Christina Aguilera called her latest album "Back to Basics."
She gave her new concert tour the same name.
And the show is indeed back to basics -- for P.T. Barnum, maybe.
The Grammy-winning singer's latest tour features a tightly-choreographed spectacle that in addition to the de rigeur corps of dancers and costumes (130)includes stilt-walkers, trapeze artists and fire breathers -- all while Aguilera is singing new songs that hearken back to the American pop styles of World War II and before.
"Every time I go out on tour, I come up with a different kind of feel and look and vibe and a different place than I was before musically," explains Aguilera, 26, who during the past nine years has evolved from the teen New Mickey Mouse Club alumni of "Genie in a Bottle" to the leather-clad sex bomb of 2002's "Stripped" to her dolled-up "Back to Basics" persona.
"Nowadays I don't think it would be fair to my audience to just kind of sit on the stage with a mic. I want my audience to be able to look around and enjoy a show from all aspects. It's only fair..to fill up the space and to give them a real show.
"And for me, whenever I go to see a concert, I got to see a [i]show[/i]. I really enjoy being taken out of my element for a moment and really being able to use my imagination and enter this whole different world. It's really important for me...to think outside the box and do something really spectacular."
That, of course, reflects the kind of career Aguilera has enjoyed to this point.
The Pennsylvania-raised singer, who found in music a balm for a troubled childhood marred by divorce and domestic abuse, had her first hit in 1998 with "Reflection" from the 1998 Walt Disney film "Mulan." But the cork really blew off when her 1999 debut album, driven by hits such as "Genie in a Bottle" and "What a Girl Wants," sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and snared Aguilera the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
"Stripped" kept her in the multi-platinum realm, and her tally these days includes more than 25 million albums sold worldwide, four Grammys -- including this year's Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Ain't No Other Man" from "Back to Basics" -- a Latin Grammy Award for her 2001 Spanish release "Mi Reflejo" and recorded collaborations with Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock and Andrea Bocelli.
The success has not inured Aguilera to following her muse, however. The two-CD "Back to Basics" was a daring venture for a mainstream pop figure, blending influences such as Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and the Andrews Sisters with both modern and vintage production touches.
"I did go into this record with a specific concept in mind in trying to pull off this whole retro thing...and putting my own spin on it," Aguilera explains. "During the period between 'Stripped' and 'Back to Basics' I did fall in love and I'd been in a relationship with my now husband (music executive Jordan Bratman), just discovering a new side of myself.
"It took me to this kind of feel-good place, and to me there's nothing that feels better than old music of the '20s and '30s and '40s and on. So I just felt that it all made sense to go along with that whole style and feel -- and even visually, trying to accompany (it with) the look of those eras."
Aguilera acknowledges that she "didn't know who was gonna get that concept and who wasn't going to. There were some people who didn't get it." But plenty have; "Back to Basics" debuted at No. 1 in 15 countries -- including the U.S., where it's sold about 1.5 million copies.
Aguilera says that kind of reception emboldens her to keep "constantly evolving and changing and seeing what the next 'me' has to offer." She plans to take her time getting there, however, breaking after the "Back to Basics" tour to contemplate what she wants to do next.
"I really have a game plan for myself," Aguilera explains. "I know where I want to end up many, many years from now, and I'm extremely determined. My main idea is to mainly just stick around. I didn't want to burn out right away, (like) you see the Debbie Gibsons burn and you see people come and go so often. I did want to make a conscious effort and choice early on to make sure that it was about the quality and not the quantity.
"I'm constantly being inspired by new things. I always want to come out with the element of surprise and give the unexpected -- to not only my fans, but to myself, too."
Christina Aguilera, the Pussycat Dolls and Danity Kane perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday (April 9th) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $87.50 and $57.50. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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