MUSIC: Christina Aguilera's Inner Visions

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Roots: Aguilera emotes deftly en español

Christina Aguilera seems too small to contain her voice. The 19-year-old singer's bare waist — so thin you'd think it could fit between two parentheses — looks too tiny to support the strong, soulful melismata that flow from her lips. In fact, Aguilera's talent seems to require more space than the teen-pop world can provide. While Mandy Moore and the like go comfortably about the business of churning out plastic pop — and Britney Spears manufactures successful distractions like her striptease at the recent MTV Video Music Awards — Aguilera's vocals strain and flutter against the confinement of her songs, a seagull in a parakeet cage.

On Aguilera's CD "Mi Reflejo," (RCA) she's finally able to stretch her wings. Aguilera is half Irish American and half Ecuadoran, but she was primarily raised in an English-speaking home. With this new CD she sets off in search of her Spanish heritage, a modern-day answer to the Spanish explorers of centuries past. The conquistadors were seeking a new world; Aguilera is searching for her roots. The CD, produced by Rudy Perez (Luis Miguel), consists of five translations of her pop hits and six original Spanish recordings.

The collection offers Aguilera stylistic challenges. Confronted with the bolero standard "Contigo en la Distancia," she lends the song nuanced passion. And on "Cuando No Es Contigo," a hard-salsa number coproduced by Sergio George (Marc Anthony), Aguilera confidently charges through tempo changes. It's a Latin implosion, and she impressively stokes new fires within.