Celebrity Portrait

All Eyes on Me

By Ryan Slattery

Photographs by Randee St. Nicholas

Photographs by Randee St. Nicholas

Britney Spears lands in Las Vegas. Hear what the pop icon has in store for Sin City.

Viva Las Vegas
We’re somewhere in the Mojave Desert, just outside Las Vegas. It’s pitch-black, except for the glare of a few spotlights on the dry lake bed. The hum of generators is drowned out by the frenzied screams of more than 1,300 fans, who met on the Strip and were bused to this secret location in the middle of the night to greet the pop icon. They include a number of young women in pigtails and schoolgirl uniforms, re-creating the classic Britney look from the days of her monster hit single, “…Baby One More Time.”,

Finally, a helicopter touches down. And after nearly a year of rumors, Spears makes it official. She’s coming to Planet Hollywood Las Vegas. But why Vegas? For Spears, settling down and working in one place has more than a little appeal.

“When you tour, it’s so hard on the body,” she says. “I look back and I don’t know how I did it. Being in one place is cool. It’s a more stable environment”— not only for her but for her two sons, Sean Preston, 8, and Jayden, 7, who will also be making the trips. “Las Vegas is a fun place,” she adds. “There is so much going on. The energy here is incredible. You feel it walking through the casino. Everybody is here to have a good time.” Spears admits the schedule will be grueling (she’ll perform 96 shows over the next two years at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino and will be splitting time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas). But she’s ready. Since last summer, she’s been working with a personal trainer up to four times a week. She’s in amazing shape. To prove it, Spears tweeted a photo of herself in a blue bikini while on set filming the music video for her single, “Work Bitch.”

“I have not been this sore in my entire life,” she confesses. “When I started working out, I was sore for like, three days. I could hardly move. I’m really challenging myself with the choreography.” Spears is focused and determined to show the world a different side of herself when she takes the Planet Hollywood stage. Spears says she wants “Britney: Piece of Me” to be high-energy (a concert in a nightclub-like atmosphere with VIP tables and bottle service) and high fashion (she’s bringing back some of her iconic looks).

“Whenever I do a show, I’m really keen on making it a show,” Spears says. “I love to dance and perform. Because it’s Vegas, I want to do something different. This is the perfect place to bring it to the next level.”

Child Star to Superstar
Britney Jean Spears was born in McComb, Mississippi, and grew up in rural Kentwood, Louisiana. The second of three children born to Lynne and James Spears, she attended dance classes, excelled in gymnastics and even in grade school sought to be the center of attention.

“Ever since I was little girl, I never could sit still. I was always doing something. Jumping up and down, moving around. I was annoying,” she recalls laughing. “People would come to the house and say ‘Does she ever sit down? Does she ever calm down?’ My mom was just so used to it because that was the way I was. I always loved to pretend I was onstage performing.”

Spears says there wasn’t one specific artist she admired growing up, but she counts Otis Redding, Sheryl Crow and Whitney Houston among her musical influences. “It’s hard to pick one person. I looked up to so many, actually. I do love Shania Twain,” she says of the country superstar who performs just across the street from her at Caesars Palace. Spears rose to fame swiftly. Following The Mickey Mouse Club, she started working with an agent, cutting demo tapes. Eventually one caught the ear of music executives at Jive Records, who signed her to a contract. Her first album, …Baby One More Time, was released in January 1999. It debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 charts and was double-platinum within a month. The album went on to sell more than 10 million copies that year.

“It was kind of like a dream,” she recalls. “I’m from a small town and I wasn’t expecting anything. When it happened, it was kind of surreal. I got so busy traveling that I was oblivious to it all. I didn’t even realize what was happening. It was like a dream that I never woke up from. It was pretty spectacular.” Her follow-up album, Oops!… I Did It Again, was released just a year later. It topped the charts: Spears was rocketing her way to superstardom with everything that came with it. She embraced her fame, even reveled in it, using the MTV Video Music Awards stage for some of her most memorable performances. In 2000, she appeared in a sequined flesh-colored bodysuit. A year later, she performed with an albino python draped across her shoulders, and in 2003, she opened the show singing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” When the song ended, she shared a kiss with Madonna. For her, it was all art. Nothing more.

These days, Spears’ absence from the VMAs is news. She skipped this year’s award show in Brooklyn. Instead, Spears was in an L.A. dance studio preparing for Vegas. Yet a notorious VMA performance by Miley Cyrus (the two collaborated on Miley’s album, BANGERZ) drew comparisons to the young Spears. Then weeks after the VMAs, the two appeared in a scene together on the MTV special Miley: The Movement, with Cyrus saying, “Everyone takes the VMAs so seriously. You’re always gonna make people talk. You might as well make them talk for two weeks, rather than two seconds.”

In the Public Eye
People have been talking about Britney for nearly two decades, so Spears says she can relate to the struggles of today’s young stars.

“It’s important to have a group of people around you who can keep you down to earth,” Spears confides. “It’s a mind-altering experience when you become a pop star at such a young age. Some people are made for it and some people aren’t. If you keep good friends around you and stay grounded, you’ll be OK.”

Spears, who has pretty much lived her entire life in the public eye and been followed by pesky photographers, is asked whether she’s grown accustomed to the constant attention. “This is the thing,” she replies. “I’m actually really shy. I don’t like having my picture taken.” Spears continues, “I don’t like the attention, but it’s something that comes with success. I’ve accepted the paparazzi are going to be there; I just try to wear the same thing every day so I become uninteresting.”

As to whether she follows the tabloids that write about her: “I’ve never done that. I know there is rude stuff out there, but I choose not to be a part of it. It’s all kind of silly.”

Instead Spears chooses to focus on her art. “I’m really excited,” she says. “‘Piece of Me’ is a labor of love. I can’t wait to perform it.”

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