- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Justin Timberlake scarcely needed Christina Aguilera’s help in selling out the MCI Center Monday night. The ‘N Sync singer gone solo was a force unto himself.

The girls cooed and shrieked their lungs out, and so did the boys, during Mr. Timberlake’s show-closing set. The 22-year-old Tennessean heartthrob with a slinky falsetto is straddling the poles of hetero- and homosexual glamour: He’s at once Liza Minnelli and David Cassidy.

Miss Aguilera, no slouch in the vocal department herself (her cover of the Etta James classic “At Last” was particularly strong), got lost in the shadow of the national boy toy’s sex appeal Monday despite an hour-plus opening set that was as energetic and splashy as Mr. Timberlake’s.

Now a raven-haired minx, Miss Aguilera, constantly changing costumes on an ascending scale of trashiness, left the capacity crowd feeling cold.

“Lady Marmalade,” the smash from the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack, seemed even more like the disco-era retread that it has always been. The gitchy-goo “What a Girl Wants” and “Genie in the Bottle,” from the pre-“Stripped,” fully clothed Aguilera era, were very yesterday, too.

There were intermittent moments of success — “Infatuation,” a recent single off “Stripped,” went over well — but it was telling that Miss Aguilera drew fewer raves for her own material than when she asked:

“Who’s got a crush on Justin?”

Miss Aguilera’s newfound dirty-diva persona is, hands down — or do I mean hands off? — a bust.

The “Mickey Mouse Club Alumni Revue” — whoops, I mean the “Justified and Stripped” tour, of course — had been scheduled for Aug. 19, but a million-dollar production accident on the Jersey Shore forced a postponement.

One can easily see why the repairs were necessary: The dance-pop show’s production value — chockablock with fiery special effects, a cherry picker (for him) and thematic set-pieces (for her) such as a makeshift boudoir and a motorcycle with sparking exhaust — was more important than the music itself.

Looking like teen-pop versions of “Cats,” Mr. Timberlake and Miss Aguilera — call them Justina for short — each had their own eight-member team of dancers, while the core musicians were hidden away like so many catering staffers.

They had little room to complain, however: As often as not, a backing tape and preprogrammed beats provided the accompaniment.

In select cities on the “Justified and Stripped” tour, Mr. Timberlake is playing smaller clubs and venues immediately following the big show. Washington was one of those select cities.

He shagged over to the 9:30 Club for an intimate apres-arena performance before about 900 lucky fans, which began at the wee hour of 1:15 a.m.

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