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Though singer Christina Aguilera is often compared...

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Though singer Christina Aguilera is often compared by visual association to Britney Spears and the growing parade of other young, blond female pop stars, many of her peers in the music biz have long said Aguilera’s powerful voice and technical skill set her apart.

Now there’s another reason to put Aguilera, 19, in a separate category from her “teen sensation” peers: her Spanish-language album.

Released Tuesday, “Mi Reflejo” is Aguilera’s second album. It features five translated versions of songs from her self-titled debut album, and six new songs, including a duet with Latin pop star Luis Fonsi. Four of the new songs were written by veteran Miami songwriter Rudy Perez, who also produced the album and translated the English singles.

Coming off a year in which Aguilera went from virtual unknown to pop phenomenon--with two No. 1 singles and more than 7 million albums sold in the U.S. and a Grammy for best new artist--the choice to release her sophomore album in Spanish is a curious one.

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While several Spanish-language pop stars have recorded English-language “crossover” albums, many in the industry believe this is the first time a major English-language pop star has chosen a reverse crossover at the height of her career. (Linda Ronstadt had already been a recording star for more than a decade when she released “Canciones de Mi Padre” in 1987, a Spanish-language album that eventually sold more than 1 million copies in the U.S.)

The album is released as a joint effort with RCA Records and its Latin sister company, BMG U.S. Latin. The labels shipped half a million copies, a large number for a Latin record, but a low number for an English-language pop star of Aguilera’s stature.

“It’s never been done before,” Aguilera’s manager, Steve Kurtz, said this week. “But Christina wanted to do it. She’s wanted to do a Spanish record since I met her, since before the English one came out.”

Aguilera says the Spanish album is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for her and was a very personal effort aimed at connecting the singer to her Latin roots.

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Aguilera’s father is from Ecuador, and her U.S.-born mother worked as a Spanish translator. Aguilera, born and raised in the U.S., says she spoke Spanish at home for the first five years of her life, until her parents divorced.

“This will make my grandparents proud,” Aguilera said in a written statement. (Having canceled two shows due to illness, she was under doctor’s orders not to speak in interviews.)

Singles Getting Airplay on U.S. Latin-Pop Stations

Four singles from the new album have already been released on Spanish-language pop radio stations in the United States, and they have been quite successful, according to Geoff Mayfield, director of charts for Billboard magazine.

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Aguilera has landed three singles on the Hot Latin Tracks chart so far, two in the Top 10. She has yet to reach No. 1 on the U.S. Latin pop charts, a challenge related more to Spanish radio formats in the U.S. than to the popularity of her songs.

Mayfield anticipates many of Aguilera’s fans will buy the Spanish album, but predicts the Spanish-language songs will get little airplay on mainstream pop stations, with a few exceptions in cities with large Spanish-speaking populations, such as New York and Los Angeles.

A major retail chain this week predicted the album will sell around 50,000 copies, enough possibly to push it into the Top 20 next week. But that projection was based on Tuesday’s first-day sales, and Aguilera’s performance on the Latin Grammy Awards telecast Wednesday could give it a further sales boost.

Ron Fair, executive producer of Aguilera’s two albums who discovered her for RCA Records, says he and Aguilera had always talked about “a two-pronged approach” to her career, meaning she was always slated to sing in English and, eventually, Spanish.

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But the decision to record a Spanish album so soon came mostly from Aguilera herself and from BMG U.S. Latin, which was impressed with how well Aguilera’s first Spanish single, “Genio Atrapado,” did. The single burned up Latin pop radio and reached No. 7 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks.

Stretching Deeper Into R&B; Sounds She Loves

BMG U.S. Latin had been unsure how Aguilera’s R&B; stylings would be taken on Latin pop radio, as she is the first female singer to venture into this style in Spanish. But the response was good.

“No one really sings like Christina in Spanish,” says songwriter Perez. “Her gospel, R&B; style is what’s missing in Latin pop, and I think she’ll be embraced.”

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On the Spanish album, Aguilera stretches deeper into R&B; sounds than she was allowed to do in her mainstream debut. Aguilera has long said she appreciated the catchy nature of the song “Genie in a Bottle” but personally found the lyrics insipid. Perez is known as one of the most poetic songwriters in Spanish pop, and Aguilera says the new language opened “a whole new musical arena” for her.

“She’s very proud of her performances on this album,” says Fair. “Remember, her debut was recorded over two years ago. Since then, she has hundreds of concerts, appearances and other recordings under her belt. This album shows her growth as a singer.”

Aguilera performed the Spanish version of “Genie in a Bottle” as a salsa number on the Latin Grammys show. She will also perform in Spanish on Oct. 9 on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

Kurtz says the Spanish album will be marketed primarily in Latin America and Spain, but he expects it to do well with her established fans in the U.S. too.

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Aguilera will tour in Mexico, Brazil and Chile to promote the album, with additional U.S. tour dates.

Aguilera plans to release an English-language Christmas album in December, on which she explores even more the R&B; and gospel music that first inspired her to sing, including a duet with Etta James, the singer she credits as her greatest influence.


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