Here's what critics said when Christina Aguilera first started singing

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Christina Aguilera, like many pop stars, started her career on television; her first chance at a big break was an appearance on the talent show Star Search (Beyoncé was also on that show back in the day). Sadly, though, there aren't any mentions of her performance of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)," only Christina Aguilera's name in a long list of other appearances by other young talents. In fact, for years, Aguilera's name only appeared alongside other singers'.

At 11, she became a member of the Mickey Mouse Club where she performed with other future pop stars like Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears.


Though her career blossomed as a child star, Aguilera struggled to define herself as an artist in her own right. It wasn't until the century turned and record labels started looking for young starlets to transform into pop stars that Aguilera really had a chance to become her own entity. Only then did Aguilera's name began to show up on its own.

Here are some of the earliest mentions of Aguilera I could dig up in a LexisNexis search:

Christina Aguilera performs a medley of her songs in 1999.
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La Opinión, July 1998

The first mention of Christina Aguilera that is preserved for history is a good example of how often Aguilera appeared on a list of other artists even when she herself had a major role in what was happening. Aguilera's first time in preserved print occurs in an article for La Opinión, a Spanish-language Los Angeles-based paper about the release of the animated Disney movie Mulan: 

Cerca de 700 artistas, animadores y técnicos de Disney contribuyeron a la producción final de Mulán, para la que también fueron requeridas las voces del legendario STEVE WONDER, EL GRUPO 98, CHRISTINA AGUILERA y los cantantes mexicanos CRISTIAN y LUCERO.


Christina Aguilera's first charting hit, titled "Reflection," was the final song on the Mulan soundtrack. The song peaked at number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and set Aguilera up for a good amount of press before the release of her debut album Christina Aguilera in August 1999.

The New York Times, April 1999

For most of 1998, Aguilera went without mention. "Reflection" was nominated for a Golden Globe, but ended up losing to Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli for their song, "The Prayer." But that minor hit on the Mulan, soundtrack turned Christina Aguilera's name into a great marketing opportunity for her record label.


Almost six months before the release of her debut album, Aguilera got her first mention in The New York TimesIn April 1999, the Times ran a list and evaluation of pop star hopefuls for the upcoming year and in the bottom paragraph Aguilera's name shows up:

The Canadian pop diva Lara Fabian, the salsa superstar Marc Anthony, the Columbian pop-rock ingenue Shakira, the solo Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, the trip-pop songwriter Dido, the Nine Inch Nails spinoff Filter, the ''Mulan'' singer Christina Aguilera, the persevering rap metalheads Shootyz Groove, the gospel-cum-country singer Susan Ashton, the English popsters Boyzone and rockers Muse and the rap supergroups Ruff Ryders and 504.


It's a pretty humorously diverse group of names for Aguilera to be surrounded by. Obviously Shakira went on to become a mammoth superstar, and Muse and Nine Inch Nails both enjoyed solid careers with great fan bases— but Lara Fabian dropped off almost immediately and I've never even heard of Boyzone.

Because her name kept being bumped up by these small mentions though, the world was ready for her debut album—and when she released the first single, "Genie in a Bottle," the song took off.

A promotional poster for Aguilera's debut album

Los Angeles Times, July 1999

"Genie in a Bottle" was released on June 22, 1999. It was a mammoth hit, rocketing up to number 1 in the U.S. and around the world, selling over 1.4 million copies. Because the track has scandalously sexual undertones (or overtones in some cases), an edited version of "Genie in a Bottle" was played on the radio, and—wrapped up in controversy and success—Aguilera's name came out of a list and into a spotlight.


Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez wrote what was probably the first comprehensive profile of Aguilera for a major publication in July of 1999. This Los Angeles Times piece hit a full month before her debut album was even released.

Two months ago, singer Christina Aguilera was unknown to all but a handful of Americans—people who had seen her in the last two seasons of the Disney Channel's "New Mickey Mouse Club," or who'd heard the theme to Disney's animated film "Mulan" and were stunned to discover the powerful voice came not from Celine Dion or Mariah Carey but from a skinny kid from the outskirts of Pittsburgh.


Writers early on in Aguilera's career loved to talk about the fact that she was a tiny human from Pittsburgh. It's possible that these were facts distributed to journalists in some form of press packet, but I couldn't find any surviving press releases for "Genie In a Bottle."

Valdes-Rodriguez's profile is full of really interesting anecdotes; one involves Aguilera getting a call to tell her she's wanted on The Tonight Show, and Aguilera, being all of seventeen years old,  has to ask exactly which show that is. But Valdes-Rodriguez does something in her profile of Aguilera that very few writers did. She is one of the first journalists to compare Aguilera not to her former Mouseketeer friend Britney Spears (whose album also debuted in 1999), but to compare her to other Latino artists:

In the wake of what has perhaps been the nation's biggest media frenzy around Latino musical acts, Aguilera has escaped being lumped in with Lopez, Ricky Martin, and Enrique Iglesias (her dream man, by the way) not because she has denied her roots, but because her label has tried to avoid pigeonholing her.

And while Martin's conspicuous emergence onto the mainstream charts was trumpeted in headlines nationwide, Aguilera's emergence as the nation's next potential diva is perhaps a more important development for Latinos in mainstream music because her talent has been the focus, rather than her ethnicity.

January 30, 2000: Christina Aguilera and Enrique Iglesias perform together during the half-time show of Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. Mandatory Credit: (Photo By Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Rolling Stone, August 1999

By the time Aguilera's debut album released in August, there was a full press machine in place. Christina Aguilera,the album and the human, were reviewed in almost every major newspaper across the country, given radio airtime, and a slot on The Today Show. While Aguilera was being marketed as another bubblegum pop princess, though, many critics saw something else.


In his review for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield wrote:

Christina is onto something here, an image of bottled-up female sexuality that preys upon age-old fantasies of danger, power and really cool scarves. And somehow, the fact that Christina would undoubtedly rather be singing DIANE WARREN ballads gives "Genie in a Bottle" even more of a sinister kick.


Aguilera was—and is— very talented. And Christina Aguilera produced three number one singles. In 2000, Aguilera won the Grammy award for Best New Artist. Her vocal range, even then, was mammoth, and though she may have looked like a run-of-the-mill pop star, dancing around to choreographed routines, she always gave listeners a hint of just how talented she really was, and just how much more she could do.

Aguilera is currently a judge on The Voice. Her most recent studio album, Lotus, came out in 2012. Still, it's easy to believe that Aguilera still holds the same amount of potential she did in 1999.


On a podcast with Pauly Shore, Aguilera's manager Irving Azoff was asked if she would consider doing a residency in Vegas like her colleagues Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez. He said no way. Aguilera, he went so far to say, is "in the prime of her career."

First Reviews is a new series that finds and evaluates early reviews of now-popular and well-respected artists.



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Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.

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