That Time I Interviewed Christina Aguilera's Mum, Shelly Kearns

In My Dot Com Days, I Started a Blog

Back before blogging had a name, I asked my tech team to give me a way to hack into my sites remotely, so I could put cool stuff there regularly and keep the sites 'sticky'. Sticky marketing was what we called attraction marketing WAY before attraction marketing existed. 

Once I had a blog, I didn't see why I shouldn't interview celebrities for it, so I did. I got my 20-something butt onto red carpets and into after-show parties. I made chums with actors and singers. Every now and then, I would interview someone who might have an intriguing 'behind the scenes' take that I wasn't seeing elsewhere. One of those interviews was with Christina Aguilera's mum, Shelly Kearns, with whom I then struck up a friendship over email for a couple of years. Here's the interview (typo's and all).

Step back two decades: Christina was a teen and her mum and I had a chat online...

Leafing through a Christina Aguilera interview in a glossy magazine the other day, I was struck by a modern truth. The press can say anything it likes about Christina as long as it is absolutely vicious. A brief survey of the magazines beside my bath proved this to be the case. Whereas articles on other famous, beautiful and talented types are littered with thinly veiled snide comments, those on Christina are downright rude. In the case of one article, the interviewer had blatantly taken against Christina within the first minute of meeting her and the rest of the article focused not on the substance of the interview but on a critique of Christina's appearance.

'What purpose does this serve?' I thought to myself. By the end of my bath I had reached no satisfactory conclusion, so I called upon the giver of all wisdom - The Web - and searched for some kind of answer. My search bought me to Christina's home page, awash with denials of media claims. Reading through the fans' letters, many of which begged for some kind of reassurance, I felt real sadness for Christina. I know it is going against the grain to defend someone who has made the terrible error of being successful so quickly but I can't help it. So she's beautiful, she's got a strong voice; an impossibly skinny waist and she can dance the pants off anyone within a thousand-mile radius. So what? I'm no expert on the music industry (or dancing anyone's pants off) but it's my guess that these things take work and putting in that level of work at such a young age is bound to give a person sense of humour failure on occasion. The girl is only 19 for goodness sake. I don't know her but I would guess that sometimes she might be unreasonable, sometimes she might even throw a tantrum but that's not front-page news. That's just being 19.

In a bid to find out a little more about the 'real' Christina and about the effect that this level of fame can have on a family, I went to the most reliable source I could think of: Christina Aguilera's mum, Shelly. In the process I found out that Shelly is quite a fascinating person herself.

The scene: Interviewee in America, interviewer in England. Small problem finding right 'chat room' area. Eventually Interviewer and interviewee collide in cyberspace...

Shelly
Hello? Will this work?

Rebecca
Hi how are you doing?

Rebecca
Shelly?

Shelly
Ooops! Sorry... had to help my son with one little thing. I'm here!

Rebecca
Great! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview

Shelly
My pleasure

Rebecca
You know Christina better than anyone. What would you say are her best qualities?

Shelly
Hmm... well, I've always been proud of her work ethic, for one. She just never stops, and she is always so afraid to disappoint her fans. I've seen her sick literally from exhaustion on more than one occasion, even when I, and others, have asked her to cancel so she can rest. But she always says the people might be disappointed. Also she's got a wonderful heart and is quite mature (in some aspects, of course) for her age - if maturity is considered a good quality. * lol *

Rebecca
How old is she?

Shelly
She is 19 years old.

Rebecca
That's a tough age to become so famous. Teenage years are tricky for everyone; do you feel that fame can multiply the problems?

Shelly
Oh my, of course. That's why both she and I always tell people (stage moms especially), if your heart is in the business and in performing, you won't be happy doing anything else. But, if you're doing it just to please mom or dad, don't do it. It's a rough, exhausting and often unfair, cruel business, so it's important that you love it deeply, and that you're prepared for the bad as well as the good. Many people see fame through rose coloured glasses when it's only partly glamour - not all glamour, by far

Rebecca
My mother once told me that it was really hard for mothers when their kids start school because all of a sudden so many people are influencing them that a mother has no control over. When a son or daughter becomes famous and begins to travel so much does it feel the same way?

Shelly
Oh my, I love your mother! I was saying the exact same thing to my husband about our son, Michael, who will soon start kindergarten just next year. That's so very true. I had a very difficult time dealing with the emotions of my first baby being out in the 'cruel world' independently for the first time. I'd always accompanied her everywhere-even bringing along my newborn son to New York because I didn't quite know all the people around her (her present staff now) enough to feel comfortable with her going alone. Yes, it's quite hard.

Rebecca
It must be tough also dealing with her management, in that you've got used to your daughter taking your advice all her life but then she suddenly has someone else advising her. How do you deal with that?

Shelly
Actually, that's no problem at all. Several management people approached me before we hired them. I was extremely cautious... so much so, that I would choose to miss a possible deal than rush into anything. I had three main goals in finding the right manager for her. I had to find someone with the correct background and connections necessary to help her achieve her dreams. At the same time I needed to find a management team that believed in her potential every bit as much as Christina's stepdad and I did, plus (and this was a BIG plus), one that would also be very family oriented. The Kurtz family is all that and more. They care about the person first, the 'star' second. I'm not cut out of things in the least. I'm completely included, and both Christina and Steve Kurtz seek my opinion and advice all the time. They are wonderful people.

Basically, I guess in a nutshell, I've found a manager who is so much along my own line of thinking in all aspects that, even if I'm not around where he can ask my thoughts, I feel confident in his choices. We've always pretty much been on the same page with things.

Rebecca
That's got to be a big relief! One thing that struck me looking at Christina's homepage is the amount of room devoted to picking through the claims made by the media and sorting out fact from fiction for Christina's fans. Having good management is one thing but how do you cope with all that the media says about Christina? It must be hard as a mother to read some of the less good things that have been said about Christina. How do you handle that?

Shelly
Now that is hurtful. Since I sort the emails that come through before sending them on to Christina, I also get any rumor questions and so I supply the webmaster with the rumor mill emails. Honestly, people have absolutely NO idea how far the media goes in inventing these stories. I guess I was a bit naïve in a way. I knew, before she was famous, that celebrities have warned people for decades how they can't believe anything they read or hear on radio or in magazines and newspapers. I just never, ever, in my wildest dreams was prepared for what reality is

One big surprise for me, was that radio DJ's are the worst! For some reason, before the fame, it never occurred to me that I should not ever believe things that radio DJ's said. I guess I'd always assumed that they would be fired if they simply made things up then put them on air but that's one of the most common practices, sad to say. My experience has been that it seems they read grocery store type tabloids (known for inventing their own fairy tales about celebrities) and then they actually add their own embellishments and go on air with it-and the public thinks it true.

I'm hoping that people would continue to read the 'rumor mill' and begin to see some sort of pattern that will give them a hint of the reality of it all and it will make them stop long enough to actually think about the logistics of this. Most of these rumors are pretty far out there! Every single day, we receive more questions that people have heard and they are so far out there. In reality, celebrities are so busy - I mean, each day is packed full of interviews, photo shoots, meetings... etc. They barely have time to breathe; yet the media has them here, there and everywhere doing all sorts of things that are just impossible. It's crazy. I actually, at the beginning, went through what I call a Twilight Zone period... it was a very confusing time for us, trying to make sense of why this all was happening so constantly-a never-ending stream --- when none of it was true. We've even cancelled our paper subscription because we know, from the inside, that you can't believe a thing you read. I think I'm used to it now. It's really sad though.

Rebecca
You poor things. It's ironic that it is usually the most sensitive people who excel in artistic careers and yet they are the ones who receive the majority of bad treatment from the media. It's a catch 22 situation I suppose because to deal with that kind of media attention you have to be pretty immune to caring but to be a good artist you have to be really sensitive.

Shelly
That's so true. You're quite insightful to realize that

Rebecca
I'm a pretty artistic sort myself. I sucked as a freelance journalist because I don't like badmouthing people without good cause. Now I set my own agenda and if people don't like it they don't have to read it!

Shelly
GOOD FOR YOU! God bless you, how I wish more journalists had a conscience as you seem to have, rather than just shrug their shoulders, say 'hey man, it's nothing personal! I'm just making a living doing what works!' and then printing hurtful lies anyway. Good for you!!

Rebecca
Thanks, I appreciate that! All being ethical got me before was a basement flat infested with ants and no money to pay my council tax! Good to know someone appreciates it!

You must really miss Christina. What did you used to do together that you can't do now and what can you do now that you couldn't do before she was famous?

Shelly
Oh yes, I do miss her quite a bit. Actually, her sister Rachel and baby brother Michael and I are all going to fly out to spend some time with her in a few days. We do that quite a bit... she'll fly us out, or if she has a day or two, she'll come home

In the beginning, we'd have a little tradition after coming from the airport when we'd arrive home from something, we'd go to this little restaurant and just sit and eat something and talk about what's going on... her dreams... what to do next... and other things. And we'd always just go out and shop. We used to have what we called mommy/daughter days where I'd take each daughter out alone to do whatever she'd like - just private, quality time with each one. Of course, we can't do that now. I miss it. Now our quality time must be inside hotel rooms or, if in public, with bodyguards stopping fans so we can have a moment together. But that's fine. As long as these moments still continue! :o)

Hmm... what do we do now that we couldn't have? Well, mostly... the things that we just couldn't afford to do before, like flying out to meet her somewhere and, once we get there, going to a restaurant together whenever we want to. That's different! We could never, ever afford to do that before, so that is really nice. Plus, when she does specials and things for Disney, she sends for her sister Rachel and us too, when we can come, and takes us on a mini vacation with her through the parks... things like that.

Rebecca
Okay, just another couple of questions and I'll hand you back over to Michael! Dealing with Christina's mail and looking after a young child on top of all your other commitments must be pretty time consuming. Do you ever find time for yourself (hobbies etc) or is there not the time?

Shelly
Thanks... Michael seems content for the moment, watching a movie 'Austin Powers' with Daddy :o) As for finding time, oh it's quite difficult, actually. I seem to be constantly rushing everywhere, but it's fine. I'm happiest when I am very busy. Every so often, it gets to me, and it's then that I realise I have to slow down and do something for me, like draw (I do charcoal portraits) or write some in my book. (I'm writing a bio on Christina, but including lots of my insights on the realities of the business). It balances out in it's own way, actually. Of course, it's all due to my husband being as supportive and loving of me as he is. He's so understanding. I've got a gem here and it's because of this that I feel I can succeed in anything. He never complains, God bless him.

Rebecca
He sounds great and obviously has good taste in movies (Austin Powers). Good to know that you are teaching your child the arts of poking fun at us Brits from an early age! :o) Finally, what are your hopes and dreams and, if you had the time, how would you spoil yourself rotten?

Shelly
* lol * My hopes and dreams? Well, I've got to warn you now--- my true hopes and dreams sound pretty corny! Truly, I only seem to be happy and relaxed when I see everyone in my family that way. Life often gets in the way, but I read somewhere that 'life is managed, not cured', so my dreams for all my loved ones, from my husband to my mom and my kids are that they are all happy and deeply contented with themselves. I hope that they feel true fulfilment in their lives and have good health, and that my kids are good people who help others and know how to enjoy the small things in life and not just the big, glittery thing then I'll be the happiest person alive.

My personal dreams for myself? These would probably be to know how to relax a little more, travel a little like I did when I was 16 and 17 (I toured Europe), and get something published and just keep meeting people and learning from them. The world is really such a fascinating place and people are so much fun. Despite all the awful things in life, there are also a lot of incredible things, too. I think a good way to spoil yourself rotten is to keep your mind and senses completely open to every day and every little person and thing that comes your way--- how do I explain what I mean? Umm... sort of like a child. Just watch a child. They often act like they are on vacation and loving the most trivial aspects of their lives every day. I try to do that each day. It helps, too, to balance out stress and craziness. I see the glitzy side and 'big deal' things in life and, yes, they are wonderful, but so are the little things, even though it sounds so very corny. My heart fills with happiness at my son's wide-eyed smile as much as at seeing my little girl on a stage being cheered on by thousands of people. Life has many ways of letting you spoil yourself, if you allow it. (I warned you that my outlook would sound corny! But it's how I feel).

Rebecca
Not corny at all, just honest. I know exactly what you mean. You and my mum would really get on!

Shelly
Yes, it sounds like it from what you've told me of her!

Rebecca
Well thank you so much for letting me interview you, it's been really fascinating. Please send our love and luck to Christina.

Shelly
It's been my pleasure. I'll be happy to send your love and regards to Christina. Bye bye.

Rebecca
Bye Shelly.

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