All good things, Christina

Published May 5, 2007

TAMPA - Pop princess Christina Aguilera must be feeling pretty darn good these days. Both her hair and her latest album, 2006's double-disc Back to Basics, have gone platinum. She's happily married. She removed her most painful body piercings don't ask.

And after all those teeny-pop years of being the Other Britney, the 26-year-old Aguilera has not only blown by her chief rival in artistic merit, but she's matured into one of the most versatile, explosive vocalists on the planet.

Seriously, this girl can sing.

Friday's 90-minute show at the St. Pete Times Forum was a soulful, sinful blow-out-the-budget celebration of All Things Christina. In fact, more than a few times, the crowd of 11, 538 almost saw All of Christina, as the diminutive dazzler strutted about in an endless catwalk of increasingly titillating costume changes.

My favorite outfit? The sparkly patriotic hot pants for the feverish Makes Me Wanna Pray. Then again, the sparkly bustier as she rode the merry-go-round horse during Dirrty was rather notable as well. Oh, and whenever Aguilera wore a long skirt, she made sure to flip it behind her, so as not to cheat anyone out of a glimpse of her legs.

But, hey, let's get back to that voice.

Backed by eight dancers, five video screens, a constantly grooving horn section and a barrage of Vegas-style glitz, the crazy-talented Aguilera tirelessly worked through most of her new album, which blends hip-hop beats with old-school blues and R&B arrangements.

The show opened with the singer entering on a gliding, glowing staircase. It didn't take long to warm up those magic pipes, either: first song Ain't No Other Man was a brassy vocal workout, as Aguilera hit and held notes that would put most in traction.

This tour is Aguilera's bid for megastar status, and her desire to make every moment a show stopper sometimes worked against her. The force of her background singers and the sprawling band often overwhelmed her, especially on Back in the Day. Muting her voice, an elastic marvel, should be a sin.

Almost as bad, a big-band reworking of What a Girl Wants, one of her first hits, was rushed and sloppy, as if she were contractually obligated to sing it. The former Mouseketeer might want to move on with her life, but she should remember the good stuff that got her here.

I can only be tough on Aguilera for so long. For the most part, she's turned into quite the entertainer, an artist who has learned how to strut her sex appeal without resorting to gratuitous sleaze.

And Aguilera ultimately made sure to showcase what was really important. The spare ballad Hurt was devastatingly good, as the singer made peace with her dead father. On a ferocious cover of Lady Marmalade, which she originally remade with Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink, she manhandled all the parts, putting her big, bad stamp on the classic come-on.

And for the flowing female-empowerment anthem Beautiful, which turned into a lovely sing-along, Christina belted about being true to yourself. Good advice. It's certainly worked for her.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.