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“Lotus” is an evocative title for your new album, given the events in your career and personal life during the past two years. What does that name signify to you?
This album represents a celebration of the new me, and to me the lotus has always represented this unbreakable flower that withstands any harsh weather conditions in its surroundings, that withstands time and remains beautiful and strong throughout the years. Once I could start writing my own songs, beginning with Stripped, I tried to infuse as much as I could to promote strength and inspire people with that message. And now I’m at a place at 31, where the last time I felt this way was when I was 21 with Stripped and I had a lot to say and a lot to express.
Some of the songs on Lotus are thematically similar to “Stripped,” too. Was that intentional?
Absolutely. There’s a song called “Army of Me,” which is sort of a “Fighter 2.0.” There is a new generation of fans from a younger demographic that might not have been with me all the way but that watch me on the show now. I feel like every generation should be able to enjoy and have their piece of “Fighter” within. This time, the way it musically came together it just felt right for this time and this generation. There’s always going to be a fighter in me getting through some obstacle and some hurdle.
| Enrique Badulescu Photography
“Lotus” is also a return to putting your vocals front and center in a way that you didn’t always do on Bionic in 2010. What did you learn from that experience?
With Bionic I fully went in there with [the idea], “I’m going to experiment and not be commercial or pop.” I wanted to play with different sounds and textures of my voice while bringing an electronica feel to it because that’s what I was listening to a lot at the time. And it was a blast.
Were you disappointed with how it was received?
I can proudly say it was ahead of its time, to be honest. It wasn’t so commercialized. You had to really be a music lover, be a true fan of music and the love of being open to really appreciate that record. It’s just a special piece in my body of work that will forever live on. The older the record gets the more people will come to appreciate it actually and check it out.
How has your experience with “The Voice” influenced you as a performer?
Seeing all the singers, you really come face to face with a lot of people-my teammates especially this season that you’ll get to know-that are predominantly younger. That’s inspiring, because they come up to you and they’re such big fans and they share with you what song touched them the most and how they had to learn every single ad lib and dissect it. As a vocalist it brought me back to, “Yeah, that’s what I used to do to my Whitney Houston record and my Mariah Carey record and my Etta James record.” It brings you back to a place where it becomes your personal responsibility to infuse the next generation with more information about learning every intricate note. That’s why a song called “Sing for Me” is special song. It’s one of those singer’s songs where if you’re not a vocalist you can’t mess with that song.
“Your Body” marks your first time working with Max Martin, which is surprising to a lot of people given the teen-pop era where you got your start.
[laughs] Max is legendary in the business. He’s known about me but we haven’t crossed paths. I think when I came in you heard his name with Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears — those records were the kind I wanted to stray apart from. If you look at what I did in the past [after my debut], I always try to do things that will challenge me and challenge the listener, too. Could this have worked 10 years ago? I’m not sure. It’s taken us a decade in the same business and watching each other from a distance, so for us to now come together and respect each other’s work ethic and how we like to be heard and making a marriage out of it, I think “Your Body” is the best culmination of that.
You’ve expressed interest in taking a break from “The Voice” in the near future. When might that open your schedule for a tour?
We’re still trying to figure that out. My fans do deserve to see me back out on the road. It’ll be exciting for me. The road is a lot of work. I want to make sure the timing is right and that I’m fully ready to go, otherwise I would have to pull tickets if I’m not feeling it. I want to press the fact that I want to be feeling it before I go out.
Going back to the current season of “The Voice,” what’s been exciting for you so far?
I’m actually very excited about this season in particular. It’s absolutely the most young and full-of-hungry-energy group we’ve had yet-this little next generation of future pop stars. Last year I had a different team as far as different genres, but this year it so happened to come together that they were all pop.
One of your contestants from last season, Chris Mann, will be the first season-two alum to release an album this year. Will you be involved with that project?
Absolutely. He’s working with [Front Line Management Group consultant] Ron Fair, the man who signed me and is still a very, very dear friend of mine. I know he’s in totally safe hands and in great hands musically. Ron Fair really gets it and gets him. One of the songs was sent to me for my participation and I said, hands-down, “yes.” It’s a beautiful song, the way he’s expressing himself on the album-his tone, his richness, his soul. He’s not overdoing it, just coming through strong, clear and rich. I’m very happy for him.
Beyond the technical aspects of executing a melisma, what are some career pointers you’ve been able to hand down to your own artists on “The Voice”?
A lot of these kids are coming from their own kinds of dance and arts schools, which is just like what the Mouseketeers was for obviously me and Britney and Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling-need I say more? We all come from that training camp mentality, but then it was a matter of us to be able to absorb everything, take it all in and now throw it all away. That’s what I’m trying to teach those kids. Everything can’t be so structured, so learned or taught. You guys have an individual self in all of you.
Speaking of Britney, will you be watching “The X Factor”?
[Laughs] I have no time to even watch my own show. So there’s your answer.