The singer talks to TIME about rejoining The Voice, her "Dirrty" days and her new album
It’s already been a busy week for Christina Aguilera, and she hasn’t even made her big return to television yet. On Sunday, Aguilera won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for “Say Something,” her 2013 hit with A Great Big World. This Sunday, she’s kicking off the 64th NBA All-Star game at Madison Square Garden. And later this month on Feb. 23, she’ll return as a coach on NBC’s The Voice alongside Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Pharrell Williams after taking two seasons off to focus on motherhood. (She welcomed daughter Summer Rain Rutler last August.)
TIME caught up with the singer to talk about her home life, her plans for 2015 and what advice she has for Nick Jonas.
TIME: Congratulations on your Grammy win! Were you at the ceremony?
Christina Aguilera: No, I’m in steady dance rehearsals and vocal rehearsals for this Sunday, for the NBA kick-off performance. It’s a whole tribute to New York — I’ve got the Rockettes joining me and a special guest. I’m very fired up for this specific performance because it’s such exciting, classic material revamped. And then I had to record late [Sunday] night for a soundtrack deadline, so I was unable to attend. I think if I had had a record out, I would have made the trip. Maybe next year! But I was so happy. I felt the boys won it more than me. It was such an innocent, pure intention of a song that truly didn’t ask for anything — so humble in its approach. It didn’t have any formula. It was very honest with just a simple piano and a vocal. It was real music. It was truly organic. I was so happy to see such talented guys take that win.
T: Did you miss spinning around in those chairs on The Voice?
Christina Aguilera: Yeah, the chairs can be kind of fun! Too bad it only lasts for the first section — the blind auditions — then there’s no more spinning.
T: What a bummer.
Christina Aguilera: But that’s also a very nerve-wracking time because you feel the performer and the nerves they’re going through, and you feel nerves for yourself. You get hesitant on pushing your button sometimes, because you don’t want to fill your team too fast, but then you feel nervous that you might be letting some great talent go. It’s such a weird mind game at the end of the day. Truly, the company I come back to is so fun. I always have a great laugh with the boys. They kept it pretty hilarious for me, which is really important. I would be bored behind the scenes if I wasn’t coming back to Blake and Adam’s craziness.
T: You took two seasons off to focus on being a mom. Did you pick up any new hobbies while you weren’t on The Voice?
Christina Aguilera: I don’t think anything new. I was consistent with my yoga throughout my pregnancy. I moved into a new house, actually, which has been taking up a lot of time and energy. Unpacking boxes, having a five-month-old — so just normal life stuff, which is awesome. It’s very important for me to stay grounded and keep honesty within my music and my artistry. No real vacations or anything like that. I pretty much stayed in L.A. and spent time with my son, my family and myself” writing music, gaining inspiration for my new future endeavors — my record being the biggest part of that.
T: Your son Max just turned 7. How long before he finds an old Christina Aguilera video on YouTube and asks, “Mom, can we talk about what happened in 2002?”
Christina Aguilera: Luckily, he hasn’t discovered that yet. But it’s scary what’s out there for him to find: certain movies, certain song lyrics that I’m even hearing him come home with. I’m like, “Where did you hear that?” All of a sudden it’s like — oh my God, when did I become the parent?
T: What is he singing that you’re not wild about?
Christina Aguilera: Oh my goodness, just songs with certain lyrical references. It could be anything as innocent as Beyoncé to songs about baking soda, you know what I mean? It’s crazy. It’s different for me because I really separate my business hat from my mom hat, to the point where my son will come back from school and basically say, “How do kids at school know who you are, Mom?” Because I literally am so sweatpants and flip-flops and no makeup at home. That’s my real time. Then I transition into an artist mode, which I keep completely separate. It’s tapping into a different side of myself, a side that I do for me. Even though it’s extremely hard sometimes to juggle all the different hats at once, it’s important for me to do that. But yeah, technology is so crazy — what’s accessible at your fingertips now. I’m a little scared.
But I know that I had really important principles for me at the time, and there’s a place and time for everything. Back in my “Dirrty” days, that was an empowering moment for me, when I was 21 and coming into my own. I will always explain to him the reasons why Mommy did X, Y and Z. They were plentiful! I’m prepared to tell him about who I am as an artist, and why he’s able to live the life that he now lives. It’s a lot better than how I was brought up!
T: I noticed Nick Jonas is a mentor for your team this season; he, like you, began his career very young and shocked people when he suddenly showed off a more adult side. What advice would you give him about that transition?
Christina Aguilera: I love it when people go out on a limb and try new things. It’s very risky, and you never know how people are going to receive you, but that’s part of being a good artist and staying true to yourself. Whether people like it or not, you have to be the person that you really are inside. To be able to explore and experiment and be unafraid to take risks is, to me, the most important thing about what we do as artists. I don’t like when it gets too safe and people are afraid to make mistakes because of failure. I’m one that throws caution to the wind, and sometimes that ends in highs and lows. But you have to take the risks — you have to take certain chances and you have to live life. My biggest fear is that at the end of it all, I’ll look back and say, “I wish I would have had the guts to try that.” But so far, I put myself out on a limb, and that’s part of the beauty of challenging yourself — looking back at your body of work and being able to say, “Wow, I’m so glad I had the confidence to do that, to go out there, take matters into my own hands and have the balls to take it to my level.”
T: You worked with Sia several years before she had her big moment at the Grammys.
Christina Aguilera: I like your research there. Sia, Nicki Minaj — yeah, I had a lot of great people on Bionic before crazy stuff happened.
T: So you clearly have an eye for spotting rising talent. If you had to pick artists for a 2015 version of “Lady Marmalade” [the 2001 song Aguilera recorded with Pink, Mya, Lil Kim and Missy Elliot], who would they be?
Christina Aguilera: Miley would be great in that mix, because I think she’s a great risk taker and has a lot of fun. Maybe Nicki Minaj. Those are the two that directly come to mind. But I actually thought “Bang Bang” [featuring Minaj, Jessie J and Ariana Grande] was a pretty good “Lady Marmalade” reference, in a way. It’s always great to see girls come together — especially in the face of the media sometimes, trying to pit us against each other. It’s never ending, no matter how young or old you are. Anytime I can encourage girls to get together and actually support each other and encourage risk-taking, I’m all for it. I love it. So yeah, I’m waiting for the next new group of people.A version of this story will appear in the Feb. 23 issue of TIME, on newsstands this Friday.