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Pop Music Review

Teen Diva Ready for Transformation

Christina Aguilera's instincts reveal a work of polish still in progress.

October 13, 2000|NATALIE NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just like the "Genie in a Bottle" of her first No. 1 hit, Christina Aguilera appeared on the Universal Amphitheatre stage Wednesday in a giant puff of smoke. The blond teen-pop diva looked the part with her super-glittery eye makeup, hoop earrings and top-knot ponytails. (Of course she wore midriff-baring tops, but tight trousers rather than billowing harem pants.)

She certainly seemed magical to the thousands of fans, mostly girls in their pre- and early teens who waved their $5 glow sticks and screamed themselves silly with excitement. Yet the hour-plus show, the first of two consecutive sold-out nights, also revealed a gap between that core audience and the 19-year-old Aguilera, who clearly aspires to grown-up diva status.

Despite the usual trappings of modern pop concerts--massive chutes-and-ladders set, giant video screen, showers of sparks, costume changes, boy-girl dance posse--Aguilera's polished performance stopped short of being slick.

If she wasn't exactly spontaneous, Aguilera didn't pander too sickeningly. Still, many in the audience preferred shrieking their love over listening, at times practically drowning out her between-song explanations about, for example, why she recorded her current Spanish-language collection, "Mi Reflejo." (Because the American-born singer's father is Ecuadorean. And it was fun!)

Weirdly, this put her in a position similar to that of Hanson, a young, talented band that also may have to wait for its fans to grow up before it can be fully appreciated.

Indeed, Aguilera often gets a break from critics because, unlike too many of her peers, she actually can sing. This was true enough on Wednesday; at least her vocals weren't unnaturally enhanced by extra backing tracks. Accompanied by six musicians and two singers, she danced energetically while capably belting most of her self-titled 1999 album, including the saucy R&B-pop hits "Come on Over" and "What a Girl Wants," and the wailing soul ballad "I Turn to You."

Still, her style seemed derived more from Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston recordings than from inside, which left the performance feeling hollow.

She gratefully acknowledged how popular "Mi Reflejo" is in Southern California and performed two numbers from it. More unexpectedly, she pulled out a spirited, if kitschy, rendition of rock group Free's 1970 hit "All Right Now." The selection made sense, given her fondness for vocal pyrotechnics and Free frontman Paul Rodgers' original tour de force acrobatics.

But oddly, Aguilera didn't even attempt his contortions or add her own razzle-dazzle. This misstep further reinforced the impression that while she has interesting instincts, her raw talent needs to be more effectively channeled.

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