Uncorking the Genie
There are compensations, of course. How many adolescents, after all, schmooze on any given day with singer-actress Jennifer Lopez, can seriously consider buying a Porsche or will embark on a nationwide tour in November? Since her sexy, pulsating "Genie in a Bottle" spent five weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 this summer, Aguilera has become pop music's newest It girl. Last month her first CD, titled simply Christina Aguilera, debuted at No. 1, elbowing out the long-awaited Puff Daddy CD Forever. And critics rave that the 5'2" sensation, whose "powerhouse pipes" Rolling Stone praises, is refreshing an industry populated with baby-voiced divas (think Britney Spears) who wear the label like girls in their mothers' high heels.
In Aguilera's case, the pumps fit. RCA, her record company, is so high on the teenager that they are calling Aguilera their Streisand. "I've worked with Mariah, Whitney, and Toni Braxton, and Christina is in that league," says RCA exec Jack Rovner.
Aguilera first gained attention last year, on the soundtrack of the Disney film Mulan. So new is her fame that she has yet to reconcile it with her little-girl side. (She still sleeps with the lights on because she's afraid of the dark.) Then there are times when she shows a bit of grown-up temperament, as during a recent visit to Chicago when she chided a hotel bellman for not recognizing her. "He asked if I was on vacation!" huffs Aguilera. "I only have the No. 1 single in the country."
Maybe he was just confusing her with Spears. Both emerged from that fertile source of youth talent, The Mickey Mouse Club in Orlando, where they spent two seasons, from 1993 to '95. But long before she first warbled "M-I-C-K-E-Y," Aguilera was showcasing her big voice. The daughter of Fausto Aguilera, 50, an Ecuadoran-born U.S. Army sergeant, and his Irish-American wife, Shelly, 39, young Christina, a native of New York City's Staten Island, would sing out her window to strangers. If human ears weren't available, "she'd surround herself with stuffed animals, and they'd be her audience," says Shelly. When Aguilera was 6, her parents divorced, and she moved with her mother and sister Rachel, now 13, to the middle-class Pittsburgh suburb of Wexford, where Shelly married paramedic James Kearns, 37.
At 8, Aguilera appeared on Star Search. She lost the competition but used her runner-up winnings to buy a portable sound system so she could sing in the park. Soon after she was asked to sing the national anthem at Pittsburgh Steelers games and joined The Mickey Mouse Club at 12, shuttling back and forth from Orlando to Wexford. But she left Marshall Middle School, reportedly because her classmates' jealousy became too much to bear. Though the prom incident reminded Aguilera (who earned her own diploma this year) of that painful time, she's sure things will change now that she's more of a star. "If I were to go back now, I'd get a little more love," she says. "I don't know how sincere the love would be, though."
But a Pittsburgh homecoming will have to wait. Aguilera, who keeps an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side but considers her lava-lamped basement bedroom in Wexford her real home, is busy touring the country in support of her CD. And she's focusing on passing her driver's test so she can buy that dream car. She may wish she had some ordinary-girl high school memories, but this is really the life she prefers. "If I was in school now," Aguilera says, "I'd be looking out of the window thinking, 'What if I'd gone out there to pursue my dream?' "
Sophfronia Scott Gregory
Hayes Ferguson in Chicago