It’s 9 P.M., March 16, at Pittsburgh International Airport, and word is spreading fast: Christina Aguilera is in the house. Sipping a pineapple smoothie, the 19-year-old singer — a vision of teen cool with her ankle-length denim skirt, faded jean jacket, and meticulously messy bottle-blond mane — barely makes it to the boarding area before the fan floodgates open. l ”I ran all the way from the parking lot,” one out-of-breath teenage boy tells Aguilera. ”You don’t understand, my friend is obsessed with you. He, like, cries whenever your song comes on the radio.” Nodding politely to that somewhat disturbing proclamation, Aguilera turns to a ponytailed fan who looks to be on the brink of hyperventilation: ”You really set the stage for teens,” the girl says. ”I really admire you.” A young mother attempts to pass the pop star her bundle of joy. ”Oh, no,” chirps Aguilera. ”I’m afraid I’ll drop her.” As another wave of notebook-wielding fans approaches, a bodyguard whispers, ”Would you like me to hold them off?” Aguilera, attempting to mask how overwhelmed she is, gives in. ”Just for a few seconds, okay?”
That’s about all the down-time the singer can hope for lately. A two-day stop at home in suburban Wexford, Pa. — her first visit since Christmas — offered an all-too-brief break from the madcap pace Aguilera’s been keeping since her self-titled debut disc entered Billboard’s pop chart at No. 1 last August. On the heels of that auspicious start, Aguilera has sold 6 million albums, landed two chart-topping singles (”Genie in a Bottle” and ”What a Girl Wants”), and, barely a month ago, scored a surprise Grammy win for Best New Artist, besting front-runners Britney Spears and Macy Gray.
In an industry that’s going through more changes than the pubescent, hormone-charged sign wavers in the streets below Total Request Live, Aguilera serves as the gamine embodiment of what the music biz is about right now: She’s a diva-in-training (”I’ve always looked up to Mariah”) who’s highly brandable (coming soon: a line of Christina Aguilera footwear) and multimedia-ready (”Film is something I’ll definitely do in the future”). But mini-mogul Aguilera is looking to diversify beyond the teenybopper image that clings to her like candy coating on an M&M. And with a soulful, startlingly powerful voice that makes most tummy-baring pop tartlets sound like bad karaoke, the smart money says she’ll succeed. Of course, in pop, the smart money often runs out way sooner than expected. (Hootie, we hardly knew ye.)
”I never wanted to be a straight pop singer,” Aguilera explains, flying first-class to New York, where she’ll briefly touch down for yet another photo shoot before blitzing Brazil and the lucrative Latin American music market. ”I want to be the pop girl with an edge…. I think that’s the difference between a Madonna and a Debbie Gibson…. [RCA Records president] Bob Jamieson said, ‘There’s a time and a place for everything. You’ve gotta grow into it.’ I understand that,” Aguilera says. Then, with a mischievous smile: ”I’m just going to push the growth a little faster.”