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Monday, 11 October, 1999, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Christina's mouse magic
Top of the charts: Christina Aguilera
A 71-year-old cartoon character is becoming one of America's most successful talent-spotters - with the UK's new number one pop act Christina Aguilera the latest of his proteges to hit the big time.

The 18-year-old has followed in the footsteps of Britney Spears by taking the British charts by storm with the single Genie In A Bottle.

Yet Spears and Aguilera, along with Justin and JC from boy band N'Sync, have one important career influence in common - the guiding hand of Mickey Mouse.

All three acts got their big break as performers on The Mickey Mouse Club, a TV show on the US Disney Channel which ran for five years from 1989.

Britney Spears: Hit number one in the UK and US early in 1999
The children's show - a mixture of music and sketches - selected talented youngsters in auditions across the US, and Aguilera joined the cast of the show aged 12.

Born in Staten Island, New York, she is reputed to have learned all the songs from The Sound of Music by the age of five and she performed at sporting events near her family's new home in Pittsburgh.

At nine she appeared on a TV talent show, and three years later she was invited to join the Mickey Mouse cast.

There she caught the eye of manager Steve Kurtz, and at 15 she was offered a recording contract by RCA. At the same time she was asked to sing Reflection, the lead song from the Disney film Mulan, which proved a huge hit.

RCA took its time and spared no expense in developing its new star, and Genie In A Bottle shot to the top of the US charts less than a month after its release in June 1999.

Her eponymous debut album has been both a critical and commercial hit in the US, and she has hinted at following an acting career in the future.

Star similarities

Britney Spears also took the UK charts by storm this year after conquering the US.

Christina and Britney are both on the same record label, both grew up wanting to be stars, both got work on the Disney channel and both hit number one in the US and UK with their first singles.

They are not the only pop stars to emerge from the Mickey Mouse Club - two of N'Sync, Joshua "JC" Chasez and Justin Timberlake also appeared it.

Unsurprisingly, Aguilera is full of praise for the show.

Mickey Mouse: An unlikely pop svengali?
"It was a great training ground," she says.

"We got to sing and act on a regular basis with other talented people. That made us all better.

"It's strange because Britney, Justin, JC and I have all been back together again on television shows recently."

Of Spears, who is a year younger than her, she says: "We were very good friends, we were the youngest and always looked up to the other kids on the show.

"Now we are both so happy about each other's success."

Both singers are also seen performing sexy dance numbers in their videos with suggestive lyrics - which could seem at odds with their squeaky-clean Disney backgrounds.

But Aguilera points at her appearances alongside Beth Orton and Sinead O'Connor at the women-only Lillith Fair touring festival to show she is serious about what she does.

Christina Aguilera is unlikely to be the last slick, all-American Mickey Mouse Club star to dominate the charts - fellow "Mouseketeer" Nikki Deloach is in a girl group called Innosense, and the five-piece are planning to release their debut album early in 2000.

Meanwhile other performers, including Jennifer McGill, Terra McNair, Jason Minor and Tony Lucca are also trying their luck in the music industry.

If they can hit the big time as well, it will prove that at least in the US, being in your 70s and having big ears does not stop you from being hugely influential in the world of pop.

See also:

21 Feb 99 | Entertainment
Spears tops the charts
05 Oct 99 | Entertainment
Britney spears four MTV nominations
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