By DONNA GEHRKE-WHITE
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -- Before there was Nadia, there was Christina. In the first season of "American Idol," Christina Christian captivated fans by belting out sultry tunes in her distinctive Sade-esque style.
Three years later, she's still belting out tunes, but now she's writing them, too. She's also done a little acting, appearing in an episode of her favorite TV show, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." She has traveled to Africa and Europe as a result of her "Idol" fame.
Today Christian, 23, is living in Pembroke Pines with her husband of just over a year, Nicholas Cewe.
She's resumed working on her bachelor's degree in sociology -- the "Idol" show and subsequent traveling interrupted her college studies. This month, she finished a real estate course. She still hopes to go to law school, her goal before she was on "Idol."
She also hopes to produce a CD within a year, of songs that she has written.
"I love the creative aspect of it," she said. "I really feel the passion in writing."
She made it to the final six before she was voted off, in an ouster considered a shocker. Judges Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson said America had made a mistake. "Something is wrong in the state of Hollywood," one writer decried.
There were rumors that Christian had collapsed when she heard the news. But she says now, as she did then, that she was briefly hospitalized for dehydration and exhaustion. "I lost 12 pounds -- and I am naturally thin," she said.
The show was new, and the performers were pushed at a frenetic pace, with few opportunities to eat, she says. "Now there's a chef," she said. "We were the first kids, the guinea pigs."
Finishing in the top 10 got her career off and running, Christian says. She still is represented by 19 Entertainment, the management company of "Idol" creator Simon Fuller, which signed her to what spokeswoman Vanessa Taub calls a "long-term management and records partnership."
"Christina is an extremely talented performer, singer, songwriter and television presenter, and we have just further strengthened our commitment to our partnership by signing Christina to 19 Songs, our music publishing company," Taub said.
As are all contestants, Christian was required to sign with 19 Entertainment before she appeared on the show. Fellow alum Clay Aiken successfully hired an attorney to spring him from the contract, considered among the more restrictive in the industry, and contestant dropout Mario Vasquez hired Aiken's attorney last month. But Christian says she is grateful to be with 19 Entertainment. Think of it this way, Christian says: One day she was a University of Florida sociology major, the next she was on national television.
"It's a very astute and aggressive company," said Geoff Mayfield, director of charts for Billboard magazine.
An 'amazing' tour
Christian and the other "Idol" finalists made a CD and a video. They went on tour through the United States, with Christian earning praise for her soulful singing -- sometimes earning more accolades than the show's winner, Kelly Clarkson.
"The tour was amazing," Christian recalled. "It was one of the best parts."
Since then, she has been a TV Guide broadcaster and traveled worldwide, appearing in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Europe. She's also worked with composers in Sweden.
And, of course, she has been penning her songs.
For her soulful lyrics, she delves into her life -- as well those of her family and friends. So far, she has written more than 40 songs.
She wrote a ballad, for example, in homage of her deceased grandmother. One of the lines: "She'd say, God is watching us." She also wrote a song in praise of a friend who broke away from domestic abuse.
And she penned "I'll Wait for Love" for her walk down the aisle in January 2004 with Cewe, her college sweetheart.
Christian's songs reflect her broad range and interests: She has written songs that are hip-hop, rock, pop, alternative, blues, reggae, calypso and jazz.
Earl Christian, her proud father, says he thinks this is the year that his daughter will break out with a CD -- and that maybe a famous entertainer will record at least one of her songs.
"We hope so," he said. "We pray that is the case. Time is on her side."