. 13 event.
Super Bowl Fumble: Oops! Christina garbled the national anthem Feb. 6.
Burlesque Bomb: Her big-screen debut was much-maligned.