TORONTO (CP) _ When a pig-tailed Nelly Furtado burst onto the music scene six years ago, she swept Canada’s premier awards gala oozing girl-next-door charm.
But when the Victoria-raised singer hosts this year’s Juno Awards, she’ll be showcasing a very different image _ a sexy, grown-up look that has arguably played a key role in her stunning ascension back to the top of the music charts.
After lacklustre sales for her sophomore album "Folklore," "Loose" became a near-instant phenomenon when it was released early last year. "Promiscuous," Furtado’s call-and-answer smash with Timbaland was a club staple. The video featured Furtado in a midriff-bearing top, grinding her hips on a dance floor.
Fans, meanwhile, were buzzing about the singer’s new sexpot image.
"I liked that she was more the girl-next-door instead of using her hot chick look," a blogger named Jose wrote of Furtado’s early image.
"Then again, I can’t knock on the beats Timbo supplied her with."
Former Furtado make-up artist Jackie Shawn says artists can’t miss when they pair up with red-hot hitmaker Timbaland.
"He’s on everybody’s track, I think," jokes Shawn, who helped shape Furtado’s style during the "Whoa, Nelly" and "Folklore" albums.
"I think when you’re having a problem, call Timbaland!"
Shawn describes Furtado as a gregarious and bubbly personality when she first worked with her at the MuchMusic Video Awards in 2002.
Back then, the singer’s laid-back look often leaned towards casual pants and a streamlined hairstyle, pulled-back to reveal her youthful features, she recalls.
Now she’s delighted to see her former client experiment with wild curly locks on last month’s Grammy red carpet, and throws kudos to Furtado for having fun and looking comfortable in her skin.
Celebrated choreographer Fatima Robinson recalls a down-to-earth image with a hint of street when she helped Furtado groove through the video for "Turn Off The Light."
Since then, Robinson has been called in to help shape Furtado’s image for more recent TV appearances such as the MTV Europe Awards, the American Music Awards, and the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno".
It’s only natural that Furtado would emerge with a revamped look _ especially after becoming a mother _ says Robinson.
"Everybody changes over the years," says Robinson, whose star-packed resume includes work with Michael Jackson and the Oscar-winning musical "Dreamgirls".
"She had a child and she grew up. Her and Timbaland went into the studio and it’s amazing what happens and what comes out when you go into the studio. That’s your time to have fun and create and become different personalities or just have fun. I think that her album was a reflection of her and Timbaland getting in the studio and just really creating a fun and new and dance sound."
Furtado’s certainly never shied away from playing with her style.
She netted early fans with a squeaky clean image and the infectious debut single "I’m Like a Bird" and later hinted at an underlying hip-hop flavour with "Turn Off The Light" and "Powerless." That was followed by a folky, introspective turn on "Folklore" and a celebration of Latin heritage on the soccer anthem "Forca" and more recent "No Hay Igual."
There have been fashion missteps along the way, beginning with her triumphant debut at the Junos in 2001 when she netted four trophies but struck a bad chord with a gaudy peasant-style red-and-white floral pants outfit.
These days, the ruthless fashionistas at GoFugYourself.com routinely bash Furtado for her "instabang" hairstyle and "tight cheeks, pursed lips, squinty eyes, tense jaw" when she attempts a closed-mouth smile.
Furtado’s U.K. concert performances have so far netted favourable reviews for vocal stylings, but the high-heeled prancing has not always gone over well.
"Previously a jeans and T-shirt sort of girl, she looked unsure in her glittery frock and heels," Fiona Shepherd writes for teenmusic.com.
Celebrity watcher and fan Perez Hilton disagrees, saying he was wowed by Furtado’s London show and glammed-up image.
"It’s more sort of a maturity and a sophistication of her look and style," says Perez, a self-described Furtado fan from "day one".
Canadians get their first up-close look at the pop star’s remarkable transformation from earthy songstress to glam superstar at a cross-Canada tour that kicks off this week.
Furtado heads to the Junos on April 1 with a leading five nominations. The show will be broadcast on CTV.