CHRISTINA AGUILERA is strapped into the back seat of a black stretch limousine like a sapphirering in a jewelry box. She is tiny – five feet two in heels – with white-blond hair, swimming-pool-blue eyes, a waist as big around as big around as a football and hands that look small enough to fish a contact lens out of a drain. She is being chauffeured through Westchester County, New York, on her way home to a new apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. And after along day of being a pop singer on a promotional tour, she is in dire need of some Mickey D’s.
“I love my fast food,” the 18-year-old New York native says, her voice clear and wispy. “Wendy’s is my favorite, but McDonald’s will do.”
The driver navigates the stretch around the curves of the drive-through and stops when the singer’s window is next to the speaker. She orders a five-piece McDonald’s with hot mustard sauce and a supersize Coke.
The staff, all Aguilera’s age and younger, climb over each other at the pickup window like a pile of curious ferrets to peer into the dark car. They look both awed and suspicious; if they recognize the Lilliputian blond girl, they don’t say so, though smart money has it that they have heard her Number One song, “Genie in a Bottle,” on the radio. Her eponymous debut album entered the Billboard charts at Number One, (beating out Puff Daddy’s Forever), and since then, Aguilera has crisscrossed the country on a forty-five-day, nonstop promotional tour. She’s strong enough to go forty-five more, but she’s ready for a break now – or at least a nap.
Jet lag and nervous excitement kept her up until 3 A.M. last night, just hours before her 6 A.M. call at a New York radio station. After a full-day photo shoot, she is heading home for the evening. But it’s not over: Tomorrow, Aguilera will appear on The Late Show With David Letterman, and the next day she’ll travel to the teen-pop Holy Land, MTV’s Total Request Live, where “Genie in a Bottle” is chronically the Number One most-requested track. Her mother, Shelly, little sister, Rachel, 13, and half-brother, Robert Michael, 3, are visiting New York and Christina to join in the proceedings.
At the pickup window, Aguilera pulls four bucks from a tiny wallet, forks it over and dives into her bag of food. “They forgot my mustard sauce,” she moans as the car stops, blocking the exit ramp.
“That’s the fiftieth time they’ve done that,” she says, looking at me. “Can you get it for me?”
AGUILERA IS USED TO ASKING people to do things for her. She has been ready for a showbiz life since she first serenaded strangers with “The Sound of Music” on city buses in Pittsburgh.
“I’ve always felt a need to be in the spotlight,” Aguilera says, her tone a combination of chummy divulgence and practiced patter. “When my family lived in Japan, my mom taught English to this one guy who brought over his paintings. He spread them on the floor and, just to steal the attention away, I started playing hopscotch all over them. I’m just like that.” Her mother, who is Irish, and her father, who is Ecuadorean, met in college. Her father joined the Army and became a sergeant. Aguilera was born in Staten Island, New York, in 1980, but after that the family lived wherever the Army sent them – Texas, Japan and New Jersey – before her parents split up when Aguilera was seven. Shelly then brought her two daughters back to her hometown of Wexford, a Pittsburgh suburb. Now remarried, Shelly says she encouraged her daughter’s talents early by placing her in local talent shows.
“When she was two, I knew what Christina was going to do,” her mother says. “She’d line up all of her stuffed animals and sing to them with my little majorette baton – that was her ‘ikaphone.’ She was too young to pronounce microphone! I’ve never seen anybody so focused. When she was older, if there wasn’t a block party or somewhere for her to sing, she’d get irritable.”
She made the jump to the big time when she landed a spot on Star Search. “I was eight, and I sang Whitney Houston’s ‘Greatest Love of All,'” she says, daintily munching a McNugget. “I’ve always loved her. My first talent show was in first grade, and I sang ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody.'” But that love couldn’t overcome the vocal prowess of the twelve-year-old bard who beat Aguilera to the Star Search winner’s circle with a stirring rendition of Eddie Holman’s “Hey There Lonely Girl.” “I was told it was fixed, but I’m not going to hold a grudge,” she says with a singsong chuckle. “I was a good sport about it. My mom made me go back out and shake his hand and tell him I was happy he won. Tears were running down my face. Awful.”