Christina Aguilera looks every inch the consummate performer, whether onstage in front of thousands of fans, or in the midst of a PR crisis. Perched on a white couch after a photo shoot, the singer appears calm, poised, and ready to answer tough questions. Recently, there have been a lot of tricky landmines to navigate. In 2010, she filed for divorce from music executive Jordan Bratman, her husband of five years; that same year, her album Bionic proved a critical and commercial disappointment. She didn’t fare much better at the box office either: critics lambasted Burlesque, her film debut, as campy froth. Then came last year’s infamous Super Bowl incident, in which Aguilera flubbed the lines of the national anthem. A month later, she was arrested for public intoxication. (Charges were later dropped.)
“That was a rough year,” Aguilera admits. “Between my divorce and the other things I went through, a lot happened. It’s hard for anyone to go through that in public. But when you’re a celebrity and under a microscope, it’s 58 million times harder. I grew an even thicker skin after that hard year.” The scrutiny seems to have shown no signs of abating: lately, she has been subjected to cruel tabloid headlines about her fluctuating weight. “I’ve been through my highs, I’ve been through my lows; I’ve been through the gamut of all things in this business. Being too thin. Being bigger. I’ve been criticised for being on both sides of the scale. It’s noise I block out. I love my body. My boyfriend loooves my body. My son is healthy and happy, so that’s all that matters to me.”
Unlike a lot of Hollywood’s size zero denizens, who obsess with near-OCD fervour over every calorie, Aguilera claims she has never been more at peace with her figure. “I have certain physical features that I favour over others. We all have our areas,” she says. “When I worked on Burlesque, I lost so much weight that I was too skinny. I don’t weigh myself – it’s all about how I feel in my clothes. What looks good on one person might not look good on another body type. I happen to be very confident in my own skin. It takes time to get to that place, but it’s all about embracing yourself.”
Aguilera doesn’t just embrace her new figure. On NBC’s singing competition, The Voice, where she holds court as the only woman on a panel of puckish judges including Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, Aguilera favours unapologetic miniskirts, bustiers, and her trademark six-inch Louboutins. The Voice, which has her mentoring a cadre of pop wannabes, spotlights sides of Aguilera we’ve rarely glimpsed before: nurturing, funny, flirty. In the unscripted scenes, Aguilera looks and sounds like a lot of us: a been-theredone- that survivor who has known her share of triumph and pain.
Aguilera’s recent travails have somehow softened her, a single mom by day, diva by night. “I love the theatrics, and entertaining is what I was put on this earth to do, but there’s a superficiality to it,” she says. “When I was younger, I lived for my art and my work; I wanted it to be Back to Basics [Aguilera’s most recent Grammy-nominated album] all the time. Becoming a mother has helped me to realise who I am aside from my career.”
Young though she looks, she’s an industry veteran who made her television debut nearly two decades ago as a Mouseketeer on Disney’s The New Mickey Mouse Club. By 19, she was a Billboard phenomenon with a self-titled debut album that sold more than eight million copies and earned her a Grammy for Best New Artist. Privately, though, Aguilera struggled with a troubled past. She claims that her father, an army sergeant, abused her mother (a charge he denies) and shuttled their family around the country, from base to base. Aguilera remembers racing upstairs to sing out of her bedroom window – anything to escape the fighting. When she married Bratman in November 2005 and gave birth to their son Max Liron in 2008, she thought she had found her haven, but it wouldn’t last.
“The decisions I’ve made thus far have been made for Max’s benefit,” Aguilera says. “It comes from a place of wanting peace, not chaos. I was raised in a very chaotic home, and that’s one thing I have no patience for. I have to surround my son with positive, strong relationships so that he feels he has a cohesive family.” The idea of a broken home is anathema to the singer, who says, “I don’t believe in them. [Jordan and I] take pictures together at Max’s school functions to show there is no animosity. Children of divorce feel broken when parents want to take shots at each other. There are many different types of families; I try to centre ours around Max and his happiness.”
But single motherhood has proven lonely at times, she confesses. “It’s hard not having the consistency of a partnership on a daily basis. It’s a struggle. But I can’t single out my ex-husband [as the problem] because he’s a devoted father and great with my son. We always make sure that we put Max first. I have help from family and good people around me in support of my career. I couldn’t do what I do without a strong team behind me.”
Aguilera’s after-hours antics are routinely documented by the paparazzi. But don’t be fooled into thinking this woman is all play, no work. Quite the contrary. These days, when she’s not taping the second season of The Voice, she’s working on her upcoming album, which she describes as “a strong, honest approach to allowing the world to see the survivor in me”. A devoted, if not low-key, philanthropist, Aguilera is credited with helping to raise $22 million for the World Food Programme to help fight hunger. She’s usually home every night to put Max, now four, to bed, though she might slip out for some fun afterwards. “Mama’s a night owl,” she purrs – but she also indulges in the kind of me-time that working moms swoon over. “The makeup comes off, the sweatpants go on. Cosy T-shirts, bare feet,” Aguilera says. “Then it’s all about my bed. There’s a beautiful shag rug underneath it, steps leading up to it, and a huge canopy. I love my bed. I do everything in the bed – I take meetings there! It’s my sanctuary.”
Aguilera is still in a reflective mood when we wrap up. She leans in for a friendly – if uncharacteristic – hug. “I’m 31 years old,” she continues. “That’s a new chapter in a woman’s life where you just want to grab life by the, well, I can’t say b***s!” She laughs, her big blue eyes widen. “You want to grab life, embrace it, and live it to the fullest.