IT’S GONNA BE MAY: In 2003, Justin Timberlake broke free of ‘N SYNC with first solo concert in Tampa

Justin Timberlake performed with Christina Aguilera at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa in 2003. (Dirk Shadd | Times)
Justin Timberlake performed with Christina Aguilera at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa in 2003. (Dirk Shadd | Times)
Published April 30 2018

All good things must come to an end, and so it was with 'N SYNC, who went on a hiatus in 2002 that has never fully ended.

But on this most glorious It's Gonna Be May Day, let us not focus on negative things. Let us focus on Justin Timberlake's evolution into a solo superstar, thanks to his debut solo album Justified.

In 2003, he and Christina Aguilera embarked on their Justified and Stripped Tour, which hit Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum (now Amalie Arena) on July 14.

Nearly 14,000 fans turned out for the show — including Cameron Diaz, who was at that time Timberlake's better half; and the Black Eyed Peas, who served as the night's opening act.

We've got the full review from then-Times pop music critic Gina Vivnetto, along with some photos from the show. Check it all out below!

*****

Justin Timberlake performed with Christina Aguilera at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa in 2003. (Dirk Shadd | Times)

Justin Timberlake's fans love him whether or not the singer is flanked by the other members of 'N SYNC.

A solo Timberlake sang, danced and beat-boxed his way into the hearts of 13,953 fans Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum as he provided the second set of the "Justified and Stripped Tour," also starring Christina Aguilera.

Timberlake performed songs from Justified, his debut solo album. One special fan was in the house, Charlie's Angels star Cameron Diaz, Timberlake's current squeeze. That may explain why the Timberlake sultry meter was in the red zone for most of the show. The singer seems to relish his time alone in the spotlight as he grooved his way through the sweaty, danceable jams Rock Your Body, Senorita and Right For Me.

So what if Timberlakes's solo fare sounds like outtakes from the sessions of Michael Jackson's Off The Wall? It's more fun than most of what constitutes radio R&B today. Timberlake's moves, too, are cribbed from old school Jackson, so much, some may have been expecting Timberlake to whisk on his heel and do the moon walk on out of there. While a turntablist scrathed out grooves and a live band provided slinky rhythms, Timberlake proved his falsetto is flawless. His solo schtick plays up his role as loverman, the cocky bad boy who promises to "have you naked by the end of this song," a far cry from his vulnerable cutie-pie crooning with 'N SYNC.

Christina Aguilera may show off more skin than her singing peers, but the raunchy pop star reveals more artistically, too, as she proved Monday. The 22-year-old singer is another league than Britney Spears and others who scored success during the 1990s teen pop boom.

Justin Timberlake performed with Christina Aguilera at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa in 2003. (Dirk Shadd | Times)

Aguilera's voice is outstanding. She seems, too, to posess her own artistic vision, no matter how burlesque. Aguilera belted out the bump-and-grind fest Dirrty. A jumble of dancers grasped and gyrated around her throughout the night with Aguilera doing her share of kinky moves.

Aguilera has undergone a much publicized metamorphosis from squeaky clean former Mouseketeer to hell-raising Hustler hoochie mama. Her blond hair now dyed black, Aguilera is vehement about doing her own thing, "breaking the mold," as she sings on her sophomore album Stripped. She introduced The Voice Within by encouraging fans to be true to themselves. Next came an abbreviated Genie In A Bottle. Was Aguilera misstepping by tossing off the hits so early into her show? Not at all.

Justin Timberlake performed with Christina Aguilera at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa in 2003. (Dirk Shadd | Times)

Real highlights came later when Aguilera told the crowd she adored blues singer Etta James and treated fans to soulful renditions of At Last and I Prefer You. (Imagine any other teen pop tart trying to pull that off.) A sleazy Paris Red Light district scenario accompanied a a vivacious Lady Marmalade. Male dancers cavorted in striped shirts and berets, ladies strutted in lingerie while Aguilera and her backing singers suggested naughty things in the Language of Love.

Aguilera's chit chat with fans was frequent and unscripted. Most charming was the show's closer: Aguilera came out dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt, looking more "stripped" than when she's frolicking half-naked. She sang a cappella a gorgeous version of Beautiful, a ballad about loving yourself. No matter how you're perceived.

"I am beautiful," Aguilera crooned. There's something fascinating about a young woman who's renounced her all-American, blond, Barbie doll looks for greasy black hair, torn clothes and body piercings and now decides she's "beautiful."

Fans gathered for Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa in 2003. (Dirk Shadd | Times)

Opening act Black Eyed Peas got the crowd jumping with high-energy hip hop tunes from Elephunk, its new disc. Backed by a live band, the Peas dished out funky jams, its four MCs — the group recently added female singer, Fergie — emphasizing both being socially conscious and having a good time.

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