- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Given that Christina Aguilera has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide and her voice has reverberated in the ears of an estimated 200 billion radio listeners, it’s safe to assume that most Washingtonians are familiar with the tiny-framed singer’s outsized voice. They may be less acquainted, however, with the specs for her outsized Back to Basics Tour, which hits the Verizon Center (www.verizoncenter.com) on Monday.

The show’s crew and cargo will arrive via 15 big rigs and nine tour buses, nearly the size of Cirque du Soleil’s “Delirium” caravan. Twenty musicians and dancers will join Miss Aguilera onstage, almost as large an entourage as Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveShow coterie. And the pop star will change costumes10 times, annihilating Mariah Carey’s previous record of five during last year’s Adventures of Mimi Tour. (We haven’t even touched on the flame-throwing, carousel horses or trapeze acts yet.)

While all of this sounds extravagant (and is), it isn’t actually that surprising, coming from a woman who decided to release a sprawling two-disc album — ironically titled “Back to Basics” — in the middle of the worst year the music industry’s ever seen.

Miss Aguilera’s ambitious double-disc and tour indicate that fans aren’t the only ones who are listening to her powerful voice. The powers that be are letting her call most of the shots these days, and, lucky for them, she has a strong creative vision and a lot of savvy, in addition to possessing one of the most striking talents of this generation.

The Staten Island native has come a long way since her days in the chorus. After appearing on “Star Search” in 1992, she got her big break on “The New Mickey Mouse Club,” where she box-stepped and harmonized alongside the likes of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.

Disney later nabbed her to sing “Reflection” for the 1998 animated flick “Mulan,” and the record deal that ensued had her singing popular but innocuous teen pop that wasn’t too far removed (except for the sexual allusions in “Genie in a Bottle,” of course).

Then came a Spanish-language album, a Christmas record and the vampy collaboration “Lady Marmalade,” with a couple of Grammy Awards thrown in for good measure. Yet it wasn’t until her 2002 disc, “Stripped,” that she started to test her own weight; she got “Dirrty,” made a profound statement about what “Beautiful” means (thanks to songwriter Linda Perry), and got frank about domestic abuse.

“That [record] was the first time I really got to, I felt, be myself,” the singer said during a February teleconference. She had something to say, and she said it.

Vocally, lyrically and image-wise, Miss Aguilera pushed the limits. Criticism for her unabashed honesty and lack of modesty (both musically and otherwise) came in many forms, including foul lyrics by rapper Eminem and an outcry from protective mothers concered about the example she was setting.

Somehow, though, she emerged from that period without suffering from a “Britney breakdown,” and switched her image again, swapping raunchy chaps and black hair extensions for glamed-up gowns and red lipstick. She assembled her new record, an homage to the music of the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s of sorts, with some major creative input by producers DJ Premiere and Miss Perry. And in the process, she met a man music executive Jordan Bratman — and got hitched. (As of press time, there were also baby rumors floating around.)

A scan of the tracks on “Back to Basics” conveys the fact that Miss Aguilera may have settled down in some ways (there “Ain’t No Other Man” anymore, for one), but also shows that she’s as focused, driven and outspoken as ever (and, apparently, “Still Dirrty”).

“I really have a game plan for myself; I know where I want to end up many, many years from now, and I’m extremely determined,” she said.

That determination might also be tainted with a bit of stubbornness… like her refusal to retire those darn chaps fully (they also make an appearance in her current tour). Yet her unwillingness to relent on creative matters seems to be what’s setting her up to be the next Madonna — a victor in the battle for longevity in music.

When asked by a reporter about her next dramatic shift in dress and musical influence, she made it clear: Yes, it would eventually come as she continues to evolve, although she didn’t want to reveal all her trade secrets.

“I don’t just give it all away in every interview,” she said.

Miss Aguilera gets Back to Basics Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Verizon Center (www.verizoncenter.com) with Danity Kane and the Pussycat Dolls.

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